Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volontè, Wolfgang Lukschy, José Calvo, Antonio Prieto, Sieghardt Rupp
Director: Sergio Leone
Mood: If you just really like Clint Eastwood and need to see all of his movies and don’t give a crap if you can understand the plot or connect with any of the characters.
A movie about the American Old West made cheaply in Europe, typically by an Italian producer and director.
I never gave much thought to Spaghetti Westerns. I mean, it’s obviously fun to say – and who doesn’t love spaghetti? I’m gluten intolerant and I love spaghetti so f*cking much that if an Italian restaurant doesn’t have a GF pasta option, I’ll eat the glutenous death noodles.
But I never actually knew what ‘Spaghetti Western’ meant. I would have guessed it was a stupid-funny Western, like Wagons East. It’s like when you’ve only read a word on paper but never said it aloud… and it turns out you’ve been mentally mispronouncing Hermione Granger’s name for years (it’s her-MY-u-nee, not HER-me-oh-nee).
I ordered A Fistful of Dollars from the library because I felt like I should. Clint Eastwood is such a big deal to Western fans, and it felt like I couldn’t have a Western blog without having seen his movies.
I definitely picked the right Clint movie to get started. It’s his first leading role, and THE movie that made Spaghetti Westerns popular in North America.
There were many, many Spaghetti Westerns made during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I’ve even seen a handful of them without realizing I was watching a niche sub-genre. I just thought all Westerns from that era were extremely melodramatic, had crap audio, and were filmed in places that looked vaguely un-American.
I mean… I’m not totally wrong.
There’s zero talking in the first five minutes of A Fistful of Dollars, just a whole lot of squinting. Squinting while riding into town. Squinting while watering the horse. Watching a little boy get beat up by bad guys? Yup, still squinting. And of course, squinting at other people who are squinting.
The film unfolds like a Shakespearean play, complete with family politics, betrayals, and dramatic deaths. Two families run the border town, the Baxters and the Rojos. In order to take them down, Clint plays them against each other while collecting fat paycheques from each.
My favourite part is the early scene where Clint asks the assholes in town who spooked his mule to apologize to said mule, then guns them down when they refuse. There’s something weirdly adorbs about Clint Eastwood squintily defending a donkey’s honour.
You can definitely feel Sergio Leone’s flair for the operatic drama. The shootouts are long, and no one ever seems to run out of bullets. The closeups are plentiful. The Baxter home is like a clown car in the final showdown – every time you think there couldn’t possibly be more men inside, more dudes spill out to get shot up by the Rojos.
I watched A Fistful of Dollars twice in 24 hours, and I still don’t quite get the plot. The Man With No Name is such a fast draw and a wicked good shot, so why waste that much time on an elaborate scheme? Why not just shoot the f*cking bad guys? It’s not like he was trying to clean up the town peacefully. And he didn’t even keep the money.
With that said, I particularly enjoyed Don Miguel Benito Rojo (Antonio Prieto) and Silvanito (José Calvo). Prieto is thoroughly commanding as the father of the local crime family – you can really feel his stage background. And Calvo was ridiculously cute as the sweet, friendly counterpart to Clint’s cigar-chewing stoic-ness.
Sergio Leone originally wanted Henry Fonda for the lead role, then James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and a slew of other Hollywood actors. But everyone was too expensive, or thought the script was a terrible. Clint Eastwood was just stoked at the chance to play an anti-hero. He picked out his own wardrobe and borrowed the Colt, gun belt, and spurs from Rawhide – everything but the authentic Spanish poncho.
In my EXTREMELY uneducated opinion, it would’ve been cool if Spaghetti Western directors had owned that the movies were Italian, or French, or German. If we can buy into aliens and dragons and King Kong, why can’t Europe have had a Wild West too?
I liked A Fistful of Dollars, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s definitely fun to watch, but it’s not something I’d throw on over and over again. I don’t know why, but Clint just doesn’t do it for me, which is why I waited three full years after writing this review to watch For a Few Dollars More (better) and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (best). Maybe if he had a handlebar moustache…