A Fistful of Dollars
|A Fistful of Dollars
(Per un pugno di dollari)
|Directed by||Sergio Leone|
|Produced by||Arrigo Colombo
|Screenplay by||Víctor Andrés Catena
Jamie Comas Gil
|Story by||A. Bonzzoni
Víctor Andrés Catena
by Akira Kurosawa
Ryuzo Kikushima (uncredited)
Gian Maria Volonté
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
Federico G. Larraya
|Edited by||Roberto Cinquini
|Distributed by||Unidis (Italy)
United Artists (US & UK)
|Running time||99 minutes|
|Box office||$14.5 million|
A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, lit. "For a Fistful of Dollars"), titled on-screen as Fistful of Dollars, is a 1964 spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, alongside Gian Maria Volonté, Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo, Antonio Prieto, and Joseph Egger.
A Fistful of Dollars was filmed on a low budget (reported to be $200,000), and Eastwood was paid $15,000 for his role.  Released in Italy in 1964 and then in the United States in 1967, it initiated the popularity of the spaghetti western film genre. It was followed by For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, also starring Eastwood. Collectively, the films are known as the "Dollars Trilogy", or "The Man With No Name Trilogy". The film has been identified as an unofficial remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (1961), which resulted in a successful lawsuit by Toho. In the United States, the United Artists publicity campaign referred to Eastwood's character in all three films as the "Man with No Name".
As few spaghetti westerns had yet been released in the United States, many of the European cast and crew took on American-sounding stage names. These included Leone himself ("Bob Robertson"), Gian Maria Volonté ("Johnny Wels"), and composer Ennio Morricone ("Dan Savio"). A Fistful of Dollars was shot in Spain, mostly near Hoyo de Manzanares close to Madrid, but also (like its two sequels) in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in Almería province.
A stranger arrives at the little Mexican border town of San Miguel. He is taciturn, watchful, and incredibly fast and accurate with his gun, able to outdraw and kill four men with startling ease. An innkeeper, Silvanito, tells the Stranger about the bitter feud between two families vying to gain control of the town: on the one side, the Rojo brothers, consisting of Don Miguel (the eldest and nominally in charge), Esteban (the most headstrong), and Ramón (the most capable and intelligent, but also the most evil and blood-thirsty); on the other, the family of the town sheriff, John Baxter.
The Stranger, spying an opportunity to make money from the situation, decides to play both families against each other. His opportunity comes when a detachment of Mexican soldiers escorting a shipment of gold passes through the town. The gold is ostensibly being delivered to a troop of American soldiers in exchange for weapons, but following the Mexican troops out of town, the Stranger witnesses them being massacred by members of the Rojo gang, dressed in American uniforms and led by Ramón Rojo. The Rojos take the gold.
The Stranger takes two of the bodies to a nearby cemetery and sells information to both sides that two Mexican soldiers survived the attack. Both sides race to the cemetery, the Baxters to get the "survivors" to testify against the Rojos, the Rojos to silence them. The factions engage in a fierce gunfight, with Ramón managing to "kill" the "survivors" and Esteban capturing John Baxter's son, Antonio. While the Rojos and the Baxters are fighting, the Stranger searches the Rojo hacienda for the gold but accidentally knocks out Ramón's beautiful prisoner and unwilling mistress, Marisol, when she surprises him. He takes her to the Baxters, who, in turn, arrange to return her to the Rojos in exchange for Antonio.
During the exchange, Marisol's son runs to her, with her husband following. While the family embraces, Ramón orders one of his men to kill her husband, as he has already told him to leave town. Silvanito attempts to protect the family with a shotgun, but is about to be killed himself when the Stranger backs him up, staring down Ramón's henchman. Neither Ramón nor any of his men attempt to challenge the Stranger, knowing that he is too fast on the draw. The Stranger then tells Marisol to go to Ramón and for her husband to take their son home. Afterwards, the Stranger learns Marisol's history from Silvanito: "... a happy little family until trouble comes along. And trouble is the name of Ramón, claiming the husband cheated at cards, which wasn't true. He gets the wife to live with him as hostage." That night, while the Rojos are celebrating, the Stranger rides out and frees Marisol, shooting the guards and wrecking the house in which she is being held in order to make it appear as if it were attacked by the Baxters. The Stranger tells Marisol, her husband, and their son to leave town, at the same time giving them some money to tide them over. Marisol asks the Stranger, "Why do you do this for us?", and for the first and only time the Stranger provides an insight into his actions: "Why? I knew someone like you once. There was no one there to help."
Discovering that he freed Marisol, the Rojos capture and beat the Stranger, but he escapes. Believing the Stranger to be protected by the Baxters, the Rojos set fire to the Baxter home and massacre all the residents as they are forced to flee. Among the dead are John Baxter, his wife, Consuelo, and Antonio. Now the only gang left in San Miguel, the Rojos confront and beat Silvanito, who they think is hiding the Stranger.
With help from Piripero, the local coffin maker, the Stranger escapes town by hiding in a casket. The Stranger hides and convalesces in a nearby mine. When Piripero tells him Silvanito has been captured, the Stranger returns to town, where he faces the Rojos in a dramatic showdown. With a steel chest-plate hidden beneath his poncho, he taunts Ramón to "aim for the heart" as Ramón's rifle shots bounce off. Ramón is distressed and uses up all of his bullets. The Stranger shoots the rifle from Ramón's hand and kills the other Rojos standing nearby, using up all the bullets in his pistol. The Stranger then challenges Ramón to reload his rifle faster than he, the Stranger, can reload his pistol. He then shoots and kills Ramón. Esteban Rojo, unseen by the Stranger and aiming at him from a nearby building, is shot dead by Silvanito. The Stranger says his goodbyes and rides from the town.
- Clint Eastwood as Joe, the Stranger (the "Man with No Name")
- Gian Maria Volonté (as Johnny Wels) as Ramón Rojo
- Marianne Koch as Marisol
- José Calvo (as Jose Calvo) as Silvanito, The Inn Keeper
- Joseph Egger (as Joe Edger) as Piripero, The Coffin Builder
- Antonio Prieto as Don Miguel Benito Rojo
- Sieghardt Rupp (as S. Rupp) as Esteban Rojo
- Wolfgang Lukschy (as W. Lukschy) as Sheriff John Baxter
- Margarita Lozano (as Margherita Lozano) as Doña Consuelo Baxter
- Bruno Carotenuto (as Carol Brown) as Antonio Baxter
- Daniel Martín as Julián
- Mario Brega (as Richard Stuyvesant) as Chico, Rojo Gang Member
- Benito Stefanelli (as Benny Reeves) as Rubio, Ramón's Rifleman
- Aldo Sambrell (as Aldo Sambreli) as Manolo, Rojo Gang Member
- Lorenzo Robledo: Baxter's member
A Fistful of Dollars was at first intended by Leone to reinvent the western genre in Italy. In his opinion, the American westerns of the mid- to late-1950s had become stagnant, overly-preachy and unbelievable, and, because of this, Hollywood began to gear down production of such films. Leone knew that there was still a significant market in Europe for westerns yet observed that Italian audiences were beginning to laugh at the stock conventions of both American westerns and the pastiche work of Italian directors working behind pseudonyms. His approach was to take the grammar of the Italian film and transpose it into a western setting.
Eastwood was not the first actor approached to play the main character. Originally, Sergio Leone intended Henry Fonda to play the "Man with No Name". However, the production company could not afford to engage a major Hollywood star. Next, Leone offered Charles Bronson the part. He, too, declined, arguing that the script was bad. Both Fonda and Bronson would later star in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Other actors who turned the role down were Henry Silva, Rory Calhoun, Tony Russel, Steve Reeves, Ty Hardin, and James Coburn. Leone then turned his attention to Richard Harrison, who had recently starred in the very first Italian western, Gunfight at Red Sands (Duello nel Texas). Harrison, however, had not been impressed with his experience on his previous film and refused. The producers later established a list of available, lesser-known American actors and asked Harrison for advice. Harrison suggested Eastwood, who he knew could play a cowboy convincingly. Harrison later stated, "Maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing Fistful of Dollars and recommending Clint for the part." Eastwood later spoke about the transition from a television western to Fistful of Dollars: "In Rawhide I did get awfully tired of playing the conventional white hat. The hero who kisses old ladies and dogs and was kind to everybody. I decided it was time to be an anti-hero."
Eastwood was instrumental in creating the Man with No Name's distinctive visual style. He bought the black jeans from a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevard, the hat came from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm, and the trademark cigars came from a Beverly Hills store. He also brought props from Rawhide including a Cobra-handled Colt, a gunbelt, and spurs. The poncho was discovered in Spain. It was Leone and costume designer Carlo Simi who decided on the Spanish poncho for the Man with No Name. On the anniversary DVD for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it was said that while Eastwood himself is a non-smoker, he felt that the foul taste of the cigar in his mouth put him in the right frame of mind for his character. Leone reportedly took to Eastwood's distinctive style quickly and commented that, "More than an actor, I needed a mask, and Eastwood, at that time, only had two expressions: with hat and no hat."
Because A Fistful of Dollars was an Italian/German/Spanish co-production, there was a significant language barrier on the set. Leone did not speak English, and Eastwood communicated with the Italian cast and crew mostly through stuntman Benito Stefanelli, who also acted as an unlicensed interpreter for the production and would later appear in Leone's other pictures. Similar to other Italian films shot at the time, all footage was filmed silent and the dialogue and sound effects were dubbed over in post-production.
