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A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

To start I should say that I haven’t seen the Japanese film “Yojimbo”, the film that Sergio Leone has transformed in to a Western with this film so this review is based solely on this film and not the comparisons and parallels to it’s ‘original’.

“A Fistful of Dollars” is the first film in the now famous dollars trilogy of Sergio Leone. The film sees the introduction of the famous ‘Man with No Name” portrayed by Clint Eastwood as he stumbles upon a town that appears to be constantly in a power struggle between two rival families.

Acting as the opportunist, ‘Joe’ (as he is referred to by the undertaker, although this is due to it being a common name) decides to cleverly pit the two families against each other. Upon entering the town he quickly shows the rest of the town, and us viewers what he is all about, unhappy at the actions of one of the families who shot at to scare his Mule he responds by using his gun shooting skills to kill those responsible. It becomes clear that he is to become a hero and end the feud between the families.

Although Leone’s trilogy can be viewed in any order the viewer wishes to it is almost always suggested by film fans that they be watched in the order they were created for the purpose of seeing Leone’s improvement as a director. Although this film is not held in such high regard as Leone’s more recent works such as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” it is a fantastic Western in which we are introduced to what we now know as some of Leone’s famous techniques, style and themes that can be seen throughout his works. The film is referred to as the beginning of the ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, a nickname given to mock the attempts of a low budget director who attempted to enter the American Western Genre with low budget films shot in the Italian and Spanish deserts.

This film sees the introduction of many Leone Trademarks that have made him one of the most celebrated directors and synonymous with the ‘Spaghetti Western’ genre. We see the trademark long shots and close up of the character’s faces. We get to hear the sound of Ennio Morricone’s wonderful music that he has become famous for in Leone’s films. Like it’s sequel “For a few Dollars more” we also see a similar style plot in which the story is not so straightforward and the hero runs in to many obstacles along the way with the situation constantly changing for him.

The main focus of the film is undoubtedly the character of Clint Eastwood who works well as the hero, with the film inevitably ending in confrontation between him and the infamous local leader Ramón Rojo as we get our first taste of Leone’s widescreen duels between the hero and his enemy. Ramón is portrayed by Gian Maria Volonté, an Italian actor who also portrays the main villain in “For a Few Dollars More”. Aside from Eastwood and Volonté the film sees little of any other characters in what is quite a simple plot, the introduction of Lee Van Cleef for the final two films of the trilogy shows improvement from Leone as a director as he offers stronger support to the leading actor Clint Eastwood.

For any fans of Westerns, I am guessing you have already seen “A Fistful of Dollars”, if you haven’t then I strongly recommend you do, followed by the other two films in Leone’s fantastic trilogy. Although not remembered as a masterpiece, the film is remembered as the beginning of Sergio Leone who is now often labelled as not only the pioneer of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, but one of the best directors of all time.