T he first in the “Dollars” trilogy, also known as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars follows Clint Eastwood’s paradoxically noble and opportunistic Stranger character as he arrives in a new town terrorized by rivaling families. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Eastwood is the Toshiro Mifune of the Wild West, somewhere between true and chaotic neutral, pitting the bad guys against each other with reckless disregard for the casualties which may result. Many know this character as “Blondie” from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; the poncho wearing, cigar smoking anti-hero with a Colt 1851 Navy Revolver and a finger more quick and accurate for firing it than the launching system for today’s drone missiles.
In For a Few Dollars More, he’s less of a good guy (by wild west terms) and more of a cold and violent Puck—a fiendish imp pitting sides against each other both for monetary gain and amusement. With a larger number of significant characters than The Good, the Bad, and the Uglybut a scaled down setting (the miniscule town of San Miguel) to set the stage, the proceedings devolve into an all-out chicken-fight which yields such raucous and condensed bloodshed that one could make the argument that A Fistfull of Dollars puts a whole lot more sauce into Spaghetti Westerns than GBU. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a better film, but in the same way that you might get a better idea of a town by visiting the dive bars instead of the tourist traps, A Fistfull of Dollars exemplifies the lurid content that garnered the Italian western subgenre a following and a fair amount of controversy.
Although Sergio Leone made the film in 1964, there wouldn’t be a release in the US until 1967. The foremost reason for this gap in time would obviously have to do with the violence, which would take another couple of years to become mainstream in the States, and even at that would still garner X ratings. The content would remain objectionable for years to come. A memorable featurette on this release (among many) features a short prologue shot for the 1975 ABC broadcast where Harry Dean Stanton plays a law official enlisting the Stranger (a body-double shot from behind) in the eradication of gang and family violence in the area, thereby providing the ensuing murder-fest with some kind of moral rationale.
Among my personal favorite kinds of movie trivia are the strange coincidences or factoids from on set or stemming from the film’s very conception. For instance, from the many interviews and retrospective comments on the disc we learn that Leone had a number of actors in mind to play the Stranger before Eastwood, most notably Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson (who would later appear in his epic Once Upon a Time In the West). An associate lent him a tape of the “Black Sheep” episode of the TV series Rawhidefeaturing a young, clean cut Clint . Leone acquired a headshot and crudely added a hat, poncho, and stubble to see if he had the right look. If that’s not the stuff of some schmaltzy making-of/biopic, then I don’t know what is.
For Western, Leone, Italian Cinema, and Eastwood fans, you can’t get a better release than this. The picture quality is top notch, and as with many films of this school we are treated to a trademark Ennio Morricone score. The bells, whip cracks, steely guitars and menacing oboes and all. Not to mention the insanely long list of extras, among them a variety of TV, theatrical, and radio advertisements for multiple Leone films. The film comes with two commentaries, one by film historian and Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, the other by film historian Tim Lucas. You’ll spend more time going through them than watching the actual film! For blu-ray and general film collectors, this release is practically essential. | Nic Champion
Other extras on this BluRay include an interview with Actress Marianne Koch, a fascinating assembly of silent outtakes, still image galleries, and a tour of Christopher Frayling’s collection of memorabilia.