A Fistful of Dollars became the first film to exhibit Leone's famously distinctive style of visual direction. This was influenced by both John Ford's cinematic landscaping and the Japanese method of direction, perfected by Akira Kurosawa. Leone wanted an operatic feel to his western and so there are many examples of extreme close-ups on the faces of different characters that function like the arias in a traditional opera. They focus the attention on a single person and that countenance becomes both the landscape and dialogue of the scene. This is quite different from the Hollywood use of faces where the close-up was treated as a reaction shot, usually to a piece of dialogue that had just been spoken. Leone's close-ups are more akin to portraits, often lit with Renaissance-type lighting effects and are pieces of design in their own right.
The film's music was written by Ennio Morricone, credited as Dan Savio. Morricone recalled Leone requesting him to write "Dimitri Tiomkin music" for the film. The trumpet theme is similar to Tiomkin's El Degüello theme from Rio Bravo (1959) (called Un dollaro d'onore in Italy) while the opening title whistling music recalls Tiomkin's use of whistling in his Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). "Some of the music was written before the film, which is unusual. Leone's films were made like that because he wanted the music to be an important part of it, and he often kept the scenes longer simply because he didn't want the music to end. That's why the films are so slow - because of the music." Though not used in the completed film, Peter Tevis recorded lyrics to Morricone's theme for the film. As a movie tie-in to the American release, United Artists Records released a different set of lyrics to Morricone's theme called Restless One by Little Anthony and the Imperials.
Advertised as "This is the first film of its kind. It won't be the last," the film was effectively an unofficial and unlicensed remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 film Yojimbo (written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima), lifting themes and character types from that samurai film. Kurosawa insisted that Leone had made "a fine movie, but it was MY movie." Leone ignored the resulting lawsuit, but eventually settled out of court, reportedly for 15% of the worldwide receipts of A Fistful of Dollars and over $100,000. British critic Sir Christopher Frayling identifies three principal sources for A Fistful of Dollars: "Partly derived from Kurosawa's samurai film Yojimbo, partly from Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest (1929), but most of all from Carlo Goldoni's eighteenth-century play Servant of Two Masters." Leone has cited these alternate sources in his defense. He claims a thematic debt, for both Fistful and Yojimbo, to Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters—the basic premise of the protagonist playing two camps against each other. Leone asserted that this rooted the origination of Fistful/Yojimbo in European, and specifically Italian, culture. The Servant of Two Masters plot can also be seen in Hammett's detective novel Red Harvest. The Continental Op hero of the novel is, significantly, a man without a name. Leone himself believed that Red Harvest had influenced Yojimbo: "Kurosawa's Yojimbo was inspired by an American novel of the serie-noire so I was really taking the story back home again." Leone also referenced numerous American Westerns in the film, most notably Shane (1953) and My Darling Clementine (1946).
Release and reception
A Fistful of Dollars was released in Italy in September 1964. Over the film's theatrical release, it grossed more than any other Italian film up to that point. A little over two years later, the film premièred in the United States in January 1967, where it grossed $4.5 million for the year. It eventually grossed $14.5 million in its American release.
The film was re-released in 1969 and earned $1.2 million in rentals.
In order to give a moral justification for the violence of the film for American broadcast television audiences, a four and a half minute prologue was added to the film for its ABC television première. Written and directed by Monte Hellman, it featured an unidentified official (Harry Dean Stanton) offering the Man With No Name a chance at a pardon in exchange for cleaning up the mess in San Miguel. Eastwood does not portray his character in the prologue (although some close-ups of Eastwood's face from archival footage are inserted into the scene). This prologue appeared on the Special Edition DVD and the more recent Blu-ray, along with an interview with Monte Hellman about its making.
Critic Philip French of The Observer was unimpressed, saying: "The calculated sadism of the film would be offensive were it not for the neutralising laughter aroused by the ludicrousness of the whole exercise. If one didn't know the actual provenance of the film, one would guess that it was a private movie made by a group of rich European Western fans at a dude ranch. And that their American guest was left to supply his own dialogue from familiar clichés of the genre while they stuck to talking about the plot. Somebody actually says, in the film's sole endearing moment, 'It's like playing cowboys and Indians.' A Fistful of Dollars looks awful, has a flat dead soundtrack, and is totally devoid of human feeling."
The film was described as a phenomenal success in Italy and Europe by The New York Times soon after its debut in the United States. Bosley Crowther stated that nearly every Western cliche could be found in this "egregiously synthetic but engrossingly morbid, violent film". He went on to praise Eastwood's depiction of a half-gangster/half-cowboy and noted the plethora of violent spectacles as another distinction in the film.
In 2014, the film was digitally restored by Cineteca di Bologna and Unidis Jolly Film for its Blu-ray debut and 50th anniversary. Frame-by-frame digital restoration by Prasad Corporation removed dirt, tears, scratches and other defects.  The directorial credit for Leone, which replaced the "Bob Robertson" card years ago, has been retained, but otherwise, the original credits (with pseudonyms, including "Dan Savio" for Morricone) remain the same.
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- Variety film review; November 18, 1964, page 22.
- "Ennio Morricone" by Jerry McCulley, essay in the 1995 CD "The Ennio Morricone Anthology", Rhino DRC2-1237
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- "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
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- Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-86051-790-X.
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