Widely regarded as the first spaghetti western (actually 1959s Il Terrore dell’Olkahoma), Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars is at least the first important one, birthing the greatest western icon since John Wayne in Clint Eastwood’s drifter, immortalised by a hat, beard, poncho and a squint. Before Leone, Eastwood was known best for his TV western Rawhide (the theme tune of which is sung at the country and western bar in the Blues Brothers) , but this shot him into not just the Hollywood A-List, but into the pantheon of American icons as the nameless cowboy out to make a profit from a small town heading into ruin. Run by two warring families, the Baxters and the Rojos, Eastwood sees a unique opportunity (unique that is unless you’ve seen Yojimbo, from which this borrows heavily) and sets about pitting the two families against one another. Leone’s direction, only cutting a shot when he has to, combined with Ennio Morricone’s whistling score and the spectacular cinematography of a barren, bleached landscape under a harsh, unforgiving sun makes for a spectacular western steeped in both American characters and European style.
Inconceivably, Fistful’s lesser yet still unmissable semi-sequel For A Few Dollars More didn’t make it onto the list, but I watched it again anyway. This time, Eastwood’s identically attired yet still nameless drifter finds that it may be beneficial to team up with Lee Van Cleef’s rival bounty hunter to catch their latest target. Look out for Klaus Kinski as a hunchbacked member of the gang they’re chasing.
The closer to this trilogy is widely regarded as one of the best films in the world, and currently holds the number 4 spot of IMDb’s top 250. From the opening score, undoubtedly one of the greatest in cinematic history that would be my ringtone were it not Reservoir Dogs’ Little Green Bag, you can tell you’re in for something special. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly follows, as the title suggests, three men, whose lives converge around a loot of gold buried in a grave. Eastwood’s Blondie is debatably the ‘Good’, a bounty hunter returning criminals for reward, then shooting the noose when they’re hanged so he can collect it again in the next town. Eli Wallach’s Tuco is the ‘Bad’, one such vagrant Blondie hands in, and Lee Van Cleef is given short shrift as the ‘Ugly’, as hired killer Angel Eyes, who always goes through with a job he’s been paid for. Unlike the previous two films, this is not the Clint Eastwood show, and if anything Wallach, the most interesting and entertaining character, is given the most screen time as the three set out to torture, beat and murder the others for a shot at the gold. Although the plot gets lost a little in the middle, when the US Civil War takes over, but by the three-way standoff at the end any flaws are forgiven. It’s the kind of scene that just doesn’t work on paper (shot of eyes, then a gun, then feet, eyes again, repeat for 5 minutes) but is unequalled on screen, and the ending is perfect.
A Fistful of Dollars: Choose film 8/10
For a Few Dollars More: Choose film 7/10
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Choose film 9/10