• Fistful Of Dollars, A

    Released on: 8/2/2011

    Released by: MGM

    Director: Sergio Leone

    Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, John Wels

    Year: 1964

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    The Movie:

    The lead role in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars
    was originally offered to Henry Fonda and then to Charles Bronson but would eventually wind up making Clint Eastwood a household name. A lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (Kurosawa and company successfully sued the filmmakers for copyright infringement), the international success of the film would kick start the Spaghetti Western phenomena into high gear and result in dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators over the next decade and a half.
    In the film, Eastwood plays Joe (better known as ‘The Man With No Name’ though never actually referred to by that handle and credited as ‘Joe’ in the credits of the film), a rough and tumble cowboy who rides into the small desert town of San Miguel, close to the border of Mexico. After making short work of four tough talking gunmen, he wanders into the saloon where he makes Silvanito (Jose Calvo of Giovanni Grimaldi’s In A Colt’s Shadow
    ), the bartender, who tells him about the problems that the town has to deal with. It seems that two well to do families from the area are at war with one another and are slowly but surely tearing the town apart with their feud. These two families, the American Baxter’s and the Hispanic Rojo’s, could care less about who gets in their way and it’s because of their behavior that so many men have wound up dead.

    Joe, smart sonuvabitch that he is, figures he can work one side against the other if he plays his cards right and not only save the town a whole lot of grief, but earns himself a healthy sum for services rendered in the process. This works for awhile but soon things go wrong and after a few nasty and violent incidents, he’s going to have to showdown with the only remaining member of the two clans left with any clout, Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volonte who Leone would later cast again in For A Few Dollars More
    made just the next year).

    Shockingly violent and grim compared to the American westerns of the same time period, A Fistful Of Dollars
    was, while not the first Spaghetti Western, certainly the most influential one up until that time. Financed by German, Italian and Spanish investors and made for an international audience the film capitalized on Eastwood’s good looks and rising star (it was made during his time off on Rawhide) to create a new kind of anti-hero, one which would be imitated time and time again. Joe is only out for himself and while he doesn’t go out of his way to hurt anyone, he certainly doesn’t turn the other cheek when someone wrongs him. He’s out for himself and he has no qualms about letting anyone know that. He’s hardly the traditional cowboy type played by John Wayne in so many John Ford films in the years before.

    The look of the film backs this up. Whereas before we’d expect the west to look clean and serene and beautiful and scenic, here the events take place in a rough and beaten up town set in and amongst a harsh and unforgiving desert. You won’t see anyone singing ‘Happy Trails’ in this arid landscape, made obvious by the type of people who inhabit it. When Eastwood’s character is the hero, you know you’re surrounded by scoundrels, as he’s hardly an angel himself.

    The ‘borrowed ideas’ from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo
    are obvious, but by changing the time and place where it all takes place Leone was able to put his own unique spin on the story and really make it his own film, rather than a half assed Kurosawa remake. The two directors had very different styles and as such, made very different films despite the obvious similarities inherent in the material in terms of story structure and plot devices.

    While Leone would only get better from here on out, A Fistful Of Dollars
    is an amazing film when you take into account how fast and for how little money the film was made. As an action movie, it’s fantastic - it flies by at a rapid pace and provides ample opportunity for violent action and tough guy posturing. In comparison to the film’s that Eastwood and Leone would later make both together and apart, it was a foreshadowing of the greatness to come and the humble beginnings of an amazing body of work.


    MGM previously issued this film as part of The Man With No Name Trilogy along with the two follow up films, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. The transfer, audio and extras on this single disc reissue appear to be identical to the disc that was in the boxed set. The film is presented in its original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. There definitely could have been more care in the restoration department and yes, there are spots where the overzealous scrubbing of grain results in some waxy complexions and details disappearing, but it’s not all that bad. Colors look good, detail in many scenes is very strong and there’s way less compression obvious here. You won’t have any problems spotting edge enhancement in spots, but most fans know that already.

    There is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mixe supplied for the film, but there are an array of dubs and alternate tracks included as well: including the English mono track, a Spanish mono track and a French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track with subtitles provided in the same three languages. So yeah, take your pick between the original mono mixes, in lossy standard definition, or lossless 5.1 DTS-HD tracks, there’s no lossless mono option provided, unfortunately. That said, the DTS-HD track is pretty decent. Dialogue is never hard to understand and the levels are well balanced. Much of the action comes from the front of the mix but Morricone’s classic score is spread out rather well throughout the soundstage and swells up from the rear channels to add plenty of mood and atmosphere.

