Movie Review – A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Today we’re taking a look at the 1964 western film, A Fistful of Dollars.

Released in Italy in 1964 and the United States in 1967, A Fistful of Dollars has been credited for launching the movie career for television actor Clint Eastwood.  The film also brought a tremendous amount of success and fame to Italian director Sergio Leone.  This movie is also responsible for starting the genre of spaghetti western, western films that were produced and directed by Italians.

A Fistful of Dollars involves a mysterious man arriving in a small town in Mexico, and discovering that the town’s two largest families were rivals with each other.  The two families continually fight for power, wealth and control of the town.  The mysterious man figures out a way to manipulate the two families and use it to his advantage.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - movie poster

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – movie poster

Directed by Sergio Leone, A Fistful of Dollars stars Clint Eastwood as the Stranger.  He’s a man with no name and no information about his past.  The film’s music was created by Italian composer Ennio Morricone.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars begins with a mysterious Stranger (Clint Eastwood) arriving in a small town in Mexico.  Although he doesn’t know or speak to anybody, he knows that some of the people in town do not want him there.  At one point he’s teased and harassed by four gunmen.  The Stranger then visits the town’s inn keeper, Silvanito (Jose Calvo), and learns that there are two families vying for control of the town — the Rojos and the Baxters.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

After analyzing the situation in town, the Stranger returns to the four men who were harassing him earlier.  He eggs them into a gun battle, to which all four of them are quickly killed by the Stranger.  It’s evident that the Stranger is not only a very fast draw with his pistol, but he’s also deadly accurate as well.  The town’s folks quickly realize that there’s a new player in town.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

The following day a guarded stagecoach arrives in town.  It’s suspected that it’s carrying gold as the soldiers won’t let anybody near it.  The Stranger and Silvanito discretely follow the stagecoach into the desert where they see the soldiers meet with the Rojo gang.  The meeting is a trap and, whiling posing as U.S. soldiers, the Rojos use machine guns to massacre all of the Mexican soldiers.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

After the massacre, the Stranger steals two of the bodies of the dead soldiers and places them strategically in a nearby cemetery.  He then returns to town and informs the Baxters and the Rojos that there were two “survivors” in the massacre.  The Baxters need the “survivors” alive so that the can testify that it was the Rojos who committed the attack, and the Rojos need the “survivors” eliminated to remove all of the witnesses to the ambush.

Both the Rojos and the Baxters head out that night to find the “survivors” in the cemetery.  The two gangs engage each other in a gun battle.  The Rojos win by “killing” the two Mexican “survivors” as well as capturing Antonio, the son of Sheriff John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy).

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

While the Rojos and the Baxters are battling each other in the cemetery, the Stranger infiltrates the Rojo hacienda and searches the buildings for the gold that was stolen from the Mexicans.  Just as he discovers some gold coins, the Stranger hears somebody approaching and he punches and accidentally knocks out a woman, Marisol (Marianne Koch).  The Stranger carries Marisol back to the Baxters for her to recover from the injury.

The Baxters see Marisol as a bargaining chip to use to get Antonio back from the Rojos.  A prisoner exchange is then carried out in the town.  Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte), the leader of the Rojos, wants Marisol’s husband to be killed, but when the order is given, Silvanito protects him with his shotgun.  He’s then backed up by the Stranger, and the Rojos stand down.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

Later, the Stranger learns that Ramon had taken Marisol prisoner and had her living with him.  The Stranger then waits until the Rojos are drunk from their celebrating, and he infiltrates their hacienda again.  He shoots and kills the guards holding Marisol prisoner, and he frees her.  He also destroys that building to make it look like the Baxters attacked the compound.  The Stranger then gives Marisol some money and tells her to take her husband and son and to flee north across the border, far away from the Rojos.

