Quick-Thoughts: Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

2nd Viewing

Umm… the head works too, ya know?

A Fistful of Dollars: a tale about how one man single handedly turned a suffering town into a ghost town. Leone’s birth into the spaghetti western genre and unofficial remake of the samurai one just barely misses the 100 minute mark, making it the shortest entry in the Dollars Trilogy. The entire town as director Sergio Leone displays it is nearly made up of criminals, showing only small proportions of actual citizens who suffer through these bandits and swindlers’ rivalries. Thus, this gives way for a very interesting “protagonist” to play with this sort of scenario. Eastwood’s Joe is clearly no shy man to causing death left and right, as long as it sympathizes with his past which we briefly hear about once in a kind of spoon-feed line. He’s really a narcissist if you think about it, emphasizing himself as a Mr. Moral character who ironically creates a death toll large enough to keep morgues in booming business more so than they were even before, toying around with two ruling, corrupted kingdoms with his intelligent but inconsiderate manipulations.

I think there’s no doubt that something with a story as umm… familiar as it is here could’ve been potentially rated lower from not only me but audiences alike, but that’s where Leone’s collaborations come in to make that less of a reality. Ennio Morricone’s score for this film is absolutely heart-stopping on a number of occasions, and paired with Leone and crew’s free-will camerawork reveals the beginning of what would later consistently be improved upon film by film; that being Leone’s ingenious emotive intensity. The characters and sympathies aren’t quite there for me in this western debut as they are in his other works; there’s a huge reliance in this film on using cutesy quotes told by one another to wrap arcs and dynamics up around the pawns of the narrative, which don’t personally evoke much from me, but it is admittedly always exciting to see origins take their first steps before greatness. 

You could look at how the woe of the town or the ambiguity of heroism is conveyed to judge whether or not Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars is the superior movie, but part of the breaking point funny enough for me is in Leone’s obnoxious dubbing, which stands out like a sore thumb here far more than in his other films. Not wanting to strip away great performances by allowing actors to speak in their own languages makes sense, but then proceeding to overlay those great performances with polarizing voice-work kind of makes the practice therefore pointless? The child dubbing in this has always bothered me most of all; I’m pretty confident that Caillou was born the day people thought the voice acting for the kid was passable. Sinful! 

Verdict: B

Sergio Leone Ranked

“A Fistful of Dollars” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

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