A Fistful of Dollars (1967)
A Fistful of Dollars (1967)

Genre: Spaghetti Western Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: January 18th, 1967 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Sergio Leone Actors: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, John Wells, W. Lukschy, S. Rupp, Joe Edger, Antonio Prieto, Jose Calvo, Margherita Lozano

 


 

A

lone American rider (Clint Eastwood) moseys up to a well for a sip of water. There, he witnesses a small boy getting shooed away with kicks and gunfire by a burly, bearded man. As he makes his way into the tiny Mexican village of San Miguel, he’s taunted by gunfighters who hurry him into a nearby cantina. The town is filled with crime bosses, paid killers, and widows. No one works anymore except the coffin builder.

In San Miguel, bandits and smugglers come down from Texas to stock up on inexpensive guns and liquor before returning to sell them to the Indians. When the bartender (Jose Calvo) informs the loner (referred to as Joe only by the local gravedigger) about the two rival criminal leaders occupying the area, the stranger formulates a plan to get rich. The Rojo boys are his first target for employment, making himself notably appealing when he confronts the opposing faction of Sheriff John Baxter’s gang – and guns four of them down in the street – for frightening his mule. He’s immediately hired by Don Rojo (Antonio Prieto), though his headstrong brother Esteban (S. Rupp) disapproves of giving the gunman such a sizable payment of $100.

Hearing of the cavalry coming into San Miguel, Rojo plots the heist of a gold shipment by slaughtering the soldiers at Rio Bravo (also taking their rifle barter). The mission is helmed by formidable sharpshooter Ramon Rojo (John Wells), posing as a Union negotiator (having stolen uniforms from troops he murdered), whose subsequent homecoming initiates a secondary plan to make a truce with the Baxters as a means of diminishing suspicion around the dead Blue Coats, which will certainly lead to an investigation. The American witnesses the attack and uses the information to play the Baxters against the Rojos, heightening the conflict while collecting money from both parties.

Eastwood’s iconic poncho-adorned “man with no name” engages in rivetingly clever schemes to get in the middle of a deadly situation, escalate the body count, profit considerably from it all, and still get out alive. “Strange how you always manage to be in the right place at the right time,” observes matriarch Consuelo Baxter (Margherita Lozano). Everyone is an ally – but also an opponent – in this game of wits and weapons. And Eastwood is the coolest anti-hero amidst an abundance of mercenaries, many of whom conduct questionable activities largely inspired by the American’s meddling. He frequently uses his adversaries’ words against them, quite sardonically, perhaps with a bit too much confidence (as evidenced by the inevitable moment when one of the sides catches him in his scam). It’s nonetheless engaging to watch a shady persona outsmart the opposition at every turn and yet still orchestrate a selfless act for the innocents caught in a state of lawlessness.

The cinematography makes striking use of high contrasts of bright light at night and the blinding sun during the day, while also placing characters far apart yet angled in such a way that multiple people are still visible together. Extreme close-ups, occasionally cropping away everything but expressions, and spacious widescreen landscapes are also artistically pronounced. At other moments, duels in tight spaces, fiery raids, particularly violent brawls, large-scale shootouts, and an exhilarating final showdown (with a spectacular sense of tension and sport) are breathtaking – all components of this epitome of Spaghetti Westerns, as directed by the distinguished Sergio Leone. Concurrently, gunshots, the snapping of whips, and whistling flutes, accompanied by guitar plucks, mournful trumpets, and chanting vocals, are the choice complementary sounds for Ennio Morricone’s legendary, highly unique score, which essentially becomes a character of its own – with some scenes lingering overlong as if to allow the melodies to finish.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10