The Magical Magician Méliès

georges-melies

So here’s the skinny on this blog…

Initially, I designed it as a venue to share movie reviews and research. While I enjoyed creating these well researched articles, turning one out every week or two became tedious and, as you can well see, eventually failed to happen at all. On the other hand, when I turned to writing only reviews, I found myself bored. So back to the research it is. This year, I will turn out two long form articles on an aspect of a film, filmmaker, or topic in film history — no deadlines, just the knowledge that there must be at least two. But where to begin?

After contemplating several topics of interest, I reminded myself of two adages, “Write what you know,” and “Talk about what you love.” Thus, I begin with a silent filmmaker who captured my interest even as a teenager. From the moment I saw “A Trip to the Moon” for the first time, to two nights ago when I began watching his complete collection of films, the magnificent Georges Méliès has held my imagination in check. Through my research on Méliès (talk about what you love), I will inspect the rise (and I will argue) fall of special effects in cinema (write what you know). I’ll occasionally post my general impressions about what I’ve watched, read, or thought here, and hopefully share a completed essay sometime in the next 6 months. My topic may change along the way, and that’s okay, but Méliès is the key.

To understand why this silent filmmaker matters to me, you must hear our history. I was a Junior in High School, and somehow convinced my friends that our History Day project should be about film — my obsession, not theirs. Despite our grand efforts to showcase in a video the broad topic, “Lights, Camera, Action: How the Movies Began,” the project was a failure with the judges. There was no research, no focused topic — all we did was regurgitate known facts. I share this, because somewhere between the last-minute dash to finish the video (VHS, by the way), the frowns from the judges, and a lack of research with substance, I found George Méliès’, and I never forgot him. Somehow, this seemingly random High School project actually mattered.

In college we talked more about Méliès, and watched the full version of “A Trip to the Moon.” I remember reading about his glass studio, mechanical devices, and multiple exposures with awe. I watched many of his films after college, and always wanted to know more — more about this strange man with his magic; and it was magic. Think about it, while the Lumière brothers and Edison were showing us things we could see for ourselves — a train, a baby eating, a boxing match, Méliès was creating worlds unknown. Watching a Méliès film must’ve been more like watching a stage play, or better yet a magic act, but on film it must’ve seemed so real. I would love to be one of his original audience members, soaking in the fantasy, and wondering what else might be possible. Was this world Méliès created as real to an audience as the cattle running through Edison’s latest picture? Did anyone wonder if he really visited the moon? Did they simply ask, “How’d he do that?” Did his multiple heads and dancing creatures frighten or amaze? I want to know.

A few years ago, as I cracked open Hugo by Brian Selznick for the first time my heart jumped with nervous joy. Hugo features a fictional account of Méliès in his old age. Could this book due him justice? Part of me was jealous — I wanted to keep my little Méliès secret. The other part of me was thrilled — the world would finally know his name, and watch his films. They’d watch is films! When I first became fascinated with him, our library didn’t even own a copy of his work. This was disappointing, and I hoped Hugo would change this. It did.

Last night, I began a DVD set that contains 173 original films, as well as a “documentary” on Méliès by George Franju, which features re-enactments by Méliès’ son, and cameos by his wife. I’m giddy! 173 short films! Wow!

Did you know Méliès burned most of his original pieces? Can you imagine? Artists have a love/hate relationship with their work, this is true, and there are many projects of mine which I hope I never see again, but to burn them takes a different kind of hatred. The documentary by Franju suggests that because so many people copied and showed Méliès’ work without giving him credit or any profits, eventually the joy he once felt towards film turned to anger. After World War I, he stopped making movies entirely, and that’s when he burned what remained. I’m interested to research this story more fully. Certainly, Hugo also suggests this sad tale. If the criminals who copied his work, and showed it without permission hadn’t done so, there may be even fewer Méliès films around today. Then again, if they hadn’t stolen his films, perhaps he wouldn’t have burned what he had. Perhaps, he would’ve kept making movies and who knows what masterpieces he would’ve created. Life is full of what ifs, though, so for now, I’ll focus on the 173 films that remain and have been put so beautifully to DVD.

