A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Director:  Sergio Leone

Cast:  Clint EastwoodGian Maria VolontéMarianne Koch
Plot:  A wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.

Genre:  Action / Western

Awards:  -
Runtime:  99min
Rating:  PG for some violence. 

Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy begins with A Fistful of Dollars, an admirable attempt at reinventing a genre – the Western – that John Ford had mostly made his own from the thirties to the fifties. It is shot in Italy and the dialogue is in Italian.  However, it is difficult to find an original video in its native language track. The dubbing in English is average but it will not be taken into consideration in my assessment of the film.

A Fistful of Dollars stars the legendary Clint Eastwood who plays the iconic “man with no name”.  Here, he takes on the name of “Joe” after wandering into a town on a barren, desolate land.  In this town, there are two warring families driven by greed, lust, and power.  Their method of communication is through violence; this has wrecked the entire town resulting in its few inhabitants leading their lives in constant fear.

Joe, the unwavering gunfighter, decides to pit the two families against each other through a series of cat-and-mouse games in an attempt to wipe all of them out and free the town.  His plan works and backfires at the same time, making it interesting to observe how the situation would play out.  Of course, if you have seen Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) in which Leone’s film is based upon, then you would have an idea what to expect.

A Fistful of Dollars is Leone’s second feature but his first collaboration with composer Ennio Morricone, whose music would play a huge role in the success of Leone’s future films, reaching its zenith with the epic, operatic Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Here, Morricone’s raw sounds complement the stark cinematography and rough editing, giving the film a kind of gritty cover over its amateurish character interplay characterized by dead one-liners that are occasionally unintentionally funny.

The final action set-piece raises the tension a notch higher.  Complete with wind, dust, and in sweltering heat, Leone sets Joe against the chief villain in a dawn shootout that is expertly staged and precisely executed.  It is this climatic sequence that gives viewers the best glimpse of Leone’s filmmaking talent and his unmatched sense of timing.

A Fistful of Dollars is a B-grade “spaghetti Western” that entertains and is quite admired by many.  Leone tried to replicate it with For a Few Dollars More (1965) but, in my opinion, to a far less successful outcome.  However, in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), he finally scored big time with a film as legendary as they come.


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