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A Fistful of Dollars (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 28, 2011 by  



Fantastic!  Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western not only introduced the world to Clint Eastwood, the film also energized a slowly failing genre through its visual style, a cool anti-hero and heavy violence for its time.  I highly recommend purchasing the trilogy but if you want to give a Sergio Leone or a Spaghetti Western a try, then I highly recommend “A Fistful of Dollars”!

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Images courtesy of © 1964 Unidis, S.A.R.I. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A Fistful of Dollars (Per Un Pugno di dollari)

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1964

DURATION: 99 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MAster Audio, English Mono, Spanish 2.0 Mono, French 5.1 DTS, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

RATED: R (Violence)

COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Twentieth Century Fox

RELEASE DATE: August 2, 2011

Directed by Sergio Leone

Based on Akira Kirosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima’s “Yojimbo”

Story by A. Bonzzoni, Victor Andres Catena, Sergio Leone

Screenplay by Victor Andres Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Sergio Leone

Dialogue by Mark Lowell

Produced by Arrigo Colmbo, Giorgio Papi

Assistant Producer: Piero Santini

Music by Ennio Morricone

Cinematography by Massimo Dallamano, Federico G. Larraya

Edited by Roberto Cinquini, Alfonso Santacana

Art Direction by Carlo Simi

Set Decoration by Sigfrido Burmann, Francisco Rodriguez Asensio, Carlo Simi

Starring:

Clint Eastwood as Joe

Marianne Koch as Marisol

Gian Maria Volonte as Ramon Rojo

Wolfgang Lukschy as John Baxter

Sieghardt Rupp as Esteban Rojo

Joseph Egger as Piripero

Antonio Prieto as Don Miguel Benito Rojo

Jose Calvo as Silvanito

Margarito Lonzano as Consuelo Baxter

Daniel Martin as Julian

Benito Stefanelli as Rubio

Mario Brega as Chico

Bruno Carotenuto as Antonio Baxter

Oscar Winner Clint Eastwood blends a quiet steadiness with a palpable ferocity as the iconic gunslinger “The Man With No Name” in Sergio Leone’s gritty spaghetti Western.  When a steely blue eyed mercenary arrives in a dusty border town where two rival bands of smugglers terrorize the impoverished citizens, he pits the gangs against each other in one of the most exhilarating frontier adventure films in cinema history.

The 1960’s, a time when Westerns was no longer a popular genre for young Americans and were films looked at as movies for your father or grandfather.

While America had a few Westerns that were doing well, internationally the appeal of the genre was also starting to wane.  That is until an Italian director named Sergio Leone put his spin and stylized the Western genre which would become known as the Spaghetti Western (films typically made with a low-budget, shot in Europe where the locations resembled America, dialogue added later and directed by Italian director).

But with a low budget, Sergio Leone was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” and along with his writing friends, would craft a new film loosely -based on the film and would hire an American unknown named Clint Eastwood for the role of a character which would billed as “Man with no Name”.

“A Fistful of Dollars” would feature cool visual style (incorporating a John Ford and Akira Kurosawa style), a character that would kill without any explanation and a look and style that would be catchy with a younger generation and feature cool music courtesy of composer Ennio Morricone.  It’s also important to note that unlike other Westerns or films, the music would be created before production and Leone would shoot the film to Morricone’s music.

While shot in Spain, the film would be a success in Italy (breaking box office records in Italy)  as well as Europe and the film would popularize the work of Sergio Leone, the Spaghetti Western genre but also would be the beginning of the charismatic anti-hero which would make Clint Eastwood a well-known actor worldwide.

And with the popularity of the film, a trilogy was created which would include “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (1966).

While “The Good, The Bad and “The Ugly” was released on Blu-ray in 2009, the trilogy was released in Blu-ray in 2010.  But for those who owned the third film, many have been waiting for the single Blu-ray releases of “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More”. So, MGM/Twentieth Century Fox are now releasing these two Blu-rays in August 2011.

“A Fistful of Dollars” is a film that takes place in the Mexican border town of San Miguel where a stranger has just arrived.  The innkeeper named Silvanito explains to the stranger with no name that there are two families in town that are in a bitter feud and each are trying to gain control.  The Rojo Brothers featuring Don Miguel, Esteban and Ramon rule one side, while the town sheriff, led by John Baxter has control of the other.

For the stranger, he looks at the feud as a financial opportunity.  So, the stranger figures that perhaps he can play both sides and have them fight against each other.

While with Silvanito, he sees how the Rojo brothers who are masquerading as Union soldiers, guns down Mexican soldiers who are delivery gold through the town.  The gold is being sent to American soldiers for exchange of weapons and both the stranger and Silvanito witness the Rojo brothers massacring all Mexican soldiers.

The stranger comes up with an idea by taking two of the dead Mexican soldiers and plans then at a nearby cemetery and sells information to both sides that two Mexican soldiers have survived the massacre.  The Baxters want the survivors to testify against the Rojos, while the Rojo’s want to kill the soldiers to make sure that they don’t tip off what they did.

The two sides eventually get into a gunfight and the Rojo’s end up kidnapping John Baxter’s son Antonio.  While they are involved in a gunfight, the stranger searches the Rojo headquarters for gold and accidentally hits Ramon’s prisoner named Marisol.

The stranger ends up taking Marisol to the Baxters and the Baxter’s issue a trade with the Rojo’s…Antonio for Marisol.

When wondering why the Rojo’s want Marisol so badly, he learns from Silvanito that the Rojo’s took her from her family.   The Rojo’s blamed Marisol’s husband for cheating in card game and took Marisol as a hostage and threatened if they tried to get her back, they will kill their little son.

