FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) Reviews and overview

   

‘In his own way he is, perhaps, the most dangerous man who ever lived!’

Fistful of Dollars is a 1964 Euro-Western film in which an enigmatic stranger pits two smuggler families against each other to make money. It was promoted as A Fistful of Dollars and is now better known by this title.

Directed by Sergio Leone (as Bob Robertson) from a screenplay co-written with Víctor Andrés Catena and Jaime Comas Gil. Future directors Fernando Di Leo, Duccio Tessari and Tonino Valerii also worked on the script, although they are uncredited and there have been various claims and counter-claims as to who originally initiated the project. One fact this undisputed is that the film was unofficially based on Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961).

The Italian-Germany-Spanish co-production stars Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volontè (as Johnny Wels), Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp and Joseph Egger.

The film’s music was written by Ennio Morricone, credited as Dan Savio. Leone requested Morricone to write a theme that would be similar to Dimitri Tiomkin’s El Degüello (used in Rio Bravo, 1959). Although the two themes are similar, Morricone states that he used a lullaby he had composed before and developed the theme from that. He adds that what makes the two themes similar is the execution, not the arrangement.

The film initiated the explosion of so-called ‘Spaghetti Western’ genre (now usually known as Euro-Westerns) and was followed by Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, also starring Clint Eastwood. Collectively, the films are known as the “Dollars Trilogy”, or the “Man with No Name Trilogy”.

Opening plot:

An unnamed stranger arrives at the little town of San Miguel, on the Mexico–US border. The town’s innkeeper, tells the stranger about a feud between two smuggler families vying to gain control of the town: the Rojo brothers (Don Miguel, Esteban and Ramón), and the family comprising town sheriff John Baxter, his matriarchal wife Consuelo, and their son Antonio.

In order to make money, the stranger decides to play these families against each other. He demonstrates his speed and accuracy with his gun, to both sides, by easily shooting the four men who insulted him as he entered the town…

Reviews [click links to read more]:

Fistful of Dollars is one of those films that could be held up as being the definition of cool. The stranger himself, Eastwood’s performance, his dialogue, the shootouts, the unforgettable music composed by Ennio Morricone, it’s all so incredibly cool. You can’t even try to make something like this, it can’t be replicated, this movie has a feeling that could have only been achieved by this creative team at this time.” Life Between Frames

“Thanks to the location—the sunny and scorching Almeria region of Spain—Leone could crank up the fire factor, using the sweltering setting to underline the tensions between the characters. He also set up the visual aspects—odd angles, unusual framing, candid close-ups—that would bring the genre to the forefront of world cinema.” Pop Matters

“Clint is the only man in the history of cinema who can wear a f*cking blanket and still look like a complete badass. And the score.  Ennio Morricone’s music in the Dollars Trilogy is some of the best music ever written.  I’m not talking just music made for film I’m talking about some of the best music ever written period.” The Video Vacuum

” …even if A Fistful of Dollars is not the best of Leone’s Westerns, it is nonetheless a masterpiece of the genre and as such essential viewing for (not just) Western fans. Leone takes full advantage of all the possibilities offered widescreen both in long shots and close-ups…” A Wasted Life

Production:

According to Wikipedia, Eastwood was not the first actor approached to play the main character. Originally, Sergio Leone intended Henry Fonda to play the “Man with No Name.” However, the production company could not afford to employ a major Hollywood star. Next, Leone offered Charles Bronson the part. He, too, declined, arguing that the script was bad. Both Fonda and Bronson would later star in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

Other actors who turned the role down were Henry Silva, Rory Calhoun, Tony Russel, Steve Reeves, Ty Hardin, and James Coburn. Leone then turned his attention to Richard Harrison, an expatriate American actor who had recently starred in the very first Italian western, Duello nel Texas. Harrison, however, had not been impressed with his experience on the film and refused. The producers later presented a list of available, lesser-known American actors and asked Harrison for advice. The actor suggested Eastwood, who he knew could play a cowboy convincingly as he starred in TV series Rawhide. Harrison later stated, “Maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing A Fistful of Dollars and recommending Clint for the part.”

Cast and characters:

Clint Eastwood … Joe
Marianne Koch … Marisol
Gian Maria Volontè … Ramón Rojo (as John Wells) (as Johnny Wels)
Wolfgang Lukschy … John Baxter (as W. Lukschy)
Sieghardt Rupp … Esteban Rojo (as S. Rupp)
Joseph Egger … Piripero (as Joe Edger)
Antonio Prieto … Don Benito Rojo / Don Miguel Rojo
José Calvo … Silvanito (as Jose Calvo)
Margarita Lozano … Consuelo Baxter (as Margherita Lozano)
Daniel Martín … Julián (as Daniel Martin)
Benito Stefanelli … Rubio (as Benny Reeves)
Mario Brega … Chico (as Richard Stuyvesant)
Bruno Carotenuto … Antonio Baxter (as Carol Brown)
Aldo Sambrell … Rojo gang member (as Aldo Sambreli)
Raf Baldassarre … Juan De Dios (uncredited)
Luis Barboo … Baxter Gunman 2 (uncredited)
Frank Braña … Baxter Gang Member (uncredited)
Antonio Pica … Rojo Gang Member (uncredited)
Nosher Powell … Cowboy con cartel ‘adios amigo’ (uncredited)
Julio Pérez Tabernero … Baxter Gunman 4 (uncredited)

Technical details:

99 minutes
Technicolor
Aspect ratio: 2.35 : 1 Techniscope
Audio: Mono (Western Electric Sound System)

Italian title:

Per un pugno di dollari

Original title:

Il Magnifico Straniero (“The Magnificent Stranger”)

Trailer: