A Fistful of Dollars This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

With his sword-and-sandal epic proving his skill, Leone moved on to the genre that truly interested him - the Western. Numerous times throughout his early career, Leone would speak very highly of the western genre, as it was quite prominent in his childhood and was one of the influences that inspired him to become a filmmaker to begin with. However, Leone - along with virtually the rest of the world - had started to grow tired of the Western genre. The new Hollywood westerns had seemed to lose the magic (or "fairy-tale quality" as Leone put it) that made the genre so entrancing to begin with. So, with a small-budget and an unknown actor as his main character, Leone set out to simultaneously revitalize the Western and prove himself as a filmmaker. The end result is a film that marked the revival of the Western and marked a major milestone for one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time.

We're introduced to A Fistful of Dollars through a flashy intro, in which we segueway into a Mexican border town called San Miguel. This isn't the nice little town in typical Westerns - this isn't the land where morals count for anything or where " a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do", as a John Wayne character once said. No, this is a town run by warring outlaws and criminals, and a place where widows were more common than men. It's in this virtual ghost town that we meet our nameless "hero", The Man With No Name. What follows is a heated, atmospheric, and character-driven story that involves the nameless gunslinger pitting the two major criminal units against each other.

In terms of plot structure, the film borrows heavily from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo - another film about a nameless warrior pitting two different gangs against one another. This is intentional, as Leone didn't seem to have complete confidence in his style yet. However, that's as far as the similarities go. The mood, themes, visual style, and cultural ethics are all completely different from Yojimbo, for better or for worse.

Moving on, though, the film absolutely drips with style. The way everything's shot, the great score provided by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and the interesting character archetypes create this gritty, yet romantic, world and atmosphere that's unlike any Western that's ever come before, or after, it.

The visuals, for instance, are just perfect. Every detail, every pause, and every tension-filled shootout is planned to perfection in the film. Perfection was what Leone strived for, and he succeeds in so many ways here. The cinematography is spectacular to look at and is, at the same time, spectacularly used to create tension and atmosphere.

As for the score, Ennio Morricone is a musical genius. Combining natural sound, shady guitars, and blaring trumpets, Morricone created a certain sound that hadn't been seen in westerns before. Instead of blaring orchestra, the score makes use of guitar twangs, quick flute melodies, and all of these other abnormal, yet fitting, sounds to create a wonderfully created score. It's almost a rejection of past Western scores, what with the score having a sort of 'rock-n'-roll' feel to it, though I use that term quite loosely.

Last, but certainly not least, are the interesting characters that make up A Fistful of Dollars. The Man With No Name, played by then unknown Clint Eastwood, is perhaps one of the coolest, mysterious, violent, and stylish characters that cinema has ever seen. His quiet behavior and violent tendencies only serve to make him all the more entrancing and fascinating as a character. The supporting characters are pretty interesting as well, with outlaws like Ramon or recluses like the bartender.

However, it's in the characters that I found my lone major complaint with the film. They're all interesting and all, but they never really feel fleshed out as characters. They're just stylized figures talking to other stylized figures, with not much in terms of substance. Leone would get much better with this later on, but it's in Fistful that it's glaring obviousness makes it a dramatic flaw.

Other than that, I have nothing but praise for Leone and this film. It's gritty, it's got style, and it takes every cliche of the western genre and turns it on its head. A fantastic film with many fantastic aspects to it.





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