A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Director: Sergio Leone

I’ve seen this a few times over the years, but tonight might be the first time I’ve watched it and actually enjoyed it. Not the first spaghetti western, but the one that seems to have really made the form viable in Italy, where there was still a market for westerns despite the genre fading in the US, even if they were ripped off from Japanese films. Or Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo in particular. Kurosawa’s studio did not appreciate “Bob Robertson” lifting from their film, despite Yojimbo itself being a knock-off of two Dashiell Hammett novels, and the legal battle kept it off American screens until 1967, whereupon star Clint Eastwood—already an icon in Italy—suddenly became a major drawcard. And yeah, it is, basically, just Yojimbo all’Italiana; the similarities are too great to deny. It does nothing particularly original, except perhaps make the hard-boiled style of Hammett’s novels a major part of the film’s style and tone. It might be a blazing hot near-desert setting but the film itself is cold as can be. Awfully well-shot coldness, mind you; even American critics who loathed it on its initial release (apparently most of them) admitted that little. And maybe that’s why I finally got it tonight. Any time I’ve seen it over the last 20 years has been a shitty cropped version (even the version I saw a few years ago on TV was cropped for widescreen broadcast). Short of seeing an original film print, the best way I was going to see it would be an anamorphic digital version on a widescreen TV, and tonight I finally did that. And I could see that it’s not particularly a masterpiece or anything, but it actually is a well-made film within its admitted limitations—it was clearly not a hugely expensive production—certainly better than I once would’ve given it credit for being, and the screen compositions are great and also bound to suffer if viewed at any less than this evening’s conditions. Clint? Well, he kind of plays himself, I suppose, always did, but he’s kind of perfect for this “man with no name” gunslinger character. It’s kind of amazing that Eastwood was something like the tenth actor Leone approached for the role, he being the first that was both willing and able to take it (not to mention cheap enough for Leone to afford), cos he just seems so right. So yeah, after 20 years, I think I finally get some of the fuss at last… I’ll take that.

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