Welcome to the world of Méliès and the inner-windings of my own mind.

So an Insurance Guy Walks into a Femme Fatale’s House: Double Indemnity, in review

“Who’d you think I was anyway? The guy that walks into a good-looking dame’s front parlor and says, “Good afternoon, I sell accident insurance on husbands… you got one that’s been around too long?
One you’d like to turn into a little hard cash?” – Walter Neff –

doubleIndemnityGrocery

In Summary:

Double Indemnity is a film noir about an insurance man, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), who falls mistakenly in love with the beautiful Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) while trying to sell her insurance. The two conspire to remove Phyllis’ ill-tempered husband from the picture, so they can be together. In what is almost the perfect murder and insurance fraud scheme, director Billy Wilder places Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) into the position of the voice of reason. The question is, will Keyes figure out what Walter and Phyllis have done before it’s too late.

Why I watched this one:
As it turns out, I’ve watched very few film noir pieces. I’m not sure why. I wanted and needed to watch more, and Double Indemnity has long been on my list.  Also, I enjoy Fred MacMurray, and was interested to see his performance in this particular film.

So what is a noir? Variety describes the genre this way:

“Between the Great Depression and the start of the
Cold War, Hollywood went noir, reflecting the worldly, weary, wised-up under
current of mid-century America. In classics such as Laura, Sweet Smell of
Success, and Double Indemnity, where the shadows of L.A. and New York
pulse with
killers, corpses, and perilous romance, failure is not only a logical option but a smart-talking seduction.” – Vanity Fair March 2007 –

Who isn’t drawn in by the idea that the shadows of L.A. and New York “pulse” with peril. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. Honestly, though, if I wasn’t reading this quote as a description of film noir, I might mistake it for that of a mobster movie — Dick Tracy, The Godfather, The Sopranos, and The Departed immediately pop to mind.  Filmnoir.net takes a different approach when describing the film noir.

“The great films noir had both popular appeal and artistic merit because their themes address the human condition and the frailty of normal lives, which at any moment can be plunged into the chasm of chaos,
t
hrough chance or individual action – innocent or otherwise.
How moral ambivalence, lust, love and greed can destroy lives was
explored outside the closed romantic realism of mainstream movies.”

I was always taught to believe they required this formula:

1. A femme fatale (always a femme fatale) — which means never trust the women in these films. Never.
2. Someone with some loose morals
3. A detective, or a crime
4. High contrast cinematography and lighting (big shadows, light vs. dark, black blacks and white whites — you get it)

Double Indemnity meets all of these film noir requirements,  so no wonder it’s marked as one of the greats. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1945, including Best Picture, but lost to the Bing Crosby film Going My Way.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:

“Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong.
It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me.
I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.”
– Water Neff –

Image
I enjoyed this film. Why?

Every character with the exception of Barton Keyes was pretty much a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, or a murderer. Of course, by “every character” I simply mean those played by MacMurray and Stanwyck. Perhaps, it was that bit of redemption at the end as Walter Neff comes clean about his crime that makes me like it. Perhaps, it was the intrigue throughout as I wondered how they’d commit their murder, and if dear Phyllis Dietrichson was really in love with Neff or simply playing him for a fool. Even though I know the woman is always deceptive in the noir, I always want to believe it isn’t true. I want a good guy. I want a happy ending. But then, Wilder began with the end and then had Walter tell the story from the beginning. I knew immediately there was no happy ending to be had, but I still enjoyed this film.

For the third time  Billy Wilder has graced this blog, and he’s definitely becoming one of my favorites. Once more he’s created likeable unlikable characters who represent the good and bad in all of us. This time he did it in the acceptable form of film noir. Every director could learn a thing or two about character development and an interesting plot line from Mr. Wilder.

Thus it is, that you may clap in high contrast, with big scary shadow puppet hands, for Double Indemnity.

“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money – and a woman –
and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”
– Water Neff –

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The Claps in Between or What I Did on My Blogging Vacation

I got a little behind with my blog… Okay, a lot behind.

