Fistful of Dollars, A (1964)

A Fistful of Dollars (1964), directed by Sergio Leone.

A gunman plays off two crime families in a town south of the border and rescues a woman and her family on the side. He has a heart!

It's a remake of Yojimbo (1961), a samurai action picture itself influenced by earlier westerns, particularly John Ford. Kurosawa sued for a cut of the film and made more money from it than he did from his own original.

It made a huge splash at the time, infusing new blood (so to speak) into the genre. Despite several truly massive massacre scenes, the only vivid blood is on Clint Eastwood when he is beaten up. This was brutally sadistic by the standards of the time and the picture had an X rating.

As I've said, I like the next film in the series the best. This one seems a bit talky with the villains announcing at length what they're going to do next. Clint Eastwood cut out a bunch of his lines, which is unusual for an actor. (Steve McQueen would do that, too).

Ennio Morricone score, supposedly meant to invoke Dimitri Tiomkin. Filmed in Spain.

Available on Blu-ray. For a Few Dollars More (1965) has a more vivid image, but perhaps has been processed more. The heavy film grain is certainly intact here.

The commentary track by a Leone biographer has much of interest on the low-budget production. Something that wouldn't have occurred to me: they were much influenced by the first James Bond pictures and were trying to bring those sensibilities to the Western. There had been about 25 Italian/Spanish/German Westerns in the previous couple of years, but this was the first to try to be something other than a copy of the American style.

Another innovation that seems obvious in retrospect: traditionally Westerns had been Anglo and Protestant with Midwestern roots; with Leone they become Latin and Catholic and shift to the Southwest. This makes a huge difference in the iconography of the images.

The target market for the film was southern Italy where audiences have a low boredom level and need action scenes every 10 minutes. It is a market that has much expanded since.