Written by: Ron Cotton on July 1st, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, August 27th, 1964
Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: A. Bonzzoni, Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonté, Marianne Koch
DVD released: October 5th, 1999
Approximate running time: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen / 4:3 Pan and Scan
Sound: Dolby digital 2.0
DVD Release: MGM
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $9.99
“I love westerns, its American cinema, it’s our piece of history, England has Shakespeare, Asia has Kung-Fu, and America has the Old West.” –Robert Duvall
The Man with No Name steps foot into the seemingly silent town as Juan de Dios introduces the stranger to two fractions: the Rojos and the Baxters elaborating he’ll be rich if he uses his head. The town isn’t tranquil as it seems. Silvanito, the bartender, describes the busiest person in this desperate town is a gravedigger who buries the dead gunslingers, leaving widows behind. The two fractions are stronger Rojos sell liquor and weaker Baxters are gun runners who sell their trades to the Indians. Silvanito knows what the stranger is thinking, yet the stranger takes his chances and stays. The Man with No Name begins employ with the stronger Rojo bandits who hesitate to cause any trouble during the arrival of the military cavalry. The Man with No Name doesn’t work cheap as a hired gun. Later, he eavesdrops on conspirators who wish to kill and strip him of his pay once the Baxters are rid of. With this in mind, he widens the gap between him and the Rojos. He also discovers the cavalry’s stagecoach is full of gold. While the cavalry trade the gold for arms, Ramon double crosses them, killing them all with his own hands. Ramon outfits the dead with different military outfits, giving the illusion that the two armies in the valley killed one other. The Man with No Name comes up with a plan. With the help of Silvanito, The Man with No Name sets up two solders on a grave and informs both sides of two solders at the cemetery who escaped who know of Ramon’s betrayal. Both the Rojos and Baxters duel, as The Man with No Name searches out the traded gold at Rojos. Has the Man with No Name succeed or will his underhanded work be discovered and lead to his demise?
A Fistful of Dollars revitalized the western movies with an intensity and realism unlike anything else before in the genre. Sergio Leone’s famed “The Man With No Name” trilogy includes For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. Extreme close-ups, long camera shots, and intense lighting are hallmarks of Sergio’s long running legacy. This is Sergio’s first collaboration with the musical great, Ennio Morricone, whose haunting music later made these melodies synonymous to western cinema. Clint Eastwood’s furious expressions cut fear into those who cross his path, matched with his fast draw which is enough to inspire fear. A Fistful of Dollars’ originated from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which inspired Sergio to adapt the samurai story into a western. Yojimbo is about an outsider stirring up trouble between two rival clans. All these elements united at the right place at the right time.
Clint Eastwood’s lead role as the “Man with no Name” cut his own lines to feed intensity about his character. Clint was influenced so strongly to later direct the western Unforgiven, paying tribute to Leone’s great works. This “new breed of westerns” raised the level of violence and in many ways influenced a new genre of films known as heroic bloodshed. Italian productions had no Motion Picture Production Code to follow; therefore A Fistful of Dollars was able to combine both bloodthirsty gunslingers with their hapless victims together in the same frame. Sergio’s emphasis on facial expressions is repeatedly found in the heroic bloodshed genre. This is a key factor that allows the audience to identify with the antagonist in sympathy rather than apathy. Sergio uses the entire frame with bravado to his advantage. Activity is found in both the foreground and the background and strong perspective shots that lead the viewer. The scenes are well thought out, and Sergio’s timing is perfect. Enemies are shot low, up from the ground like a child looking upwards. Intense moments get extreme close-ups as wide scenic shots show the set up. The strongest scene is when an armored statue is shot at and words are exchanged between Ramon and The Man with No Name. This is a key element that foreshadows the final showdown. The movie has no real resolve and just moves from one cliffhanger to another.
MGM’s DVD offers two viewing options a widescreen presentation which preserves the films original Techniscope 2:35:1 aspect ratio and a full frame option that severely alters the films compositions. Overall MGM’s DVD looks good and has been sourced from a very good print.
The are two audio options on this DVD English and French Dolby Digital mono and as with most Italian productions at the time the soundtrack was created in post-production. There was an occasional crackle on the track and some minor hiss overall this soundtrack is respectable. Morricone’s score on A Fistful of Dollars has never sounded better on home video.
Extras that are on this DVD are seriously lacking, included in the films original trailer and a four page booklet that contains cast and production notes. This epic is an early MGM release that deserves better treatment and recognition like the recently released The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Overall, this may not be Leone’s finest hour, yet these are the founding footsteps that lead Leone to such works as Once Upon A Time in the West. Leone collectors as well as western aficionado are expected to have this first of this trilogy. Others will find this title money well spent.