I’ve known about A Fistful of Dollars for years from its reputation as a shameless rip-off of Kurosawa’s film Yojimbo (1961). I thought I’d seen at least part of it before, but it turns out I was remembering The Good, The Bad and the Ugly instead. So as it turns out, this was my first viewing of the film.
If you’ve ever seen Yojimbo, the similarities between that film and A Fistful of Dollars become obvious almost immediately. A lone gunslinger rides into a rural town that is being dominated by two rival gangs. The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) decides to eliminate both groups by playing them off against one another. Except for minor plot differences, this is the exact story presented in Yojimbo. One difference I couldn’t help but notice is that in A Fistful of Dollars, the gunslinger initially allies with the Rojo brothers (analogous to Ushitora and his brothers); in Yojimbo, Sanjuro initially joins Sebei’s side (analogous to the Baxter family).
Now excluding the fact that this film is a rip-off, A Fistful of Dollars is a really good film. It wasn’t the first spaghetti western ever made, but it was the first to become really big, which is why director Sergio Leone is often credited as the founder of the genre. Eastwood’s performance as the Man with No Name is really something to see: he doesn’t say much but his expressions say plenty. I’m still not quite sure if he enjoys what he’s doing or if he just sees it as something that needs to be done.
Ennio Morricone’s score for the film provides a perfect complement to the action though, in atypical fashion, a large portion of the score was actually written before most of the film was created. I like how whenever the gunslinger does something like sits in a chair or shifts his cigar in his mouth, the music plays a little trill that comments on it.
If you’ve never seen a spaghetti western before, A Fistful of Dollars is a good place to start. One word of warning though: the film is obviously dubbed (it was filmed silent and the voices looped in after the fact) so yes you’re going to see mouths that don’t match up to the words. In fact the actors in this film spoke a plethora of languages: there were Germans, Austrians, Italians, Spaniards and Americans of course. And most if not all spoke their lines in their own languages (I can only imagine what filming a scene was like).
Let me know what you think about A Fistful of Dollars in the comments below and have a great day!
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