Combustible Celluloid
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With: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonté (a.k.a. Johnny Wels), Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, Joseph Egger, Antonio Prieto, José Calvo, Margarita Lozano
Written by: Written by Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas, Sergio Leone, based on a story by A. Bonzzoni, Víctor Andrés Catena, Sergio Leone
Directed by: Sergio Leone
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 09/12/1964

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Man with No Name

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sergio Leone left behind a career of sword-and-sandal epics for this landmark Spaghetti Western, his first with Clint Eastwood. A remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), and also a variation on Dashiell Hammet's novel Red Harvest (1929), this is the one in which Eastwood plays two warring cowboy factions against one another, and also the one in which he gets beaten to a bloody pulp.

It's Leone's shortest and simplest film, but all of his hallmarks -- a masterly use of space within the widescreen frame, Ennio Morricone's unusual soundtrack music, plenty of silence -- are already in place. Though Eastwood's character is referred to as "the man with no name," he's actually called "Joe" in this one. Two "sequels" followed, For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), though in the United States all three were released at once, making Eastwood a star. Apparently, American director Monte Hellman shot extra footage for the American television version.

In 2011, MGM released a single-disc Blu-Ray edition. Extras are the same as on the deluxe DVD, including a commentary track by Leone scholar Sir Christopher Frayling, interviews and featurettes, including several with Eastwood. (Eastwood admits that he learned a lot from Leone, even though he believes that Leone could have shortened things a bit.) Director Monte Hellman explains how he was hired to shoot extra footage for the TV premiere of A Fistful of Dollars, basically adding a prologue that made Eastwood's character more heroic and less selfish. (The disc includes Hellman's footage, starring Harry Dean Stanton, although transferred from a terrible video recording.) There are also trailers and TV spots.

In 2018, Kino Lorber released a restored, 4K edition; the picture is not exactly flawless, but it still looks amazing. Audio is glorious, with Morricone's score sounding bold and playful. The new release comes with a wealth of extras, many carried over from the previous release, but including a commentary track by historian Tim Lucas, an interview with actress Marianne Koch, the "Frayling Archives," and many other featurettes, trailers, and radio spots.

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