Off-List: A Fistful of Dollars
The first off-list movie of 1964 is “A Fistful of Dollars”.
“A Fistful of Dollars” is a low-budget western made by Italians on a location in Spain. It features a previously unknown American actor, who insisted his lines should be reduced, suspect Hong Kong style dubbing and a plot that is almost a complete rip-off of a Japanese Samurai movie.
Does not sound very promising, does it?
Ah, but this is in fact the birth of the Spaghetti-western, the movement, spearheaded by Sergio Leone, that would revitalize the western genre, adding that mythological element to the western that made it even more “western” than reality. The subgenre that gave us such legendary movies as “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “A Fistful of Dollars” is its glorious beginning.
The obscure American actor happened to be Clint Eastwood and I think that is enough introduction. These were the movies that made him famous. When you think of Clint Eastwood as an actor, you think of the characters he played in the Leone westerns.
And the Japanese Samurai movie is “Yojimbo” by Kurusawa. If I should think of a movie suited to be remade into a western, that would be the one and, amazingly, “A Fistful of Dollars” is one of the best remakes ever made. It is in fact so good that it holds up even when you know it is a remake.
That begs the question, which of the two is the better movie? And who is coolest: Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?
The crazy thing is that I do not know, both movies are great. Kurusawa created a perfect western and Leone did not just copy it, but reformatted it using his very own style that brought so many new things, not just to this story but to the western genre and cinema in general.
That is in fact the first thing you notice when you watch “A Fistful of Dollars”. This movie looks different from anything that went before. The super close-up of faces on the wide-screen format is obvious and effective, but also the tension is created with only minimal dialogue, but mainly though using the canvas of those faces, how the camera moves from face to face, not to watch them speak or react, but just observe them. Combine that with layer upon layer of sounds with exaggerated clarity and that amazing Ennio Morricone soundtrack and tension builds up to the bursting point. Shots feels like release, violence comes from pent up tension and we are on the edge of our seats.
The setting is Mexico and so the Spanish/Latin connection does not look awkward, but quite authentic.
Yes, I enjoyed “A Fistful of Dollars” immensely. It is extremely watchable, both because the story is as good as it is and because this is a stylistic feast for the eyes and the ears. Ennio Morricone is a legend. Sergio Leone is a legend and Clint Eastwood… well, do I need to repeat myself?
A “Fistful of Dollars” belongs on the List ahead of most of the movies there. The fact that neither “Yojimbo”, nor “A Fistful of Dollars” have earned a spot is a crime.
So, who is cooler, Mifune or Eastwood? Go watch the ending of “Yojiimbo” and tell me that he is not the most awesome lonesome hero ever. Clint is a solid second. Or wait… ahhh…. I don’t know…