Fist Full of Dollars Movie Review

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It's funny the way things work out sometimes. Suffering from an overload of horror and sci-fi, I felt a need to return to a long forgotten favourite of mine, the western. Now, seeing the DVD of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West selling for about half price, I was tempted to purchase it automatically based on the reputation of the director himself, none of whoms work I had seen before.

This I did not do, instead, I went to the source of infinite knowledge, the World Wide Web, to find out more. One review cautioned, on the basis of it beeing long, slow and boring, to hire before buying, as the poor soul had actually bought it, based on similar thoughts to myself, sight unseen, wise advice, but this review is not about Once Upon A Time In The West, it is about the film that brought world wide attention to Leone(and Clint Eastwood), A Fistful Of Dollars.

As it happened, The Magnificent Seven* screened on television followed by another Eastwood film, Hang 'em High. Hang 'em High peaked my interest even more, knowing that Eastwood starred in Leone's Dollars Trilogy, A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and, the most famous of the three, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. So, off I went to the video library, to check out the four Leone films mentioned.

A Fistful Of Dollars is a faithful re-creation of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, with a gunslinger in place of a samurai, and a small western town in place of a Japanese village. Clint Eastwood is the "Man With No Name", who wanders into the dusty town of San Miguel, torn by two rival gangs of smugglers. The quiet stranger with a quick-draw soon realises there is money to be made by pitting the gangs against each other, with himself in the middle. A series of confrontations eventually escalates into the destruction of both gangs, and our hero leaves with all their money.

A Fistful Of Dollars marked a new era for westerns, revolutionising the genre. It was the first in what were to become known as "Spaghetti Western". Gone are the cowboys and indians, and Eastwood's cynical mercenary protagonist is a far cry from the John Wayne noble hero type. Leone's vision was unlike any seen in a western 'till that time. Quick zooms and extreme close-ups of the characters faces were a major departure from the usual long shots of sweeping vistas. Outside the constraints of Hollywood, the film was considerably more violent than any of it's American counter-parts.

The musical score also played a major role, supplementing Eastwoods minimal dialogue to become part of the storytelling, instead of just background music. It was not your typical western score either, filled with unintelligible shouts and calm whistling, although nowadays it sounds quite common.

The influence this film has had in both the style of direction and musical score can still be seen(and heard) in the few westerns that are made today.

While many consider The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, or Once Upon a Time In The West to be Leones best work, I feel A Fistful of Dollars, at 90 minutes long (A Few Dollars 131min, Good, Bad, Ugly 161min and Once Upon A Time 159min) to be the freshest of his westerns. While I still recommend the other two in the Dollars trilogy, the shorter length of A Fistful Of Dollars makes it an easier and more enjoyable film to watch.

*Based on Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven is another Kurosawa turned western.

Editors Note: Thanks for a great review Retro. Those who wish to discuss it with him can do so on his discussion thread here

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