A Fistful of Dollars


(1964) ★★★★

Sky Movies Select: Monday 16 November, 6.00pm

In another century, Clint Eastwood was a young rising star in television, given the chance to broaden his horizons on the plains of Almeria. The film that changed everything – for Clint, and for the way in which the whole world watched westerns – was made in Spain by an Italian director whose only previous feature was The Colossus of Rhodes in 1961. And it would be three years before this influential spaghetti western (or paella, if you prefer) played in UK and US cinemas, by which time Sergio Leone had made two more Dollars films with Clint, who was then back home making Hang ’em High (Sky Movies Select, Tuesday at 12.45am), forging a Hollywood career unlike any other. From the Man With No Name to Dirty Harry superstar and, latterly, a prolific and distinguished director of Oscar-winning pictures.

Leone made only three films after the Dollars trilogy. He died in Rome in 1989, age 61. Clint is still busy well into his 80s. He’s directed 18 films since winning Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Unforgiven in 1993, and four of them have also been up for Best Picture (American Sniper the most recent). Back in the mid-60s, here is is, squinting up at the sun from beneath a battered wide-brimmed hat, impassively taking in his surroundings at the tumbleweed border town of San Miguel. He doesn’t waste words: “My mistake. Four coffins.”

The plot was borrowed, with Akira Kurosawa’s blessing, from the classic samurai picture Yojimbo. (In 1996 Walter Hill reworked the story again as Last Man Standing, with Bruce Willis.) But what really set the first Fistful apart from the crowd was its weird and wonderful whip-cracking music score. Leone wasn’t keen on old schoolmate Ennio Morricone doing the music – until he heard it. “It’s the worst film Sergio Leone made,” claimed Morricone somewhat ungraciously years later, “and the worst score I did.” And, whisper it softly, but that whole ‘Man With No Name’ thing? It was a marketing ploy by the US distributor United Artists. The closing titles give Clint’s character the name Joe, and he’s certainly called Joe by the town’s undertaker.

In For a Few Dollars More (which follows at7.45pm) Clint’s laconic bounty hunter is named as Manco. If the first film made Eastwood’s name, the 1965 sequel made an unlikely star of middle-aged bit-part player Lee Van Cleef. Leone originally wanted Henry Fonda, then the similarly unavailable Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin, for the role of colonel Douglas Mortimer. Leone also considered Robert Ryan, being a fan of his performance in The Naked Spur. But, given the opportunity, Van Cleef nailed it, matching Eastwood’s staredown. In an atmosphere heavy with menace, that’s Klaus Kinski putting in an early appearance as an inflammatory hunchback propping up the bar.

The twitchy Kinski’s relatively calm, though, compared to Gian Maria Volonte, operatically pumped up as the El Paso gang’s hysterical psycho leader, Indio. Even Leone thought he was over the top. A master of widescreen composition, Leone was a prime exponent of cinema’s first rule: show, don’t tell. It’s fully ten minutes before anyone utters a word in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (at 10pm). Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef are the good, the bad and the ugly (though not necessarily in that order), ruthlessy seeking hidden loot amid the chaos of the American Civil War.

Leone picked Wallach for the role of Tuco not because of his role as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven, as most people assumed, but rather because of his brief role as a Tuco-like bandit in How the West Was Won. Morricone’s soundtrack (including the bit that goes “Eye-er-yi-yi… eye-eye-yi!”) provides, as ever, a church-bells-and-whistles backdrop to Leone’s hymn to greed and betrayal in a spawling story set ambitiously against the chaos and carnage of the Civil War. Good (and bad and ugly) as it is, Once Upon a Time in the West (Sky Movies Select,Tuesday) is Leone’s masterpiece.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 100min

IMDB – A Fistful of Dollars

TMDB – A Fistful of Dollars

Rotten Tomatoes – A Fistful of Dollars

Other Showings Date & Time
Sky Movies Select Tuesday, 17 November at 3:00PM
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 19 November at 9:15AM
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 19 November at 7:00PM
Sky Movies Select Saturday, 21 November at 5:00PM
Sky Movies Select Sunday, 22 November at 1:30PM