A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)

My father was a huge fan of Westerns, which meant that whenever one was on TV -- which in the 1950s and '60s was almost all the time -- the set was tuned to Gunsmoke or Bonanza or Laramie or Rawhide or whatever. And naturally, that meant my adolescent rebellion took its course into a distaste for the genre. Which is why the "spaghetti Western" phenomenon escaped my notice in its heyday. Having had my exposure to Clint Eastwood on Rawhide, I was certainly not going to pay money to see him in a theater. Perhaps if you had told me that A Fistful of Dollars was based on (or stolen from) Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961), I might have been curious. But it was not until years later, when people began talking about Sergio Leone as an auteur, that my curiosity about the movie was piqued. By then I had overcome my indifference to Westerns, having learned that they were the essential American Myth, and having admired Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) and Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), so I was intrigued enough to check it out. I still think A Fistful of Dollars is a shade on the primitive side, and that Eastwood occasionally shows his discomfort at being directed by a man who doesn't speak English, but it holds up, not only as a precursor of the compelling violence of The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) and as a landmark in Eastwood's extraordinary career, but also as a tour de force: a Western filmed in Spain by an Italian with a polyglot cast. Best of all, it established the career of Ennio Morricone as one of the great film composers.