I was hung up waiting for time to do the proper Western film research, then failed to review anything in between. So, in lieu of a true entry this week I offer my thoughts on several more recent films (mostly) that I watched between blogs. My next piece will either be the western analysis OR one on Double Indemnity. In any case, here are some other things to clap about (or not). I will offer no explanation.

The Dark Knight Rises – You may clap, and clap, and clap, and clap, and clap.
Super 8 – You may clap, and dig up your old film camera
The Descendents – You may clap, I did not — what a disappointment
The Artist – You may clap silently
The Philadelphia Story – You will clap, Red
Kung-Fu Hustle – You may do a kung-fu chop
Rango – You might clap
Puss in Boots – You may clap with an accent, or find a kitten to pet
The Star Wars Original Trilogy – I mean duh, clap a lot
Clerks – You may clap, and laugh, and clap
Red State – You’ll clap with trepidation, unless you’re a religious extremist, then I really can’t say what you’ll do
The Game – You may clap, after you figure out what’s going on
Drive – You may clap, but I think it was over-hyped

It’s the Wild West, There’s No Rain — Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in Review

“You should have let yourself get killed a long time ago when you had the chance. See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you’re still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you’re still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It’s over, don’t you get that? Your time is over and you’re gonna die bloody,  and all you can do is choose where.”
– Sheriff Ray Bledsoe: [to Butch and Sundance] –

In Summary:
As you might deduce from the title, this film is about the legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford). The film follows the two robbers through the latter portion of their “careers” as they terrorize one last train, get tailed by an unknown horse posse, and jump ship for Bolivia with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta (Katherine Ross). This so-called “buddy film” is ultimately more about the friendship between Butch, Sundance, and even to a certain extent Etta, then it is the great escapades in which they partook. It also touches a bit on their efforts to live life on the straight and narrow, which never really seems quite possible for the two outlaws.

The film, directed by George Roy Hill,  brought Redford and Newman together for the first time. They would re-unite in 1973 for Hill’s film, The Sting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid won Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Song. It was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Sound. It was nominated and won a cache of other awards, including several BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and a Grammy for Burt Bacharach‘s original score. You can view the complete list here.

Why I watched this one:
This movie popped to mind, because I’d seen a little part of it once (I was pretty sure anyway)– the part where they jump off the cliff — and I never saw the rest.

Mostly, though, I wanted to see another Paul Newman film (I’ve only seen Cool Hand Luke, and his more recent appearances in Road to Perdition and Empire Falls). I didn’t enjoy Cool Hand Luke, so I was skeptical of this movie. But, I like outlaws as much as the next girl, so why not give it a watch.

I didn’t remember much about Butch Cassidy or The Sundance Kid before watching this. I still don’t know too much about their outlaw career, to be honest, since the film is dated near the end of their heyday.

In doing some research for this review, however, I found this awesome old photo of Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and the rest of their gang, The Wild Bunch. Interestingly enough, in the film their gang is not the Wild Bunch, but The Hole in the Wall Gang. It’s true, though, that the Wild Bunch would meet quite often at a hideout called Hole in the Wall in Johnson County, Wyoming. As it turns out, the various outlaws that met here were called The Hole in the Wall Gang. This referred to all of the individual gangs that would meet there, making it not just the one group, but several, including The Wild Bunch.


Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, is in the lower right-hand side of the photo with his hand resting on the arm of his chair. I don’t really think Paul Newman looks much like him. The Sundance Kid (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh), seated on the far left, does look a bit like Robert Redford did in the film, though. It’s said that posing for this photo was one of the greatest mistakes Butch Cassidy made, because it allowed the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track them down.

Needless to say, after doing some quick research on Butch Cassidy and his gang, its clear that the film takes some liberties with actual events, and invents others entirely. Yes, they robbed a train called the flyer, and yes a posse did follow them for a while. Yes, they did go to South America with Etta (though they originally aimed for Argentina, not Bolivia), and yes they did supposedly die in a shootout. Everything else, might be a bit embellished. You can read more of the story for yourself here on Wikipedia or on a more legitimate site of your choice.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It intermixed just enough humor and action to make it extremely enjoyable to watch. Paul Newman was entertaining as Butch Cassidy, but Robert Redford shined as Sundance. There was something quietly clever about his character, even though Butch was supposedly the brains of their gang. The minor characters are also rather ingenious — all endearing in their own right. They include, Woodcock (who guarded the safe on the train), the bicycle salesman, News Carver (of their gang), and poor Percy Garris (who almost helps Butch and Sundance lead a lawful life). Each of them has at least one memorable one-liner, which keeps the film enjoyable and light considering we’re watching a gang of outlaws.