When the Rojos discover the raid and their dead comrades, they find and capture the Stranger.  They beat and torture him, trying to make him give up the location of Marisol and her husband.  The Stranger doesn’t speak, and the Rojos leave him locked in a room to be dealt with later.  When the Rojos return to finish him, the Stranger escapes and slips away.  He manages to hide inside of a casket and has Piripero (Joseph Egger), the local coffin builder, smuggle him out of the area.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

The Rojos believe that the Baxters are hiding the Stranger.  They surround the Baxters’ compound, set part of it on fire, and then shoot the Baxters as they emerge and try to surrender.  John Baxter pleads for his life and agrees to leave town, but Ramon shoots and kills him and then his wife.  The Stranger watched the massacre while peeking out of the coffin.  After the Baxters are dead, the Stranger has Piripero take him to a hiding place outside of town.

The Stranger then hides inside of a mine and recovers from his injuries.  He also tests different pieces of steel until he finds one that will stop bullets.  When he learns that the Rojos have captured Silvanito, the Stranger forms a plan and then heads into town to rescue him.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

In town, the Rojos are torturing Silvanito when an explosion across the street gets their attention.  When the smoke clears they see the Stranger strolling towards them.  Ramon uses his rifle to shoot the Stranger in the chest, but he’s shocked when the Stranger gets up and resumes walking towards him.  Ramon continues shooting the Stranger, and the Stranger easily shrugs off each shot as he continues to taunt Ramon and tell him to continue aiming for his heart.  Earlier in the film the Stranger learned that Ramon had a fondness for shooting people right in the heart.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

When Ramon runs out of bullets, the Stranger opens his pancho to reveal a steel plate hanging in front of his chest.  It’s a bullet-proof vest.  All of Ramon’s shots were on target, but the steel prevented them from penetrating the Stranger’s chest.  There’s a brief stand-off as the Rojos realize that the Stranger is well within range of shooting all of them with his pistol.  Suddenly the Stranger opens fire, shoots the rifle out of Ramon’s hands, and kills the rest of the Rojos.  Instead of shooting Ramon, the Stranger uses his last bullet to shoot the rope holding Silvanito, freeing him.

There’s another brief stand-off as the Stranger challenges Ramon to see who could reload their weapon faster.  The Stranger is faster and he shoots and kills Ramon.  Just when everything looks like it’s finished, Esteban Rojo (Sieghardt Rupp), the final Rojo takes aim at the Stranger while hiding in a building.  Silvanito spots him, and he uses a shotgun to shoot and kill Esteban.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) - (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – (c) United Artists

A Fistful of Dollars ends with the Stranger saying good-bye and leaving town.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars a good movie?

Yes!

Despite this film being a spaghetti western and full of basically nobodies (except for Clint Eastwood who was already established as a cowboy in the hit TV series Rawhide), A Fistful of Dollars still packs a punch.  This is a fantastic western film filled with plenty of action and gun battles, and plenty of treachery with the villains.

Three people make A Fistful of Dollars a fantastic movie:  Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone.

Clint Eastwood is perfect in the role of the Stranger, a mysterious man who is driven by greed but he also stands up for what’s right.  He’s just as deadly using his wits or the quick draw and deadly accuracy with his shooting.  Without a doubt, this is a person that you want on your side.

Directing this film is Sergio Leone, an Italian director who creates visually stunning movies and terrific cinematic experiences on low budgets.  Not only is A Fistful of Dollars a beautiful film to watch, but it’s just so easy to get caught up in its story.  It’s easy to forget that virtually all of the supporting cast members are Europeans who are basically nobodies outside of Hollywood.

With this film you also cannot forget its unforgettable music, thanks to Italian composer Ennio Morricone.  The film’s main theme is catchy, and it’s easy to keep humming it hours after watching the movie.  I might have to make the theme my phone’s new ringtone.  It’s just that awesome of music.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – movie trailer

All in all, despite this being a low-budget, spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars is still a fantastic experience.  This is mandatory watching for fans of westerns as well as Clint Eastwood.  The next time you have a movie night at home, do yourself a favor and watch A Fistful of Dollars.

four-and-a-half stars

[Having told the coffin maker to “get three coffins ready” earlier]
Stranger – “My mistake. Four coffins…”

———————–

Marisol – “Why are you doing this for us?”
Stranger – “Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help. Now, get moving.”

———————–

Stranger – “When a man with .45 meets a man with a rifle, you said, the man with a pistol’s a dead man. Let’s see if that’s true. Go ahead, load up and shoot.”

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