Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A Fistful of Dollars (4½ Stars)

I've watched this film a few times, but I couldn't remember what happened in it, however much I tried. All I could remember was the vision of Clint Eastwood as a character. Tall. Thin. A poncho. Sometimes a hat. A cigar. Always walking casually and unconcerned, however many guns were pointed at him.

Maybe that was the intention of the film. It's not about the story. It's all about the atmosphere. When the film was made in 1964 it was in stark contrast to the many American westerns that had preceded it. Fast action and fast shooting with a dash of romance, that's what American westerns were about. This Italian film directed by Sergio Leone was the opposite. It moved slowly and ponderously, as if the searing Mexican heat had slowed everyone down. Yes, there was action, and there was more blood visible than in its American equivalents, but it was short bursts of action. It was like a rattlesnake coiled in the sun, watching its prey, then suddenly biting, before settling back into its position.

Let me describe the film's plot in a few words, more for myself than for anyone else, because I might forget it again by this time next year. Clint Eastwood is an American who rides into the town of San Miguel, a Mexican town close to the border. He's warned that everyone who comes into the town either gets rich or is killed. It's a lawless town in which only two people do any legal work. There's an inn keeper and an undertaker. Everyone else is a member of one of the town's two rival gangs. Clint sees an opportunity and formally joins one of the gangs, but he plays the two against one another, earning money from both of them. In the first half of the film he seems to be totally amoral, deceiving anyone for his own profit, but in the second half he does perform some selfless acts to protect the innocents caught in the middle of the gang war.

The poster describes Clint Eastwood's character as "the man with no name", but in the film he's called Joe. It could be argued that this was a nickname given him, but I see no reason for this assumption.

"A Fistful of Dollars" is supposedly a remake of the 1961 Japanese film "Yojimbo". Sergio Leone denied this, but an injunction was taken against him preventing the film being shown outside of Italy. He finally agreed to pay Akira Kurosawa $100,000 in compensation, and the film was finally released in America in 1967.

Clint Eastwood made three films with Sergio Leone. They're referred to as the Dollars Trilogy, but even though he looked and talked the same in all three films it's not certain that it was actually meant to be the same character. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. It doesn't really matter. I can't remember what happened in the other two films either. I'll have to watch them again.


  1. I saw the middle film of the trilogy first, and it was dubbed in French but still gripped me. Then I saw this one and then the strongest one with the iconic title 'the good, the bad and the ugly'. It's hard for me to say if Eastwood was better as the man with no name or dirty Harry but for sure those were his defining roles.

    1. I grew up watching westerns on television. My father loved them, and whenever one was shown on one of the three TV channels we had available we had to watch it. They were the American westerns though. John Wayne and the like. I don't believe I ever saw Clint Eastwood's films as a child. I knew they existed, but I avoided them even as an adult. It can't have been more than 10 years ago when I finally watched them... and loved them!

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