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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Per un pungo di dollari, or A Fistful Of Dollars, was released in the mid-1960s, the term "Spaghetti Western" was coined as a putdown to these brazen new films that dared to recreate the Wild West in a place as far away as Italy. However, the last laugh was shared by the Italian directors, whose new style of portraying Colonial America in a realistic style rather than the romanticised way that was characteristic of John Wayne and his contemporaries will be remembered long after the films of the romanticised style are no more.
The plot is indescribably simple, as Clint Eastwood simply wanders into a town where gang warfare has stripped the economy to the point where only the local undertaker makes a profit and turns the two warring families against one another. Sergio Leone's best-known trademark, his dynamic use of widescreen ratios, comes to the fore here as Clint shares a film frame with no less than four of his enemies, all of whom have plenty to say to him and vice versa. This is one film where a pan and scan transfer is purely and simply vandalism. Some of the dialogue that is included here absolutely takes the cake for cleverness and wit, too. Asking four gunslingers to apologise to a horse, well, if it wasn't a man as famous for playing a gunslinger as Clint Eastwood, it'd be ridiculous.
Transplanting old Samurai legends into the Wild West works well, as you can see here. Simply having an old mercenary who travels the land in search of wrongs to right and battles to be fought makes the story a lot more compelling than the Westerns where we are told every iota of the characters' motivations in the hope that it will give them some depth. The element of the main hero not getting involved in every scuffle that the bad guys cause, our semi-nameless hero's ignoring a drunken thug shooting at a little boy being the most obvious example, was another master stroke, one that got Eastwood involved in doing the film to begin with. The confrontation at the end of the film works well, too, with pyrotechnics exploding all over the picture in a bright display that keeps the film powerful and yet focused at the same time.
All in all, Per un pungo di dollari gets nine out of ten from me. The lack of any interesting support characters does dull the story a little, but this mistake was quickly rectified in the two sequels. The addition of Lee Van Cleef also worked well, but in this effort, it's all Clint Eastwood, and while the rest of the cast are nowhere near as interesting, it's all a better watch than anything the Americans were lumping out at the time.
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