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A Fistful of Dollars

#389 - A Fistful of Dollars
Sergio Leone, 1964

A drifter finds his way into a Mexican border town where a conflict between two gangs of outlaws is brewing and he decides to play both sides against one another.

How the mighty have fallen. Back in 2005, I put A Fistful of Dollars at #19 on my original Top 100 list - it was understandably outranked by Once Upon a Time in the West, yet ranked far higher than For a Few Dollars More (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly did not chart at all for reasons I'm sure wouldn't make any sense to me if I remembered them). Ten years on, I'm liable to consider this my least favourite Leone film (though I still have to see A Fistful of Dynamite, so there's no telling if that'll "overtake" this one in that regard). Still, Leone is a sufficiently talented filmmaker so that this film, which borrows the bulk of its plotting and characterisation from Kurosawa's Yojimbo, manages to distinguish itself well enough from its unofficial source of inspiration and be entertaining enough even though it does not plumb the same depths or scale the same heights that defined Leone's other films.

Much of the film's quality can easily be attributed to having Clint Eastwood as the nameless protagonist with his iconic outfit and laconic, squinting demeanour. Few others do much to distinguish themselves with the exception of Gian Maria Volonté as the principal antagonist, who is gleefully sadistic and is as good a match for Eastwood's acting ability as the film has to offer (underneath all the dubbing, of course). Watching this so closely after watching Yojimbo means it's easy to pick apart how closely Leone follows Kurosawa, but with a film this simple it's good that it sticks pretty closely to the original with only the occasional concession to the difference in settings (such as dropping the sub-plot about a village inspector and inserting a gambit involving dead soldiers in a cemetery) to keep things interesting. That's without mentioning how well many of the action sequences adapt from swords to guns just fine, especially as the film draws towards it climax. It may not be that much of a classic anymore but it's a nice and straightforward Western that will most likely remain a minor favourite no matter what.