"A Fistful of Dollars" DVD, Blu-ray Review

6/03/2010 Posted by Admin

"A Fistful of Dollars"

DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Sergio Leone, Written by Victor Andres Catena, Jamie Comas Gil and Leone, 100 Minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

As far as Westerns go, you can't do much better than the work of Spaghetti Western pioneer Sergio Leone. And as far as Leone goes, you can't do much better than "A Fistful of Dollars."

Jumpstarting the trilogy that would eventually come to be known as "The Man with No Name" trilogy, "Dollars" follows a stranger (Clint Eastwood) who passes through a Mexican border town ruled by two ruthless families at constant war with each other, the Rojos and the Baxters. Eastwood's character, dubbed "Joe" by a local innkeeper, decides to stick around for a little while under the guise of a hitman looking for work, when in fact the mysterious stranger intends on pitting the groups against each other in an attempt to rid the town of both.

Taking cues from American Western pioneer John Ford as well as Akira Kurosawa (the film itself was loosely and unofficially based on Kurosawa's "Yojimbo"), Leone mixes elements of American, Italian and Japanese film in very intriguing ways, with the operatic romanticism of the American West melding perfectly with the characterization and styles of Japanese cinema.  Further, Leone also uses elements of Italian cinema, particularly retroscripting and dubbing the dialogue after filming, to make it a true homage to the films that inspired the Italian director.

Most of the charm of the film, though, comes from two people--Eastwood, who gives a subtle and simple but perfect performance as his famed man with no name, and Ennio Morricone, the composer whose scores are truly what give Leone's films their scope and power. Every note turns what could have been a simple everyday tale into something truly epic. Say what you will about Leone and his technicians, but he had no collaborator as crucial as Morricone.

The best thing "Dollars" does for Westerns as a whole, though, is to bring them to a more moralistic and mythological place than they had been for quite some time. That's not to discount the pessimistic tone many directors brought to the genre in the '50s--it's all a matter of the time and place, and in the American film landscape of that decade, pessimism was far more appropriate than the typical black-and-white style of the '40s. But Leone manages to take both of them and give them a place in his work. In the beginning of the film, the ambiguity of Eastwood's character makes for a far more interesting and suspenseful story, and when he transforms from a mysterious, violent stranger to a true savior to the town, it allows Leone to flip all previous expectations of Westerns on their head. And even leaving all the analytical stuff aside, it's just plain thrilling to watch Eastwood's deeply moralistic hero manipulate the villains into destroying one another.

While "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" definitely gets the most attention of Leone's three "Dollars" films, one can't deny how much he accomplishes here. Everything that would become typical of his style is as perfect here as ever, and Eastwood? He has no performance more definitive, and even though it's his mainstream debut, he has more power over the screen than most high-profile actors have today.

Perhaps not the very best Leone has to offer--I've always been of the mind that he topped it all with "Once Upon a Time in the West"--but certainly one of the best Westerns of all time and one of several truly perfect Leone efforts.

Grade: A

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  1. dave said...

    Fantastic Film! And a Brilliant score! If you're into Morricone, you should check out my Spaghetti Western Concept Rap album, called "Showdown at the BK Corral." It's basically a Spaghetti Western over 9 tracks - very influenced by Morricone. I'd love to hear what you think of it! You can download it for free at sunsetparkriders.com

  2. @graywolfpack said...

    These "spaghetti westerns" are amoung my favorites of all time. Eastwoods charater is the definition of "Bad Ass".

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