Four Coffins

A Fistful of Dollars looks barren. Cheap. Worn. That’s the minimal budget showing, and by coincidental accident, the film’s notable strength.

Hollywood loved the western for a decade or more post-WWII. Good men shooting bad men, bringing peace, without moral entanglements. They were clean. They were pure. A Fistful of Dollars was not. Murdered men bled bright blood, and their deaths were viewed from Clint Eastwood’s perspective, not hidden by an edit. Bodies lined streets, and a coffin maker pulled out a tape measure. Dead men didn’t disappear.

A Fistful of Dollars isn’t cautious about changing the genre’s reality from fantasy to uncensored truth

Sergio Leone didn’t know much of the American west before beginning this project. It’s reported the script called for coonskin caps, because Leone only knew what movies allowed him to know. Even so, A Fistful of Dollars isn’t cautious about changing the genre’s reality from fantasy to uncensored truth. There’s a marketing angle to consider: Sex and violence sells, so more of each leads to greater box office. However Leone’s in-camera brutality merely copies the Hollywood vibe, adding reality to what, under a John Wayne or John Ford, became glamorously passe.

The script goes so far as to be a copy of a copy, a full theft of Yojimbo, the latter which in turn, found its soul from imported westerns. A Fistful of Dollars then is a full outside-looking-in perspective shift, not meant to create heroes so much as anti-heroes whose reckless intelligence overcome a fascist-like grip on an open plain’s town.

Clint Eastwood’s undeniable cool began here, employing a sense of street justice before there were even paved streets. His Man with No Name doesn’t endear for his ability to take out numerous men before they have a chance to remove their guns, but his indifferent outward personality, paired with an internal morality. Eastwood acts on his emotions and sense of right behind a veil of gruffness. This outsider doesn’t embrace women. He doesn’t calm children. Instead, he gruffly stalls so they can move away from danger.

Although the first in this trilogy, the Man with No Name carries a lifetime’s experience into this story. His development represents the filmmaking mantra, “show don’t tell.” Limited in genre knowledge or not, the script and Leone’s direction understand cinema’s language above all. A Fistful of Dollars simply comes with what, for them, was a new dressing. The result became an icon.

Video

Although not HDR graded, the highlight of Kino’s release is a new color grading, preserving the flesh tones and environments in their natural state. A slight oversaturation remains, minor as it is, but infinitely more organic than previous discs. Encoding sprouts a few chroma errors in spots, if minimally so.

Fistful of Dollars doesn’t explode with sharpness even with a 4K scan. The elements look in pristine condition, yet softness pervades. There’s texture, and preserved grain stays consistent. Sweaty close-ups deliver facial definition but to a lesser extent than comparable catalog efforts.

There’s significant life in the source material, the contrast and strong (if not pure black) shadows both bold enough to appear wholly new. Aged this is not.

Audio

A 2.0 mono and 5.1 track are on offer. Although likely more authentic in mono, the DTS-HD surround mix brings boldness to Ennio Morricone’s iconic score, especially as the bass’ strings pick up. Little happens in the rears or even stereos – this still sounds mono, just with increased heft.

This helps alleviate the scratchy, messy, dubbed dialog, or at least offset the inherent age evident in every spoken word. Same goes for the stock sound effects like gunshots.

Extras

On the UHD, two commentaries go along with the feature. Critic Tim Lucas is on one, the other from historian Sir Christopher Frayling. The Blu-ray holds the rest, and that includes an interview with actress Marianne Koch, general featurettes, and an older interview with Eastwood as he recalls his work. Location visits (then and now) precede promo materials.

A Fistful of Dolllars
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Elegantly violent but truthfully pure about America’s western cinema, A Fistful of Dollars defined the genre’s export and change in perspective.

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User Review
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: