BLU-RAY REVIEW: Fist Full of Dollars & For a Few Dollars More
Two classic spaghetti westerns available now on hi-def home video...
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For those who've been living under a rock for a few decades, Clint Eastwood is one of the most prolific actors, producers, and directors of his generation. His prowess both in front of and behind the lens has made him one of the most successful and sought after movie makers today. So it's somewhat odd this amazing Hollywood star got his start in showbiz in the mid-1950s and early 1960s playing a number of uncredited, oddball roles. However, it was his multiple roles in writer/producer/director Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns which put him on the Hollywood radar as an up-and-coming star.
Two of my favorite roles Eastwood's ever played were as the "Man with No Name" in both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.
In 1964's A Fistful of Dollars (which closely follows Akira Kurasawa's Japanese masterpiece Yojimbo), Eastwood's nameless gunslinger - called "Joe" in the credits - finds himself in the wrong town at the wrong time and on the wrong side of two rival gangs. Thanks to his mastery of the quick draw with his trusty six-shooter, both gangs want Joe to help them tip the tide in their on-going gang war. Instead, Joe takes both jobs and pits the two gangs against each another in this classic film with one of the most unforgettable endings ever.
In 1965's For a Few Dollars More (a completely unique story by Leone), Eastwood's stoic, still nameless gunslinger (credited as "Monco" in the international release) is out to collect the bounty on Indio, the territory's most ruthless bandit. However, he's not the only one hunting Indio as Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by rising star Lee Van Cleef) is out to bring in the criminal too. However, the pair of bounty hunters are forced to team up when Indio and his bandits fight back.
The pair of films - released a year apart - make up the first two parts of The Man With No Name Trilogy, made by the previously mentioned writer/producer/director Sergio Leone, who was at first ridiculed for the production of such films and then later lauded. While maybe not the most impressive or visually stunning, the films featured an outstanding musical score by Ennio Morricone and breakout roles by both Eastwood and Van Cleef.
As for MGM's latest individual blu-ray releases of these films, the pair's updated 1080p video transfers are well worth watching for the die-hard western film buffs or Eastwood fans. While the films obviously show their age (as well as the less-than-stellar production), the pair also visually impress considering their age. Likewise, the audio - expanded from the original mono to a fairly impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track - which will fill the room with both saloon chatter, horse hooves running, and gunfire. Most impressive, the previously mentioned score by Ennio Morricone fills the channels with beautiful, dramatic, and inspiring sound. Truly worth a listen.
As for special features, both discs include plenty. A Fistful of Dollars includes an audio commentary with film historian Christopher Frayling, a Leone biographer and author who's focus is on spaghetti westerns. Insightful, informative, and full of facts, this is well worth a listen for die-hard fans. Other special features include the nearly 20-minute "The Christopher Frayling Archives: Fistful of Dollars," which shows off Frayling's collection of memorabilia; the 23-minute "A New Kind of Hero," which shows Frayling discussing the film's type of hero compared to the Japanese Yojimbo; the 8-minute "A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film," a sit down with Eastwood in 2003 in which he discusses the film; the 11-minute "Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars," which features producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and American actor Mickey Knox remembering Leone.
Other special features included with A Fistful of Dollars are the shorter 6-minute "Not Ready for Primetime: Renowned Filmmaker Monte Hellman Disscusses the Television Broadcast of A Fistful of Dollars" in which Hellman discusses the film's unpopular made-for-TV prologue. The 8-minute prologue is also included. Lastly, 10 radio spots, a location comparison short, and numerous trailers are also included here.
Special features included with For a Few Dollars More are very similar to the other disc and include another film commentary with Frayling, another look at Frayling's collection (this time from For a Few Dollars More), another 20-minute featurette showing Frayling discussing Leone's original work and style, and another Eastwood look at the film. All are impressive and give some great insight into the film, which was created by Leone and is obviously considered the better of the two films. Producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and actor Mickey Knox once again return for an 11 minute look at this film and their roles.
"For A Few Dollars More: The Original American Release Version" is a 5-minute look at three trimmed scenes which were edited specifically for the USA audiences while other special features include (once again) location comparisons, radio spots (12 this time), and two theatrical trailers.
If you haven't seen both A Fistful of Dollars or its superior sequel For a Few Dollars More, you're missing out. With one of the best western characters ever brought to life on-screen, impressive acting by a rising star cast, and an amazing score, these films have helped influence films even now, 50 years later.
Be sure to check out both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More on sale on blu-ray hi-def wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess Horsley
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley