Eye For Film >> Movies >> A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) Film Review
A Fistful Of Dollars may not have been the first Italian Western but it was the one that broke the all-American hero mode, revitalising the genre and ushering in a new type of cowboy. And Sergio Leone's doesn't play by the rules.
Joe (Clint Eastwood) is a man with a name in this first installment of the "man with no name" trilogy, which culminated in the superb The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, some years later. While not as polished, this first installment sees Leone try out techniques that would come to be his trademarks in future movies - down and dirty characters who are morally ambiguous, meaty facial close ups and careful post-production overlaying of sound, dialogue and score.
The plot is simple - and borrowed almost wholesale from Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Joe rides into a deadbeat Mexican town on his mule. We don't know where he has come from, or where he is going, but it is clear that he aims to stick around and make a killing, in more than one sense of the word.
The town has been torn in two by the Rojos, a Mafia-like Mexican clan, who are the baddest of the bad, and the Baxters, who are pretty formidable themselves. Joe sets out to make a quick buck by playing one off against the other while becoming sidetracked by a "save the maiden in distress" quest.
The focus here is firmly on the action. Joe is a man of few words - apparently Clint fought to have even more lines cut from the script. There is a set piece every 15 minutes or so, to keep the Italians happy and little time for character development.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The film simply oozes style and the marriage of Morricone's seminal score and Leone's unique viewpoint works perfectly to ensure that tension runs throughout.
Surprisingly brutal, the film takes no prisoners when there's pain to be dished out. A child is booted across a street, a man has a lit cigarette forced into his mouth and Joe has his hand ground under the heel of a boot in a beating-up scene worthy of Rambo, or Die Hard's John McClane.
Not everything works for a modern day audience. The low budget meant that many of the night scenes were shot in the day, using filters, and since the plot twist was parodied in Back To The Future III there's a chance that it may have been "spoilt" already. The lack of characterisation also takes its toll, but these are small gripes. A Fistful Of Dollars still remains a clever film, shot with sophistication, which, quite rightly, propelled Eastwood to international stardom.
Plus, you'll be whistling the tune for hours, if not days. Or are you whistling it now, like me?Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2005
If you like this, try:A Fistful Of Dynamite