Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonté
They call him Joe, but he’s a foreigner, a man with no name. He’s also a gunfighter who’s wandered into San Miguel, a little border town in Mexico. When he discovers that the town is torn between rival families, he decides to cash in by playing both sides against one another. Now he’s in the middle of a growing conflict that could make him rich or get him killed.
Sergio Leone is the reason I love Westerns. The three films he did with Clint Eastwood were my first exposure to the genre. As a kid my dad and I watched those movies any time they were on television. Later I fell in love with Once Upon a Time in the West, another one of his wonderful films. I think the genius of this movie, and the others I mentioned, is in the dynamic of the characters. One of the hardest things to distinguish in these movies is who is supposed to be the good guy. I love the idea that a Western doesn’t need a man in a white hat to ride in and save the day. Instead, Leone gives you a set of characters that all seem to be driven by less than righteous desires. Sure, there may be moments of redemption, but these are natural men doing things for themselves.
In addition to the characters and the story, this movie has some great acting. Sergio Leone said “I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it.” This is true, but it’s the unspoken communication that he does with his eyes that make this movie work. This is true of all of the characters, with dialogue being sparse.
The movie is also visually impressive. The camera angles and editing work together nicely to keep the pace of the movie going. I think this is really important since the story isn’t dialogue driven and there are long moments of hesitation that could have been stale if it wasn’t for the well-edited sequences.
The fault of this movie is the sound. The entire movie was filmed in silence, and then sound effects and dialogue were dubbed over in post-production. Because this was filmed in Spain, the language barrier created a necessity for this. It makes some of the scenes a bit rough to watch since the voices don’t always keep up with the film. It is part of watching these movies that I’m used to, but it is noticeable. Keep in mind, this doesn’t include the score, which is impressive to say the least. Here’s small sample of the music written by Ennio Morricone.
If this story seems familiar to you, check out the Japanese film Yojimbo. This 1961 film was the blueprint that Leone used to make A Fistful of Dollars. I love these movies, and I think they’ve aged wonderfully. If you’re a fan of Westerns, this is one you need to watch. Keep in mind, the R rating is based on an old standard. There is plenty of gun fighting, but no nudity or profanity. If you’ve already seen it, take the time to watch again. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.