A Fistful of Dollars launched the spaghetti Western and catapulted Clint Eastwood to stardom. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai picture Yojimbo, it scored a resounding success (in Italy in 1964 and the U.S. in 1967), as did its sequels, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The advertising campaign promoted Eastwood’s character–laconic, amoral, dangerous–as the Man with No Name (though in the film he’s clearly referred to as Joe), and audiences loved the movie’s refreshing new take on the Western genre. Gone are the pieties about making the streets safe for women and children. Instead it’s every man for himself. Striking, too, was a new emphasis on violence, with stylized, almost balletic gunfights and baroque touches such as Eastwood’s armored breastplate. The Dollars films had a marked influence on the Hollywood Western–for example, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch–but their most enduring legacy is Clint Eastwood himself.

Studio: MGM
Year: 1964
Release Date: June 5, 2011
Run time: 101 minutes
Rating: NR

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Disc Spec: 1 BD
Region: 1

“Fistful of Dollars” is very tight and fast paced as much of this has to do with the fact that Leone was forced to make his film on a shoestring budget with relatively unknown actors (Eastwood had been only in very low budget B movies and on TV up until this point and the supporting Italian and Spanish actors certainly weren’t universally known, if they were in their own countries). In retrospect, the tight budget is the best thing that could have happened as Leone did a brilliant editing job as there are no wasted moments or overly long, drawn out scenes just to show off (as there are in the sequels!). It is a simple, tightly woven tale that moves at a brisk pace.

Eastwood, as “Joe”, controls the film from start to finish, with a still to this day unmatched sublime coolness and precision that no one else could have accomplished. This is one of his most confident performances (and, ironically, his first major screen role!). He displays the perfect combination of toughness, savvy, sex appeal, and sensitivity, and he does it with a minimum of dialogue! His “mule” speech preceding the initial gunfight is a perfect balance of sarcasm, humor, and cold-heartedness! In fact, there is a LOT of natural humor in the dialogue in “Fistful of Dollars”.

The supporting cast is wonderful, with the standout being Gian Maria Volonte, excellent as the main villain Ramon Rojo and is a fitting primary enemy for Eastwood. The two female cast members Marianne Koch (as Marisol) and Margarito Lozano (as Consuela Baxter) are original as well. Marisol may be a victim for most of the film, but Leone manages to make her not seem just like Ramon’s sex object and gives her a quiet strength and dignity. And it definitely was a rarity to see such a powerful female as Consuela Baxter ruling an all-male roost!

Leone’s camerawork is impressive. One thing I notice upon repeat viewing is how the character closeup reaction shots are so perfectly timed and placed, simultaneously underscoring and accentuating the action. The editing is as much a star as Eastwood and Ennio Morricone’s infectious score. This is most evident in the brilliant final showdown scene between Joe and Ramon, one for the ages; Leone imbibes this scene with snappy dialogue delivered by Eastwood, dramatic music fitting of a finale, and wonderful editing to underscore the gravity of the situation. Made on the cheap with an international cast and anchored by a future screen legend in his first major role, “Fistful of Dollars” is an engrossing masterpiece!
Movie Quality: 10/10

Print/Audio Quality

The print is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 with a 2:35:1 aspect ratio. MGM has done a good job with ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ release to Blu-ray, but I felt like they could have done so much more in the restoration process. Considering the age of the film, it is a testament for its release in high definition. The image is rather soft which is the least impressive of the trilogy of films released on Blu-ray. The image quality looks pretty good, but there is a loss in some details throughout.
Print Quality: 8/10

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This is mainly a front heavy experience that could have gotten away with a 2.0 mix. The good thing is that MGM decided to go full 5.1 mix here which helps in filling the soundfield at times with action and the sound of horses. Dialogue comes through the center channel very clear and crisp.
Print Quality: 8/10

Special Features

  • Commentary with Film Historian Christopher Frayling
  • The Christopher Frayling Archives: Fistful of Dollars [HD]
  • A New Kind of Hero
  • A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film
  • Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars
  • Not Ready for Primetime: Renowned Filmmaker Monte Hellman Disscusses the Television Broadcast of A Fistful of Dollars
  • The Network Prologue with Harry Dean Stanton
  • Location Comparisons: Then to Now
  • 10 Radio Spots [HD]
  • Double Bill Trailer
  • Fistful of Dollars Trailer [HD]

Special Features: 9/10

Final Thoughts

Clint Eastwood dedicated his Oscar-winning “Unforgiven” to “Sergio and Don” – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel – and that film makes a perfect wrap to the genre of “man with no name” westerns. “Fistful of Dollars” marks the beginning of Eastwood’s tutelage under Leone, and we can extrapolate that he learned well.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10