15 – 99mins – 1964
With a permanent squint framing his steely blue eyes and topping off an effortless composure, Clint Eastwood’s nameless Americano vigilante with morals is one unflappable, ice cool icon – even soundtracked his own trill musical calling card (courtesy of the legendary Ennio Morricone) as he solemnly rides into town!
I will openly confess that Westerns aren’t my bag – I just don’t associate with them in the same way I do other genres. For this reason I have often actively avoided them, making this the first time I have ever watched Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti Western and Man with No Name trilogy kickstarter. 80s PictureHouse co-host Thom Downie kindly lent me his copy after my (surprise) enjoyment of Tarantino’s recent gunslinger The Hateful Eight.
Saddled only with the naïve expectation that I would be watching a John Wayne-style adventure Channel 4 would typically show on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was understandably flabbergasted at A Fistful of Dollars’ relentless savage tone and unashamed portrayal of bloody violence – definitely earning its ‘15’ certificate.
Clint’s rugged and distinctive poncho-clad stranger stumbles into a power struggle between vicious outlaws who rule the impoverished townspeople (including Wolfgang Lukschy’s sheriff) of the Mexican village of San Miguel with an iron fist. Many an innocent is brutally beaten, battered – and in one particularly horrifying display – shot in cold blood even after surrendering!
Leone’s trope-setting operatic direction is epic in its grandiose shots of the mainly sand-covered desert locations, but at heart Fistful is an uncomplicated portrait of good vs. bad (and ugly!). Its singular narrative focus is pitched perfectly to enrapture, stun and rile up the audience in much the same way it does our unstoppable (super) hero.
“Aim for the heart or you’ll never stop me.”
Eastwood – even in his first leading role – is a magnetic presence and clearly the standout star, almost Terminator-esque in his steadfast resilience to pain as he advances menacingly towards his unenviable targets. While I can’t claim I will actively hunt it out, I would definitely not avoid an opportunity to watch A Few Dollars More (1965), if only to see more Clint bad-assery.