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A Fistful of Dollars - Blu-ray Review


A Fistful of Dollars

4 starsOpening with a series of smoke rings that, after the animated title sequence concludes, merge perfectly with the hot sun, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, finally on blu-ray as part of his Dollars trilogy, proudly declared itself upon its initial release in 1964 as a new kind of a western with a new kind of hero: Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name.  While many years have passed by the film and its iconic hero, the calculated truth in the ambitious statement of marketing continues to live on and rightly so.

Playing the part of the bank-swelling go-to man between two warring criminal families of opposite sides of the border town of San Miguel, Eastwood, as the squinty-eyed stranger, ends up releasing the town and its innocent citizens from the stranglehold the families have upon them, but not without rendering a certain amount of damages.  Co-starring Gian Maria Volontè as Ramón Miguel, Marianne Koch as Marisol, Ramón’s beautiful but unwilling mistress, Wolfgang Lukschy as the San Miguel’s crooked sheriff, José Calvo as innkeeper Silvanio, and the memorable Joseph Egger as the undertaker.   Epic in scope and scene, this iconic narrative – at once familiar and entertaining – hints at something larger in its territory; something that would be further revealed in its two sequels.

As a visual expression of the natural suspense trademarked in the cinematic western, Leone’s powerful and descriptive lens treats the landscape as a soulful character; perhaps, the most important one.  Shot entirely in Spain, just outside of Madrid in fact, there is stamp of authenticity in its gritty look and earth-grained colors that dries out the land and makes the characters seem all the more desperate and real.  With a focus on the face, Leone’s love affair with the very nature of what the close-up reveals does more to incite operatic character development and natural arias than most designed Hollywood backstories do.

To the credit of its filmmaker, A Fistful of Dollars unfolds with the calculated pacing of a time bomb.  Lagging only momentarily for Eastwood’s character to heal after getting pummeled by some mean-spirited thugs, Leone gets the promise of the film back in time to deliver the memorable finale that has Eastwood appearing out of the smoke from some discharged dynamite to challenge (and tease with that fancy steel breast plate he’s wearing beneath his green poncho) the Winchester rifling skills of Ramón.

Much has been noted of its use of violence, especially Eastwood’s brutal torture scene, yet seldom is there any dialogue about the film’s natural comedy.  Dry and lean as the landscape is the humor of the Leone’s picture.  Certainly underplayed and grim as hell, the comedic moments might slip by unnoticed during a first viewing of the film, but once revisited, the scenes of humor appear smartly wicked and morose in understanding.

While an unofficial remake of Kurosawa’s classic Yojimbo, Leone’s attempt, as an Italian filmmaker, at the American western genre still has more oomph than anything Hollywood has remade or reimagined or, in fact, touched in the last decade.  Stylistically different in setting, in characters, and in the way it was filmed, A Fistful of Dollars simply leaves Kurosawa’s film to smolder in the dust of its trailblazing ways.


Component Grades
Movie
 
DVD
4 stars
 
4 stars
     
DVD Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - May 11, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Thai
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: Dolby Digital Mono; German: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

A Fistful of Dollars is a part of The Man with No Name Trilogy released on Blu-Ray this month from Twentieth Century Fox and cannot be purchased on it own.  Keeping the same transfer as the 2002 versions of the film is a little disheartening, but the film looks phenomenal on Blu-Ray.  There are only a few minimal issues presently (the same as with the 2002 transfer) because A Fistful of Dollars  appears to have been cropped, but this may be a result of its Italian/Germany/English production history.  Raw and sometimes slightly out of focus are simply issues with its original production values and add to the overall naturalness of the film.

Supplements:

Commentary Track with Film Historian Christopher Frayling: Sergio Leone's biographer offers up an informative commentary

Featurettes:

  • The Christopher Frayling Archives (18:40):  All-new featurette with Frayling (get used to it), who shows off his collection of all things Fistful of Dollars.  Pretty thorough and involving for a featurette.
  • A New Kind of Hero (22:54): Frayling (once again) talks about the plot similarity to Yojimbo, but how the dialogue and the action are quite different.  Casual fans interested in this should watch this – not his commentary as he does repeat some things.
  • A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film (8:33): A retread from the 2002 release in which Eastwood talks about the making of the first film in the trilogy.
  • Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars (11:12):  Producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and American actor Mickey Knox discuss Sergio Leone.
  • Not Ready for Primetime: Renowned Filmmaker Monte Hellman Disscusses the Television Broadcast of A Fistful of Dollars (6:20): This is perhaps the most interesting featurette on this disc.  Did anyone know Monte Hellman directed a prologue to justify the violence for the television broadcast of the film?  Yeah, me neither.  This is pretty interesting as Hellman is pretty embarrassed by it, but does see the humor in it.
  • The Network Prologue with Harry Dean Stanton (7:44): And, here you get to see that awful prologue where Eastwood is sent to “clean up” the town.
  • Location Comparisons: Then to Now (5:22): Clips from the film are shown, then still photos of the locations as they appear today.
  • 10 Radio Spots (6:00): As heard over production stills.

Double Bill Trailer (2:03)

Fistful of Dollars Trailer (2:26)

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