What Does Spaghetti Have to do with a Western? – Fistful of Dollars, in review

“When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.”
Sergio Leone, Conversations Avec Sergio Leone

In Summary
A Fistful of Dollars is not the first, but one of the most well-known of the Spaghetti Westerns. Fistful is the first in director Sergio Leone’s western trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood, culminating in one of the best known westerns, The Good the Bad and the Ugly.

In the film, a poncho-wearing stranger (Eastwood) rolls into town, wasting no time slinging his gun around at the unsuspecting, though probably deserving strangers.  He finds out that the town is run by rival families, the Baxters and the Rojos, who apparently spend most of their time shooting at one another. In a bold move, he wiggles his way into both families trust (if you can call it that). His apparent goal might be no more than playing both sides, earning a pile of cash, shooting a few men, then riding back out of town. Decide that for yourself. As the trailer to the flm so boldly announces, “A Fistful of Dollars is the first motion picture of its kind. It won’t be the last!”

A few things of note about A Fistful of Dollars, are that Clint Eastwood was not Leone’s original choice to play “the stranger,” and that it was in all likelihood a re-made version of the Kurosawa Samurai film, Yojimbo. Though Leone apparently denied the similarities between the two films for some time, a lawsuit eventually said differently, and a percentage of the profits from the film were given to Kurosawa. Incidentally, on the former point, Clint Eastwood’s role in A Fistful of Dollars is what took him from a part on the television show Rawhide to worldwide fame. Who knew that Leone’s last choice for a star would become one of the greatest actors and directors around.


Why I Watched This One

The first time I saw this movie I was a teenager, and I was accustomed to the John Wayne style westerns I’d been exposed to most of my life. I had the grand idea to watch the entire “The Man with No Name” series. I only got through A Fistful of Dollars. Seemingly cold-hearted killings, a machine gun, and a lead character who by the end of the film you still don’t really know anything about; this was not what I’d expected from a western.  As a teen, that didn’t make any sense to me.

My next exposure to the spaghetti western came while reading my film history book in college. That’s when I found out that the Eastwood series along with several other westerns of the time period were actually directed and produced in Italy, falling into the sub-genre of “Spaghetti Westerns.” The name ‘spaghetti western’ originated when in the mid-60’s several Italian (and even German and Spanish) filmmakers began making westerns. The term was originally an insult, given by foreign critics, because they believed these westerns must be inferior to the better known American westerns. Most of the films were low budget, but many were still innovative, artistic, and well-made.  Although some Italians still prefer to call the films western all’italiana (westerns Italian style), the term “Spaghetti Western,” is no longer seen as an insult.

While I found this whole spaghetti western idea interesting, it still didn’t prompt me to re-watch the films. Now, a decade or so later, I believe my taste in movies has become a bit more… refined. It was finally time to give this series another, no pun intended, shot.

My Review & Verdict – in Claps
Yes, it is violent. Yes, Clint Eastwood’s character is a bit mysterious. Was he trying to do good, or just entertaining himself by interfering with the petty squabbles of a small town? It’s really hard to say. I saw a few more sparks of character this second time around, though, that lead me to believe he was trying to do the right thing in his own peculiar way. Eastwood has some great one-liners, and that coffin-maker is hilarious, but what strikes me most about this film is the use of silence. What really distinguishes a great film, from a good film, from an okay film is some mechanism that pushes the story forward in an unusually fitting way. Here, it was Leone’s use of those silent, dramatic moments where Eastwood is just staring someone down. The silence is almost awkward it goes on so long. You’re waiting for something to happen, then when it does…BAM! It’s so worth it. Other cinematic choices, such as the extreme close-ups on the eyes of various characters, and the unforgettable music, make this a great movie. You may clap loudly for A Fistful of Dollars, just don’t laugh at the mule. Seriously, you really don’t want to laugh at the mule.

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2 Comments

  1. […] What Does Spaghetti Have to do with a Western? – Fistful of Dollars, in review (youmayclap.wordpress.com) […]

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