A Fistful of Dollars

11 Jun

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I’m not a particularly big fan of Westerns. Or rather, I am not well versed in Westerns; the few I have seen I have really enjoyed. Chief among those is Tombstone, a movie so good it piqued my interest in the genre somewhat. I decided recently that Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western trilogy would be a good place to start with extending my foray into these films. And with it being a trilogy, what better place to begin than with the first of those films – Sergio Leone’s seminal A Fistful of Dollars.

Filmed in 1964 but only getting it’s US release in 1967, A Fistful of Dollars stars Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. The story is a simple one; a mysterious American rides into the small Mexican town of San Miguel. After quickly establishing himself as being pretty handy with a gun, he sets about getting to know the town. He learns that there are two rival families. They are The Baxters and The Rojos. Their feud is a bitter one, and our nameless hero immediately starts working this to his advantage.

The Man With No Name sets about double-crossing the families with what prove to be relatively simple, yet brilliant plans. All of this is done to make money for himself, pitting the greed of the families against each other for his own ends.

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One of my favourite things about this movie is the appearance of the characters when they are talking. All of the footage for this movie was filmed silent, and the voices were dubbed over the footage later. There are times when this is incredibly obvious and the sound doesn’t even come close to matching the movements of the characters. It’s regularly nowhere close to being in sync but rather than taking anything away from the quality of the film, I found little quirks such as these only added to the overall charm of the film.

I also enjoyed some of the shootouts. There are some wonderful scenes where we see shots fired and as the camera cuts to men on horseback – the victims of the shooting – they are flung off theirs steeds in an over the top fashion. Far different to today’s standards, the shootings are gore-free; no blood bursts out of the bullet-recipients heads or chests, they just get sent flying off of their horses. It all feels a little cartoonish and as well as entertaining me for what it was, it also made me chuckle. I would normally see it as a bad thing if serious scenes made me laugh, but as I’ve already said these elements film only add to its appeal, and never take anything away from it. The fact that it is occasionally funny in no way detracts from the quality of the filmmaking.

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In terms of the casting of this movie, there is only point really worthy of discussion; Clint Eastwood. The Man With No Name is an iconic character, and it’s all thanks to the quality of Eastwood’s performance. His character is a basic one; there is nothing in the way of a back-story for Eastwood to worry about, he just has to nail being cool, and boy does he do it. From his sunshine squint to the way he holds a cigar in his mouth, everything about this drips style – it almost shouldn’t be cool, but it just works. There are no faults amongst the rest of the cast, but they fall by the wayside in comparison to the movie’s anti-hero.

I loved the lack of back story to the characters in this movie. We know why the two families are rivals but that’s about it. The film is very based in it’s own time, we don’t need to know anything about the life of the protagonist, we just need to know that he is there. It works and doesn’t saddle you with pointless detail. Far from lacking character development, this helps place you in the moment and just enjoy the story for what it is.

I found this to be a good film. It ticked a lot of the boxes I expected from a classic Western, right down to a final showdown with close up’s on the shooters faces where we see their eyebrows twitching (like I say, I’m not well-up on Westerns but that’s a fantastic stereotype of these movies, right?) With an excellent score, some truly brilliant camera work and overall direction, plus a fantastic anti-hero to fall in love with, this iconic piece of film making richly deserves its status as a classic in it’s genre. I’m sure in time it will prove to have been a good gateway into Westerns for me, and I look forward to taking in the next two parts of this trilogy, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

7/10

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One Response to “A Fistful of Dollars”

  1. 1894tony June 14, 2013 at 04:46 #

    wholly agree with your review – Clint Eastwood movies give you plenty to go at … there’s been a few

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