Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

A Fistful of Dollars may be one of the best known films in America that was not made in America. It is one of those “foreign films” that everyone hates to go see. Ironically, it is a remake (made by Sergio Leone from Italy) of another foreign film called Yojimbo (made by Akira Kurosawa from Japan.) Fistful is such an obvious remake that Kurosawa won a lawsuit against Leone, and made more money off of it than his own, slightly superior version.

It is also an example that the remaking process does not have to be the evil that some like to think it is. Yojimbo is an incredible film. A Fistful of Dollars is too. The fact that they tell the exact same story is not what matters here, so much as how that story is told. (Thirty years later, Walter Hill would make yet another remake of Yojimbo that was pretty awful showing that a great story is not enough to make a film great.)

Where Fistful shines more than its inspiration is in the emotion that Leone is able to capture with his trademark extreme close-ups. The scene where the Man With No Name is finally compelled to make an unselfish and risky decision for the first time to save a family is very moving in this version. That is an important moment in both films, because it is the moment when our antihero becomes a human being again.

Ultimately, this story is not an incredibly uplifting or instructive one. In the hands of less gifted storytellers it would be (and is) just a terrible story. However, Leone is gifted enough that this cruel story is a must see. Oh, and the music is some of the best film music ever made.

(This is an example of the worst sort of trailer, but here you go:)

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