JT Film Review

51 – A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

A Fistful of Dollars REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Sergio Leone

Cast – Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volontè, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo


– followed by A Few Dollars More


A_Fistful_of_DollarsClint Eastwood and Sergio Leone revitalized the western genre back in the sixties with their “Spaghetti Westerns”. The director believed that westerns had become stagnant and preachy, and tried to create something. It’s a pity he stole the script from the Japanese film Yojimbo; its producers sued Leone and Co. and ended up getting 15% of all worldwide profits and exclusive distribution rights for Japan. Despite the plagiarism (apparently in both story and style) A Fistful of Dollars remains a unique movie, with a different take on the Western genre.

Much of the credit for this belongs to Clint Eastwood, who plays the lead character. (He is constantly referred to in popular culture as “The Man with No Name”, yet he does have a name here, Joe. He is called by a different name in the sequels however, so it is suggested he always uses aliases.) Clint here is tough, rugged, and a man of few words. We are never given a back story for him, and this works in favor of the movie. He is not a character, but a symbol; a symbol of everything we all wish we could be. His quick draw is lightning fast, and his mind is sharp. In fact, what drives the story (contrary to many of the western genre) is his plotting and politicking.

The plot is about his manipulation of two different families, playing on against the other to Eastwood’s profit, and these families are portrayed interestingly as well. In most movies where there is such a situation, one of the two families is portrayed as worse than the other. There is a overbearing group and a beaten down group. We would of course, cheer for the underdog. But here we are shown two families who are just as bad as one another. The only people we are really asked to sympathize with throughout the movie are a young boy, Jesus, who has been separated from his mother (who has been taken by Ramon Roho, one of the more villainous characters) and his mother herself. This plot line is not brought out as much as it could have been though.


The great Ennio Morricone composed the music, and it is nothing if not iconic. He composed the music for the whole trilogy, and his main theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of those great songs that everyone knows but rarely know where its from. However the music in A Fistful of Dollars (while definitely unique, iconic, and almost experimental) tends to play the same tune once or twice too many. It actually took me out of the movie a couple of times. However it is so distinctive that it is in the end, worth it.

This is a darker movie than most previous westerns, and it was this change in tone that was seen as so revolutionary. We are not given a hero who needs revenge, who is protecting a village from bandits, etc. He is motivated purely by desire for money. It is a violent movie as well, with several deaths, including one of an innocent women who runs out of her burning home only to be shot at point blank range by Ramon Rohos. It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t really even elicite a response from Clint Eastwood’s Joe, who is watching. He merely sighs and leaves the scene. There was nothing he could have done and he knew it. Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne would have jumped in there guns blazing and saved the day. But this is The Man With No Name, and he’s not stupid.


A Fistful of Dollars is the rare beast, a good western movie. It has smarts to go along with its violence. It’s got a memorable musical score and equally memorable characters, and was just the kick up the pants the genre needed. It invented a new definition of cool, and solidified Clint Eastwood as both a critical and commercial success. Definitely recommended.



“A Fistful of Dollars” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



September 30, 2009 - Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Western, Year - 1960-1969 | , , , ,

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