A Fistful of Dollars, 1964.
Directed by Sergio Leone.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonte, Wolfgang, Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, and Joseph Egger.
If you’re a fan of director Sergio Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy of spaghetti westerns, you’ll want to snap up this new edition of A Fistful of Dollars. In addition to a new 4K restoration of the print, it offers a copious amount of new bonus features, including a new commentary track (in addition to the existing one), new interviews, and more.
It’s common knowledge that filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was a huge influence on George Lucas when he made Star Wars. The Japanese director’s samurai films helped give Lucas’s Jedi Knights a mystical element that they would have lacked had they been based solely on the knights of Arthurian legends.
However, it’s not as well known, at least among casual film fans, that Kurosawa also greatly influenced another prominent film genre: westerns. Kurosawa’s mark was arguably most prominent on Sergio Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy of westerns starring Clint Eastwood. The first of those films was A Fistful of Dollars, a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that was Eastwood’s breakout leading role.
In A Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood stars as a sharp-shooting drifter who arrives in the town of San Miguel and discovers that two families are locked in a deadly struggle for control of it. Like Toshiro Mifune’s character in Yojimbo, Eastwood’s nameless protagonist decides to play the warring factions against each other for his own gain.
Unlike many conventional westerns, Leone’s film doesn’t offer a tidy morality tale featuring good guys versus bad guys. The families fighting for control of San Miguel have their own motivations, but it’s not hard to step into their boots and understand why each side wants to win. After all, what else are you going to do in a sleepy border town in the late 1800s?
Likewise, Eastwood’s character’s motivations have their own internal logic too. He’s clearly making his way across a landscape that has little to offer him except that which he can obtain for himself. He’s beholden to no one, and by the time that classic scene where he has a steel plate under his poncho arrives, you’re rooting for him to win, even though winning doesn’t mean that evil has been vanquished from the land. It just means that he gets to live to fight another day.
This new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber features a new 4K restoration of the film, along with a copious amount of bonus materials that make this an easy purchase to justify for fans. A good chunk of this content is new, which is nice in this era of regurgitated bonus features. Here’s what you’ll find on this disc:
Two commentary tracks: Film historians Sir Christopher Frayling, who wrote a biography of Leone, and Tim Lucas give scholarly takes on the movie. Lucas’s track was newly recorded for this release. If you like Criterion’s “film class in a box” approach to movies, you’ll appreciate these tracks.
Interview with Marianna Koch (33 minutes): This new interview features the actress looking back on her involvement in the film and how she feels about it today, which is a mixed bag. To be fair, A Fistful of Dollars is definitely a product of its time, with a character like Koch’s existing simply as a pawn in the stranger’s machinations.
Trailers From Hell (4 minutes): Another new supplement, this one features director John Badham talking about the movie.
Outtakes (3 minutes): These are pretty self-explanatory. This is another new piece.
A Fistful in Pictures (15 minutes): This is a new animated gallery featuring publicity stills and production images.
Promoting A Fistful of Dollars (16 minutes): Another new piece that shows off various marketing and ad materials, including international posters for the film.
The rest of this list includes bonus features that were previously available:
The Christopher Frayling Archives (19 minutes): In addition to writing a biography of Leone and another book about spaghetti westerns, Frayling is an avid collector of items from the director’s career, including scripts, posters, lobby cards, and much more. He gives a tour of his archives and talks about scenes in the script, a copy of which he owns, that were cut from the film.
A New Kind of Hero (23 minutes): Frayling makes another appearance to talk about the making of the movie from Leone’s original inspiration to the finished product.
A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film (8 minutes): The star of the movie makes a brief appearance to talk about his involvement in it.
Tre Voci: Three Friends Remember Sergio Leone (11 minutes): Actor Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, and screenwriter Sergio Donati look back on their friendships with the director.
Not Ready for Primetime (6 minutes): When A Fistful of Dollars premiered on ABC in 1975, the network was nervous about a movie featuring a morally ambiguous hero, so they hired director Monte Hellman to concoct a prologue in which Harry Dean Stanton played a federal marshall who offers the man with no name a pardon in exchange for dealing with the trouble in San Miguel. This is a look back on that dubious decision, as remembered by Hellman.
The Network Prologue (7.5 minutes): This is the prologue in its entirety. Archival footage of Eastwood was mixed with new shots of Stanton. The scene is introduced by a fan who recalls taking out a loan to buy a Betamax machine so he could record the network TV premiere of the movie. He probably later taped over it with Roots.
On the Set (4 minutes): This is a batch of on-set photos from the making of the movie.
Radio spots and theatrical trailers round out this platter.
Last summer, Kino Lorber released a new 50th Anniversary Special Edition of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which was the third film in Leone’s “man with no name” trilogy. Now that they’ve put out the first movie in that series, hopefully they’ll release a new edition of the second one, For a Few Dollars More.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★