“A Fistful of Dollars” was Clint Eastwood’s first spaghetti western with director Sergio Leone. As it turned out it was an unauthorized western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo. These spaghetti westerns were produced in Europe and cost only a fraction of Hollywood movies and so could make a profit with a much lower box office. Leone featured Eastwood as “The Man with No Name.” He was an anti-hero who drifted from place to place and although of ambivalent morals he always ended up on the side of the less powerful.
In this story the stranger (Eastwood) shows up in the Mexican village of San Miguel and learns that two criminal gangs, the Rojos and the Baxters are in competition for control of the town. The stranger offers his services as a gun fighter to both gangs and by playing them off each other he slowly whittles away both gangs. There is a sub-plot about a family that is being victimized by the Rojos. The wife has been taken as a concubine by one of the Rojos while her husband and small child are hostages. The stranger manages to free the wife and aids the small family to escape San Miguel. For this he is tortured by the Rojos to learn where the woman has gone. The stranger manages to escape and the Rojos, assuming that the Baxters helped him, burn down the Baxters’ house and shoot down the whole gang as they flee the burning building.
The stranger is helped to escape the town by the undertaker hiding him in a coffin. He heals up and returns to save his friend Silvanito who is being tortured by the Rojos to find out where the woman has gone. The stranger faces off against all the remaining Rojos and with the help of a sheet of steel plate hidden under his poncho he shoots them all dead and frees his friend.
So, what’s the verdict? The acting is minimal, the characters are cartoons. The story is straight forward and transparent. But it is altogether an enjoyable hour and a half of pulp fiction. Good vanquishes evil. Violence gets splashed all over the screen and the stranger leaves town just as he entered it. A man with no past or future living by his wits and his gun.
As a final note, the film this was based on, Yojimbo, is a much different film because of the cultural and aesthetic differences between a Leone western and a Kurosawa samurai film. But it is a great picture in its own right. And if you enjoy Kurosawa’s films it is a good one. If you’ve never seen one before then start with his “Seven Samurais” first. It’s an excellent film.
“A Fistful of Dollars” is highly recommended for fans of the western and anyone with a simple taste for action.