Monday, July 18, 2011

Fistful Of Dollars (1964)

The Tale Of The Man With No Name
Part I.... Or Is It Part III?

With a crack of a whip and tune of a whistle, the trail-blazing Fistful Of Dollars (1964) takes the audience to director Sergio Leone's wild western world. Basically a flat-out "spaghetti western" remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) - an unnamed gunslinger rides into a town that is ruled by two gangster families and decides to get rid of them by playing one off the other - Fistful Of Dollars nonetheless delivers a stylish and classic film all its own: electrifying, fun, and simmering with atmosphere.

I love this film, but I will admit that the voice dubbing is just atrocious. Since Fistful of Dollars was shot without any sound and was made by a multi-national cast and crew (with little to no one involved with the film, outside of Clint Eastwood, knowing English), English voices had to be added in later and subsequently do not always match the actor's mouths. Still, I do not think that the poor voice dubbing hurts the film very much at all.

Leone's "Dollars" Trilogy, arguably a not real connected trilogy, begins with a bang with Fistful Of Dollars (or ends with a bang, depending on whether or not one thinks the trilogy begins with The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966) and ends with Fistful Of Dollars - either way, For A Few Dollars More (1965) is always second!). Big, but perhaps not as epic as the rest of the trilogy, Fistful Of Dollars is definitely my favorite Sergio Leone film. I love Leone's signature rough-around-the-edges style - I think that Leone's style may have peaked with Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) but it was forged right here in Fistful Of Dollars to great, great effect. The story is, for me, the most interesting of the three films. The plot is focused and simple, yet much more engrossing than the lust-for-revenge bank robbery and the Civil War-set search for gold of the other films - seeing Eastwood's man with no name play the two gangs against each other tops it for me.

The greater focus on Eastwood's character in Fistful Of Dollars is a huge reason as to why I prefer it to the rest of the "Dollars" Trilogy. Clint Eastwood debuts as one of the coolest cats to ever strut on screen here in this film; cold but not entirely detached, sarcastic but smart, and laconic but a fast drawer and sure shot. This gun-toting 'tude-carrying thug-clearing anti-hero character is one of the most fun ever to watch on film and I think Fistful Of Dollars best represents what makes the character great. In the rest of the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood is almost a supporting player to characters that are less interesting than him (and, especially in the case of Tucco in The Good The Bad And The Ugly, some that are really annoying) but in Fistful Of Dollars Eastwood is the main event.

Fistful Of Dollars is a remake, technically of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (which is not as original as some people think.... Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (1929), anyone?), but it is one of the most original remakes ever and one of the few remakes to top their originals. Sergio Leone has a way with westerns and brands A Fistful Of Dollars with a great pace and his signature cinematic style. Massimo Dallamano (credited as Jack Dalmas) adds exquisite cinematography work to the film and Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio) also writes a wonderful score, the first of many great Leone/Morricone scored films. Fistful Of Dollars is enveloped in grandeur, pulsating with excitement, and just fizzing over with cool - the last 10 minutes of the film alone is cinematic gold.

CBC Rating: 10/10

As a sort of side note, to clear up a certain question some may have been asking themselves while reading this review: The name of the film is "Fistful Of Dollars" - not "A Fistful Of Dollars" like most English-language publications suggest. If the film was meant to be called "A Fistful Of Dollars" in English, it would not have titled itself "Fistful Of Dollars" in the opening credits sequence.

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