Stylistically, the film is a total trip too. It starts out with an awesome sepia-tone look that, to be honest, I wish had been carried throughout. Then, there’s that wonderful montage of photos as Butch, Sundance, and Etta travel towards Bolivia with still pictures of the cast intermixed with historical photos. I was hoping this was intentional, and not a montage inserted into the DVD master of the film to make up for missing footage. It was intentional.

The only part I disliked about the film, though it seems to have received critical acclaim, was the bicycle scene and use of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. The song completely broke from the feel of the film. Why would that song be playing in the old west? It wouldn’t. The bicycle scene itself with Paul Newman and Katherine Ross, may not have bothered me had it only played out under a western-themed tune. My Darlin’ Clementine? ‘Ol Susannah? Anything!

That scene aside,  I came to an obvious decision immediately after watching this film… 

You may clap loudly for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and if you’re like Etta, you might just run off with a gang of outlaws after watching it. Okay, no… too much? Don’t do that… please.

“I’m 26, and I’m single, and a school teacher, and that’s the bottom of the pit. And the only excitement I’ve known is here with me now. I’ll go with you, and I won’t whine, and I’ll sew your socks, and I’ll stitch you when you’re wounded, and I’ll do anything you ask of me except one thing. I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” – Etta Place –

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Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim — The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in Review

 I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.
– Tom Doniphon, as played by John Wayne –

In Summary:
When Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) arrives to the town of Shinbone with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) for a funeral, the townsfolk become curious as to who’s funeral he’s attending and why. Though a few people seem to know the senator well, and it’s established that he spent time there earlier on his life, no one seems to know of the Stoddard’s friend Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Demanding that they know the truth about the senator’s visit, the local news reporters convince him to tell the tale of his arrival in Shinbone many years ago, his connection to the mysterious Tom Doniphon, and the shooting death of town outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The bulk of this John Ford film is this old west tale. Check out the trailer below.

Why I watched this one:
For the greater majority of my life (meaning the entire portion that I remember), Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne have been larger-than-life acting gods. I suppose this has little to do with their actual skill as actors, but rather their iconic presence on-screen. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all-time favorite movies (not just at Christmas), and Rooster Cogburn, McLintock, and In Harms Way — amongst others — seemed to always be playing at my grandfather’s house in my earlier years. That said, when a fellow movie buff recommended a film to me with both Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in it, I jumped on the opportunity to enjoy both of these iconic actors at the same time.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black and White).

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I have mixed emotions about this flick for several reasons. On one hand, I’m completely underwhelmed by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. The character of Ransom Stoddard reminded me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the west. He was too preachy with his law-abiding morals, and downright annoying as a schoolteacher. On the flip-side, I thought John Wayne’s performance was excellent. He stood up to my expectations, and even showed a bit of conflicted depth when dealing with his feelings towards Vera Miles’s character, and even his feelings towards coaching Stewart’s character about the ways of the west. The true surprise for me was Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance. I’m not sure I’ve seen Marvin in anything before, and now I’m totally drawn to him. He represented pure evil in this film, and I have to say even I was a bit afraid of him by the end.

In one of my favorite clips from the film, Liberty Valance’s character trips Random Stoddard, causing Tom Doniphon’s steak to fall on the floor. This is the resulting interaction between the three characters. It’s scene’s like this that make the film entertaining and fulfilling as a western. That, and the fact that this is the film where John Wayne coins the word “pilgrim.” He apparently says it 23 times in this movie, and once in McClintock. Here’s a fun little clip someone put together of each occurence of the word in this film.

