An anonymous, but deadly man rides into a town torn by war between two factions, the Baxters and the Rojo's. Instead of fleeing or dying, as most other would do, the man schemes to play the two sides off each other, getting rich in the bargain. Written by
Andrew Hyatt <email@example.com>
ALthough in many respects this film pales in comparison with Leone's later films, it is itself a brilliant cinematic achievement. In part, this is because its failings primarily appear to be due to constraints of budget (very small and highly uncertain) and time more than anything else. Even to the extent that the skills of Leone, Morricone, and others hadn't fully flowered yet, this film is incredible at how brilliantly it is handled for what is really a first-time go. Leone had worked on, and even directed, films before, but this is his first real foray in his own direction, and into a genre that he revolutionised and with which he became forever synonymous. Who can imagine westerns without at least thinking of Leone's films, while who can think of Leone without thinking of westerns (even though his last, and arguably greatest, film was a sort of gangster film)? Similarly, one should not criticize this film for being based on Yojimbo, for that film itself was based on an American story while A Fistful of Dollars really is very different in many key respects, not least of all Leone's visual style or his own sense of irony and symbolism derived from Italian precedents and Hollywood westerns.
We also see the nascent Leone visual style here, with the close-up style and contrast of close-ups and long shots appearing. This alone sets it apart from previous films, westerns and non-westerns alike, and still provides for great visual treats that one can appreciate today.
This film also ushered in Leone's obsession with details, hard faces, grungy people, etc., that also revolutionsed the genre.
This films also marks the first brilliant score of Ennio Morricone. It is here that he introduced the lonely whistling, guitar music, chorus, and unusual combinations and styles that developed into the music that has become in the U.S. synonymous with westerns and duels in the same way that Leone's visuals and themes have.
Despite its minor flaws, this is still a great film that is not only revolutionary but still great and fun to watch even today. Like Leone's other films, it is timeless.
One must also admit that it is amazing that in the U.S. an Italian film maker basing his films partly in Italian culture and an Italian composer could come to so define and be synonymous with this genre that Americans had considered so uniquely American, and highlight its underlying universality. That alone reveals the greatness of the films, of which this is the first.
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