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Monday, April 20, 2015

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

This is the movie that launched what was to become known as the  spaghetti Western.  It was not the first to be filmed in Spain or Italy, or to use a largely non-English speaking cast.  But it was the one that captured the imagination of those who love the Western.

The movie follows the story of Joe (a very young looking Clint Eastwood who demonstrates what is to become known as a life long gift for economy of emotion and speech), a mule riding loner who rides into the sleepy township of San Miguel and sets about using an existing gang rivalry to line his own pockets and ultimately free the town of its bloodthirsty overlords.  Joe is a man of few words but these words tend to communicate more than their sum parts. Early in the piece, soon after he has arrived in town to an unfriendly welcome, Joe stands on the balcony of Silvanito's cantina ruminating on the makeup of the town. "The Baxters on one side and the Rojos on the other and me in the middle. A man could get rich in a town like this". So saying, the entire plotline of the film is laid out, with Joe playing one side against the other in turn until everyone is dead and his pockets are bulging.
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Here was a new style of hero, as laconic and self reliant as his predecessors but with a cynicism and amorality that matched the contemporary mood of his 1960's audience. A hero whose speed and skill with a gun had reached a new and exaggerated level of artistry, and who was happy to utilize them in as cold and mercenary fashion as his villainous adversaries. Far from wearing a traditional white hat, his was decidedly dirty. In short, he was cool.

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It is obvious when viewing the films of Sergio Leone that he had a strong affection for the classic western films of his American predecessors and a clear understanding of their visual iconography. Clint shows up in the two sequels to this movie wearing the same serape that he is wearing throughout this movie. The movie showcased a whole range of possibilities for new direction in soundtrack, direction and cinematography: a European approach to an American tradition.

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