A Fistful of Dollars – Review (Spoiler Free)

A Fistful of Dollars Poster - WikipediaThe first in the Dollars Trilogy, and the one which marks the beginning of the Spaghetti Western’s extreme success; A Fistful of Dollars is a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying film. It’s actually tightly plotted, a detail that Leone’s later masterpieces abandoned somewhat. It keeps its story simple; The Man with No Name, although he acquires the temporary name of Joe here, rides into town to learn of a gang rivalry that’s tearing the place apart, he smells money and decides to work the two sides against each other in such a way that will line his pockets whilst they shoot holes in one another. There’s little else you need to know about the plot, it’s straightforward and effective, and despite its simplicity it allowed Eastwood to develop the quiet antihero which would make him a cinematic legend.

Aside from Eastwood’s character there are a lot of other highly influential elements to this film which would go on to be used throughout Leone’s Westerns, and which have also been copied, borrowed, and parodied ever since. Ennio Morricone’s score for example; although his most famous I would suggest is the one he created for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, this one too is both highly recognisable and extremely effective. Its haunting notes and exciting riffs do wonders for the film; it would have been great anyway, but there is no denying just how much the score contributes to the end result, and how it lifts the film into a whole new spectrum. Also, the extreme close ups that were often used by Leone in order to create an operatic feeling are established here, and the technique is as effective in this film as it would come to be in the future.

A Fistful of Dollars did launch the excellent trilogy, it infused many traditions with new life whilst simultaneously creating its own iconic identity, and it did so entirely under its own steam. There is a temptation I think to treat this as the first, and arguably weakest, of the three films, one which sets things up for the next two to develop into cultural landmarks – but this simply isn’t true. It was a huge success at the time of its release, becoming what was then Italy’s most successful film, whilst also doing phenomenally well elsewhere. It’s held up perfectly over time; despite now being forty nine years old it remains as exciting and visually thrilling as it was back in the sixties, as it takes Western film tradition and reenergises its spurs and guns to create something fresh and incredibly entertaining.

 

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29 comments

  1. Great great movie, even though Kurosawa was pretty pissed about it.

    1. Yeah it’s a shame about Kurosawa and that whole issue – but as you say, it’s an awesome movie 🙂

  2. I have nominated you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award.

    1. Thank you very much man!

  3. Oh yes!!! Loved A Fistful of Dollars. Makes me want to watch the trilogy again, great article buddy!

    1. Thanks man! It certainly is a great movie and a fantastic trilogy, perhaps the greatest trilogy? I would say that it’s certainly a contender.

      1. Hmmm…if we can through High Plains Drifter in there as a fourth than I would say yes.

        1. I kind of like it ending on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly though… but considering that is sometimes seen as a prequel we could mess the order around I suppose 🙂

  4. Great film and great trilogy. Nice review.

    1. Cheers Issy, they are great! 😀

  5. Pretty sure I saw this and was bored senseless which just goes to show how much I dislike Westerns. 😉

    1. Ah that’s a shame 😦 It’s one of the greats!

  6. Even though I think Yojimbo is stronger, this is a great movie and is my second favorite film of The Dollars Trilogy after The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Nice review, I now feel like watching my new blu-ray copy of the trilogy. No one made better westerns than Sergio Leone.

    1. Thanks – I would love to own the trilogy on blu-ray! I’m still not quite sure whether I prefer this or For a Few Dollars More but I agree that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the best of the three! Do you prefer it to Once Upon a Time in the West?

      1. That’d be a tough choice. I think I might go with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly just because of Clint Eastwood but I love both equally.

        1. It certainly is tough. I think that I also lean towards The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I’m far from certain on that.

  7. I’m a big fan of Leone’s work. Fistful is wonderfully shot and boasts fantastic scoring from Ennio Morricone, who utilizes everything from electric guitars to traditional classical instruments in his score.

    With Fistful came the notion that good-guys aren’t necessarily always morally on point. “Joe” is a typical anti-hero; he has no problem with masterminding sequences that will lead to countless deaths for example – a big change from the days of John Wayne, where good-guys wearing white hats chasing bad guys in black hats and always ended up with the girl. the world’s created in Leone movies were far grittier places than the world’s established in Hollywood westerns.

    This film isn’t perfect, there are some really bad day shots that were filtered to look like night, the results are less from ideal to say the least. The dialogue is quite on-the-nose too, but this film is still a great deal of fun, and as you say, was the beginning of a fantastic series of films.

    Nice Review !

    1. Thanks!

      Yeah the bad day shots aren’t great, but there’s so much to enjoy here that I can forgive it those!
      It’s an interesting transition as you say, the shift from the white hats to the muddied morality of Leone’s movie massively helped to reignite interest in the genre, arguably I think you could say that it saved it.

  8. Excellent post, such an iconic film.

    1. Cheers Vinnieh, it certainly is!

  9. Natalie P · · Reply

    Interesting review 🙂 Perhaps I ought to see more Westerns?

    1. Thanks and yes, everyone should see more Westerns – they are awesome 🙂

  10. Great review! I have such a strong affection for this movie. This is another one I grew up watching mainly because it was one of my father’s favorite films. Leone’s direction is top notch and this is one of my favorite westerns of all time.

    1. Thanks! I didn’t come to these, or in fact any westerns until my teenage years, my father loved A New Hope and so we were brought up almost largely on Star Wars and similar films 🙂

      Leone’s direction really is incredible. Have you seen his other westerns?

      1. Oh yes. I love his trilogy with Clint. But perhaps my favorite of his is “Once Upon a Time in the West”. It’s brilliant!

        1. I recently re-watched ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ as well as ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ in order to determine my favorite and it has to be the latter. It really is a masterpiece!

  11. yeah Kurosawa was mad! Film is amazing mind. Second to Dirty Harry for my fave Eastwood film.

    1. I think The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is my favourite but they are all contenders!

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