    First up for extra features is a commentary by Christopher Frayling. Those who have heard his commentaries before know that this man truly knows his stuff. Having written Something To Do With Death
    , the definitive Sergio Leone biography, there’s probably no one out there who knows more about the late, great director’s life and times than Sir Frayling does. Frayling packs this track with all manner of information from details of pre-production and casting problems to trivia regarding certain cast members and what they’ve been up to since the film was finished. Frayling, for his book, got to talk to a lot of the people involved in the film and so he has no shortage of things to say about A Fistful Of Dollars and how it would go on to impact the rest of Leone’s career, and subsequently Eastwood’s as well. Frayling did a great job on the group commentary on Paramount’s Once Upon A Time In The West two disc set and does an equally great job flying solo on this release.

    Fox/MGM have also included an all new featurette with Frayling entitled The Christopher Frayling Archives: A Fistful Of Dollars. This eighteen minutes documentary is a piece in which the noted Spaghetti Western historian and Leone biographer shows off some great pieces of memorabilia from his very extensive collection. Here we see the original script, some posters, lobby cards and even some records. For movie memorabilia collectors, this is a pretty cool segment.

    After that we move on to a documentary on the making of the film entitled A New Kind Of Hero
    . This is a twenty-two minute look behind the scenes, once again with Frayling as our tour guide, that delves into a lot of great technical information on how Leone shaped his vision of the American west and how the technology available to him on a limited budget (the movie was made for roughly $200,000.00, low even by the standards of 1964) came into play while he was trying to do so. Though it does cover some of the same ground as the commentary track does, there’s not too much cross over and this is a very interesting look at Leone’s working process early on in his career and it makes for an interesting comparison when you read up on how his later films came into shape.

    An eight minute featurette with Clint Eastwood entitled Two Weeks In Spain
    gives the man with no name himself a chance to spill his guts about the film. He talks about his experiences on set, how it was sometimes difficult to communicate, why he took the role and how it worked for him.

    A second documentary entitled Tre Voci
    is up next. This one clocks in at eleven minutes and it examines the English language version of the film by interviewing the three men responsible for making that happen – Alberto Grimaldi, Mickey Knox, and Sergio Donati. All three men have got some interesting stories about some of the director’s eccentricities and bizarre working methods, and once again it makes for an interesting companion piece to the feature film on disc one.

    The additional prologue scene that was shot for television is included here along with some insight from Howard Fridkin, who just so happened to record it on Betamax when it was broadcast and as such has the only known copy of it in existence. Taking that into account, it’s no wonder that it looks like its in pretty rough shape, but it’s great to finally have a chance to see it, even if it is completely out of place in the film. This prologue was to take place before the opening credits sequence and has Harry Dean Stanton a lawman who sets a body double for Clint Eastwood free so that he can, in return for his freedom, take care of two problem groups, thus giving Eastwood’s character stronger motivation for events that would take place later on in the film.

    The Not Yet Ready For Primetime
    featurette is a six minute segment with Monte Hellman who talks about his involvement in creating the aforementioned prologue for television broadcast. Hellman doesn’t seem to proud of his work here, and he tells some amusing stories about how it came to be and about how Clint Eastwood told him he didn’t remember filming it (which makes sense, because he didn’t).

    Rounding out the extra features are five minutes worth of location comparisons, ten different radio spots for the film, a still gallery featuring roughly thirty promotional images, a trailer,
    and a double bill trailer.

    The Final Word:

    The one that started it all, Fistful Of Dollars deserves its place in the collection of anyone interested in westerns or just true, epic filmmaking. Leone, Eastwood and Morricone would only get better together from here on out but this one still kicks all sorts of ass. As to the Blu-ray itself? You don’t need it if you have the boxed set, but if you don’t (and you should!), it’s now available on its own at a very fair price. Yes, the transfer could have been better than it is but you get solid audio and a good array of extras to compliment the movie and take a bit of the sting out.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      These westerns are all so cheap at Walmart right now, and I've been holding off on them. I really dig Few Dollars more, but never really liked Fistful...but I think that i'm going to pick it up now, dammit.
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Ian, am I right in saying that, as per the US Blu-ray release of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, the mono track on this is a downmix of the 5.1 track, and thus includes the new foley effects (eg, the new, echo-ey gunshot sounds) that were created for the SE DVD releases about five or six years ago - rather than the original foley effects?