Fistful of Dollars, A (1964): Spaghetti Western from Leone

a_fistful_of_dollars_posterSergio Leone popularized the new subgenre of “Spaghetti Westerns” with A Fistful of Dollars, which approached the genre with respect, love, humor—and a good deal of self-consciousness.

The plot borrows heavily from Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961), which itself was influenced by such American Westerns, “The Magnificent Seven.” Even so, Leone managed to create a work of his own that would serve as a model for most of his future films.

Clint Eastwood, then best known as a TV actor, plays a cynical gunfighter who comes to a small border town, offering his services to two rivaling gangs. Neither gang is aware of his double play, and each thinks it is using him, not realizing that the stranger is much smarter and more cynical than they are

This picture was the first installment in a cycle that became known as the “Dollars Trilogy.”  The other (better) panels are:  “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966).

United Artists, which distributed it in the U.S., coined another term for the series: the “Man With No Name” trilogy.

a_fistful_of_dollars_2_eastwood“Fistful of Dollars” showcases all of Leone’s distinctive visual devices and trademarks: taciturn characters, long silent sequences, precise framing, extreme close-ups (of both heroes and villains), and the memorably haunting music composed by the genius Ennio Morricone.

The film was released in the U.S. in 1967, three years after it was made, due to copyright problems, but immediately struck a chord with young college students and film aficionados.

a_fistful_of_dollars_1_eastwoodThis hard-hitting Western, skillfully directed and lushly photographed, not only broke new grounds but also became a classic of an all but dead genre in the American cinema. The film was a decisive factor in careers of both Eastwood, then an actor in decline, and Leone, who would proceed with two masterworks, “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984).

 

Credits

Running time: 101 minutes.

Directed by Sergio Leone

Screenplay: Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, G. Schock, Victor A. Catena