The birth of the spaghetti western (derogatory terminology that has since become the endearment, not unlike Yankee Doodle) began with 1964’s low budget success, A Fistful of Dollars, which catapulted Clint Eastwood’s career and revitalized the genre both overseas and in Hollywood. Eastwood’s character, though known as the Man With No Name, actually does have a name, and, a different one, at that, in each outing (here, he’s called Joe).
In this first installment, Eastwood is a mysterious gunslinger that drifts into a troubled Mexican town, San Miguel, rampaged by two warring Mafia-like families, the Rojos and the Baxters. (Rojo, or red, evokes blood; Baxter is the generic term for a male given name). An overzealous bell ringer informs him that if he doesn’t leave, the bell will soon toll for him, and, likewise, the coffin maker seems to be the only with his hands full. Eastwood befriends the bartender of the cantina, where he learns about the feuding clans, discovering the Rojos are the stronger group (hence, a more badass name), mostly due to the gang being led by a maniacal hothead, Ramon (John Wels aka Gian Maria Volonte). Seeing an opportunity to make a fistful of dough, Eastwood pits the two clans against one another, until his conscience forces him to help an innocent family caught in the middle.
While the film is arguably straightforward and predictable, stylistically, it’s magnificent and beautiful to look at. Leone (here credited as Bob Robertson) was famous for his extreme close-ups and his refreshing take on realism in the genre. A Fistful of Dollars is remarkably violent and realistic in it’s depiction of the West as a vile, violent, and unjust universe. Leone wanted to show the blood and grime, which he does quite effectively. Eastwood is perfect in his iconic role as the mysterious gunslinger, a squinty, sun-burnt man of few words, intelligent and tough. And Gian Maria Volonte as the cruel and brassy Ramon is extremely entertaining. Let the guns blast and the music soar, as this is definitely a classic to own.
While this first outing is notably low budget and dubbing and editing are glaringly obvious in a scene or two, this is an excellent transfer with 2.35:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 conversion on the sound. Ennio Morricone’s score sounds resplendent. The film print appears to be grainy at times, but looks well polished and presentable. On the other hand, you can count the lines around Clint’s eyes every now and then. The disc features some excellent special features for cinephiles. MGM brings Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy to Blu-Ray in a beautifully packaged transfer.
The Christopher Frayling Archives: Fistful of Dollars
Sir Chrisopher Frayling is a film historian and biographer of Sergio Leone. He has amassed an extensive collection surrounding the work of Leone, and he shares a large part of his collection concerning A Fistful of Dollars, which he would like to have placed in a museum after his death, though he is undecided on whether his collection is more appropriate in an Italian or an American museum. Frayling is an extremely knowledgeable source of information, revealing that Kurosawa sued and won the distribution rights in Japan (the film is based on his film, Yojimbo) and the original title was ‘The Magnificent Stranger.’
Feature Commentary by Noted Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling
A New Kind of Hero
A 21 minute documentary narrated by Christopher Frayling about the history of the film discusses Leone’s first choices for the role, including Henry Fonda and James Coburn. After watching an episode of “Rawhide,” Leone settled on Eastwood, who was not able to do any “holiday” work in America while under contract for that television series. Frayling also notes that Leone’s lack of females and Western heroines in his films were intentional; he didn’t believe that it was realistic that such beautiful women were there for the taking. Women in the west were whores or hoteliers. But most importantly, Frayling notes, Leone’s Man With No Name is the herald of the new hero, a man we also know nothing about.
A Few Weeks In Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film
Footage from a 2003 interview with Clint Eastwood highlights how he brought his own wardrobe from the set of “Rawhide,” and how he didn’t know Italian while Leone did not speak English.
Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars
Three “voices” reminisce about the film, including producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and actor Mickey Knox, who notes that Charles Bronson turned down the role, calling the translated script one of the worst he’d ever read, though it was a role he would later regret turning down.
Not Ready for Primetime: Renowned Filmmaker Monte Hellman discusses the Television Broadcast of A Fistful of Dollars
Monte Hellman was hired to film a prologue for the film’s broadcast on television in 1970 that would give a moral purpose to the extreme violence in A Fistful of Dollars. Hellman reminisces about the casting of Harry Dean Stanton.
The Network Prologue with Harry Dean Stanton
It’s quite obvious the moral prologue was shot years later without Eastwood, though an odd close up is used to show the audience that this is who Stanton is supposed to be talking to. It is an entertaining piece of film history and a nice treat for fans of the film.
Location Comparisons: Then to Now & 10 Radio Spots & Double Bill Trailer A Fistful of Dollars Trailer
These are all standard extras, perhaps most interesting to extreme die-hard fans of the film and/or Sergio Leone.
A beautiful and lovingly packaged Blu-Ray transfer, this is an awesome copy of the film. Cinephiles unfamiliar with Leone’s work are encouraged to start with this seminal flick and go from there. You can’t miss the influence of Leone in films being made today. The Man With No Name has arrived….in Blu.