Right, so enough fooling around… pilgrim. What did I think of the flick? This is a tough call, because honestly I didn’t feel fulfilled at the end of it. The conclusion is somber, to say the least — a real downer for a western. The good guy wins, I suppose, but another good guy sort of lost… a lot. It’s not your typical western in that regard. That said, it has a sort of honesty to it that can’t be ignored. It addresses the ghosts in Senator Stoddard’s past, and how those ghosts (or legends) got him to his place in life. Who can’t relate to that? In the end, though, I have to say I was mildly disappointed in the film overall. I wanted to like it so badly, and perhaps that was my downfall.

You might clap for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but I unfortunately can only clap for the satisfaction of finally seeing John Wayne say “pilgrim” multiple times in one movie.

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They’re Never Going to Find that Girl; The Searchers, in Review


In Summary:
Set in Texas 3 years after the end of the Civil War, the Edwards family seems to lead a relatively quiet ranch life until Aaron Edwards’s long-lost brother, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), rides back into town. Though his nieces and nephews are thrilled to see their confederate rebel-rousing uncle, his sister-in-law conveys an awkward sexual tension that even the casual viewer can’t help but observe with unease. Before we can figure out what’s going on with that, though, Ethan rides off with the Texas Rangers in search of a cattle thief. Upon his return, he finds his family has been attacked by Comanche indians. His nieces are missing, and he’s determined to track them down. Thus, he embarks with his half-nephew, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter),  his niece’s boyfriend (Harry Carey Jr.), and a posse of men to find the tribe that stole away the girls. As the search party dwindles, we begin to wonder if they really ever will find the girls, and what will happen when they do.

Why I watched this one:
I wanted to watch a John Wayne film that I hadn’t seen. This was my main motivation. I also wanted to watch a John Ford film. I thought I’d seen one. As it turns out, this was my first. This also made two people’s lists of westerns that I should watch.


In doing a little research, I’ve found it was named AFI’s #1 western of all time. You can view the complete list here: http://suite101.com/article/afi-names-top-ten-western-films-of-all-time-a62021

It also made AFI’s top 100 films of all time, landing in spot #96. It wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards.

My Review & Verdict — in Claps:
I struggled with this one. Even a day after watching this film I’m really not sure how to review it. The peculiarity of the movie is, though it was made in the mid-fifties, it portrays America (Texas specifically) a  few years after the Civil War. In essence, then, it’s a period piece meant to represent a particular time in our history. There’s no denying that the film is horribly racist towards Native Americans, which is extremely difficult to bear throughout. No doubt, there are huge inaccuracies between the way the film portrays life in the late 1860’s and the reality of that time. No doubt, I’ll discuss this further in my later critical examination of westerns.

Racism aside, then, let me point out a few of the things I loved about this movie. The scenery, for one, is amazing. John Ford’s big sweeping open spaces are simply breathtaking. The use of color, contrast, and lighting is also exquisite. I just ate up the dusk scene right before the family was attacked by the Comanche tribe. The orange light used to represent a doom-filled-dusk was Douglas Sirk-esque in it’s over dramatic tone; I savored it. I also have to give props to John Wayne. I grew up watching John Wayne movies with my Grandpa, so I have a personal attachment to him. I see him as this super-sized hero amongst men, who always does what’s right (in the end) — A gruff gunslinger with a heart somewhere down in there. It’s hard to see him otherwise. Somehow, he pulled it off though, because in this film, he portrays a man strongly conflicted by his love of family and his hatred towards Native Americans. Though, in the end he does do the right thing (sort of), his coldness, his bloodthirsty quest for revenge, and his somewhat mixed motives for finding his niece, make him just as much the bad guy as the tribe leader, Scar, that he seeks.

If I throw all analysis aside, though, I have to say I was moved by this film. You can’t help but become invested in Martin Pawley’s character, nor in that of poor Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) who waits for him back in Texas. Thus, because of it’s cinematic excellence, the fact that it is a period piece meant to represent a far-different time in our history, and my attachment to Martin’s character, I have to clap for it. I do this with much trepidation, though. It dances along the same line as Gone with the Wind in that regard. Though the film itself is well done, what it represents is horrifying.

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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