RETRO REVIEW – ‘A Fistful of Dollars’

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: September 1964
DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jack Dalmas
WRITERS: Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood
MUSIC: Dan Savio

In the 1960s, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone would reinvent the Western with a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film, “Yojimbo”. The film was called “Per un Pugno Di Dollari”, or “A Fistful of Dollars”, and it would go on to invent what would become known as the Spaghetti Western. It would also be the film that would make Clint Eastwood an international star.

The film was released in Italy in 1964. “Dollars” would not make its way to the United States until ’67 when the rest of Leone’s “Dollar” trilogy (“For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”) was also released in the States.

In a small Mexican border town called San Miguel, a stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into town and learns about a feud between two families, the Baxters and the Rojo brothers. The stranger, who became known to American audiences through promotional material as The Man with No Name, knows that this is the perfect opportunity to make money.

And this is what makes the film different from the rest. Up to this point, audiences were used to Westerns that had established good guys and bad guys. They knew who to side with and who that person would be going after. This film had characters that represented a more realistic version of the Wild West.

Even the main character, which is actually credited as Joe despite his more famous title, has darker, greedier intentions. It has often been said that if there was ever something that John Wayne wouldn’t do such as shoot a man in the back, Eastwood wouldn’t hesitate. This is very true in this film. His character has no problem playing the two families against each other for nothing more than personal gain.

This more realistic view of the West is also more exciting because of the unpredictability of its characters. Therefore, credit should go to Leone for reinventing a genre that Hollywood was getting ready to abandon for the most part. Leone would also continue this stride not only with the “Dollars” trilogy, but also with the magnificent “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

It is also no wonder that this is the film that made Eastwood known to the world. Instead of chewing up screen time with useless monologues and careless action, he understands that he can get his point across with few words and quick actions. Watching him dispatch four of the Baxters at the beginning of the film is just as exciting as any twenty minute long chase sequence.

The lack of dialogue also makes the lines he does speak in the movie more powerful. In some cases, less is more and it’s good to see that Eastwood and Leone understand this.

Leone would go on to make Italy a powerhouse in the film industry during the ‘60s and would become a legendary director. After watching “Dollars,” it is not really that hard to see why. This film is a definite must-see for any fans of the West.

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