Per un pugno di dollari (1964)
Succeeded by: Per qualche dollaro in più (1965)
The first entry in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, and the original internationally released spaghetti western finds Clint Eastwood riding into the small Mexican town of San Miguel to calmly evoke chaos and disorder by aggravating the two rivalling criminal families running the town. Based on Akiro Kurosawa's script and film Yojimbo, Leone's film has a pulp but clever and engaging script. It has the simple mentality of the classic studio westerns combined with a far less noble morality. Eastwood's seemingly unmotivated, nihilistic protagonist established – if not created – the anti-hero. He is arrogant and narcissistic, but incredibly sexy. As much as Per un pugno di dollari made Eastwood a superstar, it was Clint himself, through his characteristic mannerisms and laconic, aloof socializing, that fuelled the superstardom.
Still, it was Leone's vision and distinct stylistics that elevated the spaghetti western into something more interesting than Americana worship. Starting off somewhat tamely and unremarkable, Per un pugno di dollari suffers initially from a noticeable language barrier and modest resources, resulting in some unimpressive takes and cuts. However, as the film progresses, it gradually gets into its stride and Leone becomes increasingly more confident and audacious. Towards the end, his thematics are amusingly larger than life, his sets look ever wider and more daunting, and Clint is filmed in a godly, majestic manner as he appears out of a cloud of dust sporting his secretive, fashionable poncho. The finale is brilliant, as Leone narrates with his camera, deploying extreme close-ups and creative camera movement. Like Tarantino did thirty years later, Leone shoots violence with elegance and panache, making his film strikingly eye-catching and stylistically groundbreaking.