Review: Per Un Pugno Di Dollari (A Fistful Of Dollars, 1964)

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In this day and age a fistful of dollars is everything man, everything!

Screenplay By: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone & Duccio Tessari
Directed By: Sergio Leone

With this, his first major effort as a director, Sergio Leone took what the world knew about the Western and turned it on its ear. Per Un Pugno Di Dollari doesn’t use any revolutionary templates, for the most part it actually makes use of the Western archetypes movie fans have come to know over the years. However, Per Un Pugno Di Dollari takes those classic archetypes and moves them in such a different direction that they are almost perverted. Leone takes a decidedly amoral stance with Per Un Pugno Di Dollari, and most certainly the hero of the piece, Joe, isn’t much of a hero at all. The stance that Leone takes with his film is that these people are all on the wrong side of the fence, some just happen to have fallen over the fence and are knee deep in mud. This decision creates much more room for storytelling than the classic good guy versus bad guy scenario.

Per Un Pugno Di Dollari features two key scenes that define the film. The first is near the beginning when Joe gives Baxter’s goons a speech about his mule. Right off the bat the film has a certain wit to it that most Westerns are lacking in. Joe is sly and cunning with his speech, and that is far different from the usual straight forward style of a Western. Later, the showdown between Ramón and Joe is punctuated by the smarts of Joe and also by Leone’s decision to use close-ups to capture the faces of his characters. Rather than a lot of dialogue, Leone tells his story through the faces of his characters and a minimum of dialogue. Per Un Pugno Di Dollari comes across as a very slick movie, both in style and in substance, and also comes across as a very streamlined movie because of Leone’s directorial choices.

Ennio Morricone delivers a good score for Per Un Pugno Di Dollari, not a great one mind you, but a good one. It accompanies the atmosphere and slow nature of the film very nicely, but there are times when it is too repetitive. Being early in Leone’s career there are also some choices that hurt the film, mainly in the editing and scene selection. There are a few too many instances where a cut is too abrupt, or the music all of a sudden goes silent and then a cut happens a second or two later. The story is also very straight forward and while it is serviceable it could have used some more depth. These are all issues that Leone would improve upon later in his career.

Per Un Pugno Di Dollari is the first in Leone & Eastwood’s Man With No Name Trilogy, although it is not the first storyline wise, that honor actually belongs to Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo. The greatness that will one day surface in that picture is visible in Per Un Pugno Di Dollari, but also visible are the minor mistakes that Leone will iron out with time. But, Per Un Pugno Di Dollari is still a slick, fun and atmosphere heavy outing from Leone and company. It is a good Western and the film that created the Spaghetti Western genre, so it is definitely worth seeing.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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