By Marc S. Sanders
Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars is a pioneering classic. It set the standard for the spaghetti western. It made Clint Eastwood a household name and it set a trend for tension filled violence in cinema often imitated by directors like Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) and Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Django Unchained), as well as even Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter, Unforgiven, Magnum Force) who regarded Leone as well as director Don Siegel as his inspirations and teachers in filmmaking.
The set up is simple. A desolate town plagued by two warring factions is met by the antihero, only known as The Man With No Name (Eastwood). The Man plays the best interests of the Mexican Rojas family against the Baxter family. In the midst of it all, he continues to collect bounties from both sides.
Leone seems to have invented trademark shots that have become routine staples in films like the protagonist appearing from behind a cloud of smoke, the zoom in camera during a quick draw duel, the surprise survival against the odds, and even the memorable one liner (“Get three coffins ready”…”My mistake. Four.”).
It’s exciting entertainment and it paved the way for a different kind of western. The good guy no longer rides a horse named Trigger while dressed in white. Here he welcomes the violence because he knows he’s the only who can eliminate the threat of bloodshed.
Eastwood’s character is a man of few words to keep the viewer curious. Where does he come from? Who is he? How long has he been traveling? It’s one of the all time great movie characters that leads threads hanging and inspired future favorites like Dirty Harry, Rambo, Wolverine, Neil McCauley (Michael Mann’s Heat played by Robert DeNiro), Batman and even Boba Fett, as well as some early Han Solo.
The first of the trailblazing Dollars trilogy still holds up despite the dubbed in English of most of the players. They might be hard to understand at times. Yet the craftsmanship of Sergio Leone makes sure all the elements are easy to follow with seamless control of the camera.
A great Western.