A Fistful of Dollars ★★★★

I’ve seen a few Ford and Wayne westerns over the years and they ain’t nothing like this. All the classic western iconography is here (guns, horses, wagons, saloons, desperadoes, etc.), but the style is so much cooler and operatic and punk rock in nature. Leone’s game-changing entry into the genre feels at once attentive to the rules AND excited to break them. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS has this part homage, part ridicule vibe to it, stealing from master text YOJIMBO yet inspiring a whole new subgenre as a result. At times I thought I was even watching a Tarantino picture, not just in the way it obeys and subverts genre, but in the sexier way it displays its secret weapons: Morricone and Eastwood. Hell yes to these dudes!

🔥 Morricone’s 🔥 score 🔥 is 🔥 straight 🔥 up 🔥 fire 🔥. That rousing trumpet, that surreal whistle, that whip-cracking country twang! You can totally see where QT pulled his inspiration. The score no longer feels like background music, as it had been in previous westerns. It’s a literal character in and of itself, which adds a hyper-cool, wild west swagger to the film’s overall rustic dimensions. 

Then there’s Eastwood — the biggest badass next to Mifune — who radiates the kind of low-key, sunbaked charisma that hides how supernatural his powers really are. Invulnerability to bullets is only one trick up his sleeve. With hat, poncho and short cigar in mouth, Eastwood immediately establishes his presence by giving one of the coolest, badass speeches in western history, right before sending 4 (not 3) Baxter’s to their deaths.

The way Leone cuts these standoffs with a variety of long, fierce close-ups, widescreen compositions, and music specifically timed to elevate suspense, is simply masterful. The Man With No Name is also a fascinating subversion of the cowboy archetype. Like Sanjuro, his character dispenses with Hollywood heroics and behaves more like a chaos agent, someone who just wants to start a Twitter flame war and profit off the carnage. He’s got his own set of morals and finds a few folks in the shitty Mexican town worth saving, but he’s largely just this amoral kill-or-be-killed drifter who wants to party. Eastwood pulls it off like no other. 

If the Hollywood Western was indeed growing tired by the 1960s, Leone had a new answer for where the genre was headed. “I believe that Leone is pointing the way towards modern filmmaking,” says Tarantino. For this reason, “You don’t go past Leone, you start with Leone.” Of course, Leone wasn’t born in a vacuum. You can trace the line of Tarantino stealing from Leone, Leone stealing from Kurosawa, Kurosawa stealing from Ford, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and YOJIMBO both stealing from Dashiell Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY and RED HARVEST, and so on down the line, fulfilling Jarmusch’s “steal from anywhere” mantra. To quote Godard, “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.” I love where A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS takes YOJIMBO, not in story but in definite style. Which is to say I love what Leone, Morricone and Eastwood bring to the table. They transform traditional western storytelling into savage, gunslinging opera. Think I’m gonna dig this spaghetti stuff.

Leone Ranked 

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