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Film Review: A Fistful of Dollars
In 1964, Sergio Leone directed A Fistful of Dollars, which was exported to the United States in 1967 and initiated the popularity of spaghetti westerns. Identified as an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, the film starred Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch, Jose Calvo, Joseph Egger, Antonio Prieto, Sieghardt Rupp, Wolfgang Lukschy, and Margarita Lozano. Grossing $14.5 million at the box office, Kurosawa had sued Leone due it being an unofficial and unlicensed remake, calling the film “a fine movie, but it was my movie.” It was settled out of court.
After the Man with No Name wanders into a poverty-stricken town on the Mexican border, he decides to make some money by playing two feuding crime gangs against each other. The opportunity to do so arises out of a Mexican shipment of gold passing through.
The first of the Dollars trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars is quite a good film, especially in the differences between Ramon Rojo and The Man With No Name. The film also has some very interesting religious imagery laden throughout it as well as intriguing cinematographic choices.
There is a noticeable difference in character between The Man with No Name, the story’s anti-hero, and Ramon, the story’s villain.
With the former, he while he decides to help a town out by taking care of the feuding families that have essentially made it into a near ghost town, he does it because he wants money. However, he’s not all selfish and it could be argued that he decided to get involved because of the mistreatment of a young boy he witness at the beginning of the film and decided to make it about money so the boy isn’t used against him. Further, his selflessness also comes out when he gets that money and gives it to the innocent family so they can flee. As he says “I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.” He’s also smart, able to use Ramon’s trait of only aiming for the heart against him by using a boiler plate as body armor. He even realizes that he’s not going to aim anywhere else early on when he calls him out. He also values honor before reason, seen after he’s killed all of Ramon’s men, tricked him into using up all his bullets and shot the rifle out of his hand. Instead of shooting him, he allows the man a chance at killing him by emptying his and throwing it on the ground to see who can pick up their gun and reload it to shoot fastest.
And really, Ramon is an idiot when he realizes twice that aiming for the heart isn’t working in that fight and that his belief that really killing a man by aiming for the heart is a stupid thought and he should have been aiming for his head. But really, it seems he’s not known for being smart, just known for being incredibly evil in everything he does, such as slaughtering the rival family as they surrender or kidnapping a woman and forcing her to live with him because her husband cheated at cards, or so he said. His entire existence seems to revolve around a form of disproportionate retribution. But what could one expect from a guy that would massacre a Mexican army unity just to steal some gold.
The film also has some very interesting subtle religious imagery. For instance, the dinner party at the Rojos resembles Da Vinci’s Last Supper and when Marisol escapes with her family, it feels like when Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt. Both children are even named Jesus. Further. The torture of The Man with No Name can be somewhat comparable to Christ.
And all of this is coupled with some very well done cinematography and one of the best moments happens to be when The Man with No Name shoots Ramon and the camera cuts to show what Ramon is seeing at the time: the sky spinning round and round.
With all it has going for it, A Fistful of Dollars is a very well done film, especially in its cinematography. It’ll get four stars and shoot its way through the Threshold of Enjoyment, coming in at #8 on the 1956-1969 Rundown.
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