A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. (1964) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE. STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, MARIANNE KOCH, JOSEPH EGGER, JOSE CALVO, MARIO BREGA AND GIAN MARIA VOLONTE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This magnificent spaghetti Western is the film that launched the careers of both Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood into the cinematic stratosphere, and it can’t have hindered the upward trajectory of film music composer Ennio Morricone either.
It’s the first film in what is commonly referred to as the ‘Dollars’ trilogy. It’s followed by the sublime FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, my personal favourite of the trilogy, and the equally excellent THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.
Clint Eastwood introduced a new kind of hero to the cinema screen at this time. This was his ‘Man With No Name’ character, long, lean, laconic and stubbly, viewing the world through cigar-smoke-narrowed eyes, lightning-quick on the draw with moves to make even the slickest gunfighter in the Wild West pea-green with envy, and irresistibly attractive to women without even trying.
‘My, isn’t he tall…?’ This last is from the busty, toothsome landlady of the hotel in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. This Man With No Name- here he’s called Joe, ironically- makes their husbands and lovers look like sacks of crap by comparison. His sexual magnetism cannot be denied.
And neither can his ability to sharp-shoot his way out of every sticky situation imaginable. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! and it’s Goodnight Irene for an entire gang of cut-throats and murderers, with which the Wild West was of course rife, and all without breaking a sweat for The Man With No Name. But here his name is Joe, for some reason. Remember that, lol.
In A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Clint Eastwood’s lone rider character, gun-belt carefully in place under his poncho (what I wouldn’t give for a root around under that poncho!) trots into a grim and dusty border town called San Miguel.
It’s a town where the Americans and the Mexicans are accustomed to knocking seven bells out of each other over gold, guns and liquor. Don’t anyone tell Donald Trump now, in case he gets the mad idea of separating the two nations with some kind of wall…
San Miguel, a one-horse town barely deserving of the name, is ruled by two gangs, the Baxters (the town Sheriff is a Baxter) and the Rojos. The Baxters aren’t up to much. It’s the Rojo Brothers who seem to be the more proactive of the two gangs and the gang that’ll probably give Clint the most trouble.
Clint signs on with the Rojo Brothers to supposedly earn a few quid for himself. The criminal siblings are Miguel, Esteban of the Alarmingly Gleaming Teeth and the handsome and charismatic Ramon. Ramon is played by Gian Maria Volonte, who brilliantly portrays the desperado bandit El Indio in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Ramon is clearly the head brother here but he’s also a bit of a loose cannon too.
Ramon doesn’t trust Clint as far as he can throw him, but Clint isn’t exactly going to be giving Ramon his house keys and credit card numbers any time soon, either. In fact, he’s going to be a big fat thorn in Ramon’s side before very much longer.
Clint is fantastic as he plays the Baxters and the Rojos against each other, earning himself wads of cash (‘Look at my wad…!’ Remember Harry Enfield’s comic character Loadsamoney?) in the process.
He becomes Ramon’s mortal enemy for life when he releases Marisol, a beautiful local woman who’s been abducted by Ramon and forced to live in the Rojo compound as his concubine, and sets her free to escape with her delighted husband and small son.
Ramon doesn’t take this lying down. He’s been mortally insulted, after all. He sets Chico, his massive family bodyguard played by Mario Brega, on Clint and Clint gets a really terrible and realistic-looking roughing-up. Mario Brega plays Indio’s huge, muscular sidekick Nino in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and it must be said that he is really, really good at playing enormous thugs.
Clint just about survives the beating, fortunately, but for how long? Ramon is out for his blood and he won’t rest until he’s put this enigmatic Lone Gunfighter Six Feet Under where Ramon feels sure he belongs. Could there be a showdown on the cards?
Ah go on, you knew already that there was gonna be one, lol. These things always end with a cracking showdown, with all the Bang! Bang! Pew! Pew! and the bodies piling up on the Main Street of a town so dead that even the tumbleweed has gotten pissed off, packed up and gone for a burton.
One of my favourite things about this movie is the lovely relationship between Clint and the town’s two oldest male residents, Silvanito the Inn-keeper, who seems to feel paternally protective of our Clint, and Piri-Pero, the undertaker and therefore the town’s busiest man.
That’s on account of how everyone who comes to San Miguel gets killed sooner or later by one or other of the two gangs, and it’s usually sooner. They don’t much cotton to strangers in that part of the world. Therefore, the undertaking business is what you might call booming. It’s the only thing that is in the God-forsaken town of San Miguel.
The undertaker, on-screen for the last scene, busily measuring up corpses for a buryin’, is played by Joseph Egger. He’s the lovely beardy auld fella who cameos as the Prophet in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. This is the guy who hates the railroad, with its choo-choo and its filthy smoke and the screeching of the brakes and the rattling of every window in his poor little hut as the Iron Horse thunders by, insensible to the disruption it’s causing.
A lot of people disliked the railroad for the noise and smoke but progress can’t be halted, as we modern-era folks know all too well ourselves. There’s an office block going up across the street from me as I write this, and if it gets any higher it’s gonna block out the sun.
It’s already greatly impeding my view of the Dublin Mountains, grumble grumble grumble. God forbid we shouldn’t have yet another building in which to store our cellphone-gym-and-coffee junkies. Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s all we use ’em for.
Anyway, in the sequel to this, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Gian Maria Volonte settles really well into his role of Mexican bandit as El Indio, who is a much more interesting and well-developed character than Ramon Rojo, in my humble opinion. That’s no slur on Ramon, but Indio is the better bandit for sure. It’s like Ramon was the prototype, but Indio is the finished product, if you get me. Indio is a terrific villain, one of the best in the Western genre.
Clint Eastwood’s character of the Lone Gunfighter, the Man With No Name- except here it’s Joe!- comes out fully formed in the very first film, however, with his horsey and his cigar and poncho and tanned leathery face and squinty eyes.
Even way back then, Clint Eastwood was a superlative actor. He is able to use his eyes to great comedic effect, as in here when he accidentally punches Marisol in the face, thinking she’s a man. He rolls his eyes as if to say ‘Ah Jaysis, look what I’ve done, I’m a total tit!’
It’s very funny, a bit like the way he squints wryly up into the night sky in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE when Colonel Douglas is just shooting the shit… out of poor Clint’s hat…! Clint’s actually something of a comic genius as well as an exceptionally handsome Action Man, and he always has been. Long may he continue.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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