Take a Drink: for every direct parallel to Yojimbo
Take a Drink: for coffins and bell tolls
Take a Drink: for every cigar
Take a Drink: whenever Eastwood plays the two sides off against each other
Do a Shot: for massacres
Do a Shot: for Donkey Kong (you’ll know what I mean)
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I’ve been on a bit of a Spaghetti Western and Samurai film kick recently in a mostly futile attempt to show my wife how awesome they are, but my secondary purpose is to examine just how closely they’re linked. This week we’re examining Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, and no two examples of the genre are so closely interwoven as these. Nope, not even Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven.
The plot is a straight lift of Kurosawa’s, transposed to a Mexican bordertown. Clint Eastwood is a drifting gunfighter who finds himself in a town trapped in the middle of two warring criminal factions. He decides to stick around and clean it up, earning little commission from the coffin-maker on the side.
He works in bulk orders.
However clearly marked with a big red Y that the seeds of A Fistful of Dollars were, Sergio Leone used them to grow up an entirely new genre and style that continues to influence film today. This was the genesis of Leone’s closeup-heavy, operatic style, combining elements of not only Kurosawa, but John Ford and 1960s Italian arthouse films into one distinct voice, all set to fellow trailblazer Ennio Morricone’s first musical foray into the style that would make him a legend.
Leone was doing more than reaching new heights in style, however. He was also cementing his critical voice, smashing together the clean-cut heroics of American Westerns of the time with the harsh dirty, dusty realities of what life in a real Mexican bordertown must have been like, then exaggerating the violence until it became a commentary upon itself. The way he juxtaposes closeups of men’s faces with the violence they wreak lays bare the emptiness in their souls, and how deeply entertaining that violence should be. It’s a thrown gauntlet, made all the more offensive by how damned entertaining the rest of the film is.
Kill ‘em good Clint! Wait…
The last glass raise, of course, must go to Clint Eastwood. While his Man With No Name character feels so obviously iconic now, it really must have felt like it was coming out of the blue at the time. Eastwood was the 10th choice for the role. 10th! He only got it because Richard Harrison turned down the role, then suggested him after he saw him play a TV cowboy on Rawhide. Harrison later called the decision his greatest contribution to cinema. Eastwood created the character’s look himself, buying his whole wardrobe in California except for the poncho, which he picked up once he got to Spain. He was the only English speaker in the cast as well, and was more or less given total creative control over his character. The results are self-evident.
Looking directly into those eyes causes pregnancy… regardless of sex.
Gasp! A second beer on a Sergio Leone flick? Sadly, yes. I can’t fault him too much for being inspired by Yojimbo and making it his own, but I can fault him for the ridiculous assertion that he didn’t copy anything from it. Watching them back to back just drives this home. Also, while technical limitations understandably prompted the dubbing of all dialogue in each of Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy, it’s particularly noticeable here. The kid’s “voice” in particular is just nails on a chalkboard awful.
My version of hell is being surrounded by poorly dubbed crying Italian children for eternity.
A Fistful of Dollars may sport another movie’s plot and a cast and crew developing their soon to be timeless styles, but it’s also a damn fine Western in its own right.