This leads the stranger to want to help Marisol escape from the Rojo’s and return her back to the family, so they can escape.

But with the stranger helping Marisol, this will pit him against the Rojo family which will lead to major repercussions against him but also the Baxter family.  Can anyone stand up to this evil family?

VIDEO:

“A Fistful of Dollars” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1).  It’s important to remind people that this film was created with a very low budget.  With that being said, while the image does look soft at times, I do feel that this is the best looking version of the film to date.  The colors standout more, there is a good amount of grain, there is more detail especially in the closeups of the characters and for the most part, the clarity is a major upgrade compared to the DVD release.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“A Fistful of Dollars” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Mono, Spanish 2.0 Mono and French 5.1 DTS.  While “For a Few Dollars More” seems to take advantage of the surround channels a lot more, “A Fistful of Dollars” does take advantage of more ambiance.  From gunfire to explosions (which this film does have), it’s not as strong as the second film but I will say that Ennio Morricone’s score sounds awesome.

It is well known with Spaghetti Westerns that audio is added via post-production and you can tell that the voices for mostly everyone outside of Clint Eastwood was added later by English speaking actors.  But outside of that, the lossless soundtrack is still much better than the DVD release and fans of the film will definitely enjoy the audio clarity from this Blu-ray release.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“A Fistful of Dollars” comes with the following special features:

  • The Christopher Frayley Archives: Fistful of Dollars – (18:40) Sir Christopher Frayling showcases his collection of art, posters, documents and scripts acquired of “A Fisful of Dollars”.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring a wonderful, in-depth commentary by noted film historian Sir Christopher Frrayling.
  • A New Kind of Hero – (22:54) Presented in standard definition, Sir Christopher Frayling talks about how this film energized the Western genre, how it was loosely adapted from Yojimbo, the style of the film and more.
  • A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of the Making of the Film – (8:33) on August 2003, Clint Eastwood was interviewed about “A Fistful of Dollars”.
  • Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars – (11:12) Interview with producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati and actor Micky Knox.
  • Not Ready for Primetime – Filmmaker Monte Hellman discusses the television broadcast of “A Fistful of Dollars” and how they had to create a prologue to explain why the stranger would kill (to fix the moral problem the network had with the film) back in 1977.
  • The Network Prologue with Harry Dean Stanton – (7:44) Howard Friedkin talks about how he has a rare betamax copy of the original 1977 television airing of “A Fistful of Dollars” and talk about the prologue.  Also featuring the prologue used for the television airing of the film.
  • Location Comparisons: Then to Now – (5:22) Featuring how things looked for the location of “A Fistful of Dollars” back in 1964 and how the locations look in 2004.
  • 10 Radio spots – (6:00) Featuring the radio spots for “A Fistful of Dollars”.
  • Double Bill Trailer – (2:03)
  • A Fistful of Dollars Trailer – (2:28)  The original theatrical trailer.

Stylish, cool and a wonderful Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western showcasing a fine performance by Clint Eastwood.

There is no doubt that “A Fistful of Dollars” reignited the interest in Westerns, albeit a different kind of Western showcasing a gritty anti-hero.  One that rarely talked, one that kills without hesitation and sure enough, a film that looked stylish visually but with Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, “A Fistful of Dollars” is a memorable Western classic!

Clint Eastwood will be well known for his Western films but could you imagine during the ’60s, where John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and a few others were known for their Western films and then here comes an unknown American that would be known for a new type of Western film.

Watching the interview of Eastwood talking about the film, he had nothing to lose.  For Eastwood, he was not picky, nor was he in the position to be picky.  If anything, it was a free trip to Italy and Spain and if it did well, then fantastic…if not, at least he got a trip to Europe from the experience.

But considering the success of “A Fistful of Dollars”, this is the film that made Clint Eastwood popular and Sergio Leone a well-known filmmaker for Spaghetti Westerns worldwide.  And I have to agree with film historian Sir Christopher Frayling who said that Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis style of hero was born from Eastwood’s “Man with no Name” from “A Fistful of Dollars”.  Stoic, charismatic and not giving a damn, while we see this quite a bit today, back then, it wasn’t.

And one of the things that wasn’t common back then was the violence.  Spaghetti Westerns showed us that villains are not the only ones that can be violent, the protagonist can be as well.

From the opening of the film, we watch as the stranger easily guns down four men.  Why?  Because they scared his mule.  We even see him punching out a woman, sure it was by accident.  And probably one of the most interesting things to see in this film are the massacres.  The Rojo family using a gattling gun to kill many Mexican soldiers and then to see them again, shooting innocent men one by one as they come out of a building.

Needless to say, I preferred this adaptation of Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” versus “The Magnificent Seven” which was an adaptation of Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” done a few years earlier.  Mainly because you feel and see how violent the enemies are.  In American westerns of that era, there was only so much Hollywood can do because of the censors but since this film was shot in Spain and was a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany, anything goes.

It made for a more exciting, thrilling action film and for me, the stranger with no name is one of the coolest anti-hero’s to ever appeal in a film.  Calm, collected and literally kick-ass!

Overall, “A Fistful of Dollars” is a fantastic film and the DVD release is packed with special features!  And while it may not have the clearest PQ nor the best AQ (considering the film was shot with a very low budget), still…it’s a film worth having in your collection.

I highly recommend getting the trilogy box set as all three films are excellent but if you want to give a Spaghetti Western or a Sergio Leone film a try, “A Fistful of Dollars” is a must-buy!

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