The Man with No Name (Eastwood) plays two rivaling factions against each other to save a small Mexican town plagued by violence and corruption.
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The first of the “Dollars Trilogy” or “Man with No Name Trilogy” a 1964 classic Spaghetti Western that introduces us to Clint Eastwood’s most iconic character, The Man with No Name. After arriving in a small Mexican town run by two rivaling gangs, the No Name gunman becomes embroiled in a war between two opposing groups, never committing to either side, but rather using his position to his advantage. This is how Spaghetti Westerns distinguish from other western films because the protagonist is not always the archetypical hero.
The Man with No Name while on the side of good is the epitome of the American Cowboy for a new generation of western lovers. Motivated by his brand of self-justice and with the instincts to shoot first, ask questions later, the No Name gunman is not the next Roy Rogers. Sergio Leone created a character that will play dirty to win a fight, in other words, an anti-hero.
Movie goers generally saw John Wayne as the all American cowboy who rides into town, battles the outlaws, and rides away into the sunset. Cowboys are expected to be law enforcers whose only interest is to preserve the peace, not the interest of self preservation. In High Noon, Gary Cooper stays to fight while the rest of the towns’ people, allies and friends turn their backs out of fear. There is no moral ambiguity, not in a selfless hero. But is that accurate? Is that truly the ways of the Old West? Leone disagrees.
Self preservation comes first, and then altruism if necessary or if the hero feels an obligation. These heroes are flawed, or rather, human. Their antagonists are inhuman, deprived of morality, or a sense of right and wrong. They are a reflection of a harsh time, and the heroes need to be just as harsh as their counterparts. Leone provides a sense of realism to a genre once romanticized by flawless heroes and damsels in distress and paints a portrait of a gritty depraved Old West.
However that is not to say that The Man with No Name is without compassion or sympathy, if anything, he is a benevolent outlaw. After rescuing a mother, he says “I knew somebody like you, once...and there was no one to help.” Another side of his character is the developing friendship with Silvanito (Jose Calvo), an innkeeper who urges No Name to leave town. Silvanto is a friend/tour guide explaining the town and the citizens to No Name, including Marisol (Marianne Koch), the classic damsel in distress, but with an attitude, and girlfriend of head boss, Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte).
Leone is effective not only in creating complex characters, but his style of filmmaking is innovative and fun to watch. The opening title sequence of silhouette gunslingers battling against a red background with Spanish influenced music playing underneath is a real treat. The gunfights are, as expected, entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Leone is a master at suspense, allowing the scene to build with music as two or three gunmen stare each other down before someone’s hand slips and all but one are dead.
Leone’s style has helped to shape the Spaghetti western and Eastwood’s Man with No Name helped to define the anti-hero. A Fistful of Dollars is not long, coming in at 100 minutes, unlike its two successors; For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The plot is simple, but the experience is great fun and entertaining. For its visual style, engaging characters, and epic gun battles, Sergio Leone’s A Fisftful of Dollars is certainly worth seeking, particularly for those avid fans of westerns.
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS