Aug. 19, 2006
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Wolfgang Lukschy

What it's about. A western set in Mexico, circa 1870. The Man With No Name, a.k.a. Clint Eastwood, arrives in a small village beset by rival factions, the Rojos and the Baxters. Eastwood's alleged plan is to take money from both sides indefinitely, but his true mission is to kill all the gunmen and their backers until the town is peaceful.

We must note that A Fistful of Dollars has strong similarity to Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, and was remade as Last Man Standing, starrig Bruce Willis.

How others will see it. Eastwood's tough guy persona was already in place due to the television series "Rawhide." Fans are given exactly what they expect: he's a killer, but only of those who deserve it. He's a taker, but only of things that don't rightly belong to their owners. He's unstoppable, but the head bad guy still holds all the cards. Or does he?

How I felt about it. A Fistful of Dollars, of course, was the first entry in Leone's Man With No Name trilogy. It's also the weakest of the three films, although that is relative indeed, considering its obvious quality. It's just that For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are great films. They were made possible due to the success of A Fistful of Dollars, which allowed the budget for Leone to work his screen magic. All three films benefit considerably from Ennio Morricone's magnificent score. The Italian actors are clearly dubbed, but it doesn't matter much.

A Fistful of Dollars is a struggle between Eastwood and his efficiently murderous foe, Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte). Ramon is a monster, whose only weakness is an obsession with Latin hottie Marriane Koch, a woman so beautiful she must be innocent, and therefore worthy of Eastwood's intervention. The same cannot be said for the Baxters, whom Eastwood works for but cannot protect. They are wiped out like steers in a slaughterhouse, and all Eastwood can do is grimace from his hiding place inside a coffin. Some help he is, although revenge is clearly forthcoming.

In a way, it's all rather silly. Ramon empties a rifle into the same spot in Eastwood's armor, without ever deciding that a head shot would make a nice change of place. He annihilates the Baxters, but for the wrong reason, speculating that Koch or Eastwood is hiding there, even though burning the place is likely to kill them both if by long shot they are there. Killing the Baxters is more practical to gain a monopoly of the lucrative local businesses.

Ramon is also good with his machine gun. He kills every member of a sizable Mexican army regiment, without killing a single horse beneath them. He's fortunate that none of the regiment considers riding behind him, rather than in front of him. Meanwhile, Eastwood watches the spectacle without taking action against the wholesale murder. If a child or a pretty woman were involved, instead of dozens of men, it would be different, I suppose.

Ever consider whether Eastwood's cigarette is a pacifier substitute? Probably the worst part of the beating he receives is that he was denied his cigarette. He's also fortunate to have Silvanito (Jose Calvo) as a friend: free room and board, plus help in investigating the Rojos. And in return, his friend is tortured and nearly killed. The old man undertaker does better, since Eastwood's presence leads to a boom in business.