A Fistful of Dollars
A Fistful of Dollars: review
A Fistful of Dollars feels as if it hasn’t aged a day since its initial release in 1964. The film’s opening credits sequence is more vigorous and exciting than most entire modern movies for its simplicity and boldness—for its willingness to risk ludicrousness so as to inspire an operatic level of emotion. An illustrated silhouette of a man on a mule gallops against a blank backdrop while Ennio Morricone’s score whips up a fevered tone of comic malevolence. The colors of the man and the backdrop alternate between red and black, foreshadowing the switchback motif of the film’s narrative.
Of course, A Fistful of Dollars is most notable for cementing Eastwood’s on-screen personality, which would for years scan as an impudent response to the sincerity of John Wayne, which was showing its cracks in the wake of the Kent State shootings and the Vietnam War. The Duke’s characters were more nuanced than was typically acknowledged, at least in their heyday, but they usually transcended their demons, while the Man with No Name and his descendants operated with a seriocomic self-regard that suggested a form of truth-telling on Eastwood’s part. As an actor, Eastwood doesn’t have the depth of Wayne at his best, but he fashioned a swaggering, anarchic, strikingly sensual physicality that suggests the retroactive arrival of a rock star in the Old West. Eastwood’s astonishingly fully-formed performance in A Fistful of Dollars established a pattern that would yield many unforgettable phantoms for the actor, who largely defined emotion by its absence. (It’s a definition that would also inform his work as a director.) Leone’s excess and Eastwood’s minimalism merged to create a multi-part fable of how the west, like filmmaking itself, is truly won by any means necessary.