THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayFor shame. I have never fully watched Sergio Leone's classic, "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964).
"A Fistful of Dollars" is now available on Blu-ray.
This was one of those movies that seemed to be shown on local television often. Before my parents subscribed to cable when I went off to college, we somehow survived on a measly selection of local over-the-air stations from Los Angeles. I can't remember exactly, but it seemed that station KCOP ran this film often. I might have been flipping through the channels and came across Clint Eastwood staring down bad guys. But I could never sit down and watch him blow them away. Something about the poor English-language dubbing and the messy print quality always made me change the channel. And I always despised poor quality film prints, and they were prevalent on television broadcasts.
Thankfully, studios rarely send out bad versions of their film library out for broadcast, let alone home video presentations. The advent of LaserDisc, then DVD, and now Blu-ray offers viewers some of the finest quality presentations of films like this. Seeing the film in a good presentation, in widescreen, gives me a new perspective on it.
"A Fistful of Dollars" still makes me furl my brow over the poor production quality, the dubbing and thin story. Yet after watching it and the supplements, I came to appreciate the art and entertainment that Leone and Eastwood put forth. There is no denying that this film has a style all its own, and that Eastwood personifies (brilliantly) the aura of "The Man With No Name" cowboy.
Leone directs the film with an assured swagger. Almost all of the characters are hard bitten, tough, and merciless. He seems to take delight in letting his cast be as over-the-top as possible. He moves the camera with precision. Although the film was made on a low budget, Leone uses the camera to make the film seem more expensive than it is.
Eastwood created an indelible image as the loner cowboy. With just a glare and a smirk, he made tough guys shake in their boots and made audiences cheer. His coolness was indicative of the rebel spirit taking place during the 1960s. Who would have thought the Eastwood would go onto even stronger acting roles in the years following, let alone become a masterful director? He could have become a one note style actor who shot first then never asked questions later. Instead, he grew as an actor.
The film was based on Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" (1961). The plot centers around Eastwood pitting two rival families against each other. The bottom line in the film was that you don't mess with Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte), and you don't mess with Eastwood. There's not much more to this film than that. It didn't need to be a deep meditation on the Old West and its myths. It's simply fun entertainment.
The Blu-ray picture is very good. Shot in Techniscope, a poor man's version of CinemaScope and the precursor to today's Super 35 format, the film is naturally grainy and not very sharp. However, this is probably as good as it's going to look. On Blu-ray, the picture looks very natural and there doesn't seem to be much digital manipulation to make it look like a movie filmed today.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is very good. Though the film was released in mono sound, it has been nicely remixed. Ennio Morricone's score is presented in a wide stereophonic soundstage. There are a couple of instances where the sound effects are spread out through the stereo channels. The original sound effects and dialogue have a rough quality about them which was indicative of the era. I generally prefer to listen to films in their original sound format. But in the case of "A Fistful of Dollars," the remix actually elevates the film's presentation a bit.
I'm still not a huge fan of "A Fistful of Dollars." Seeing it in all of its widescreen glory still didn't convert me. But I do admire Leone's wit, his style, his command of direction, and his moxie. I also don't want to raise the ire of Eastwood. I'm glad I finally watched you. Great job, Man With No Name!
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. All rights reserved.