Release Date(s)1964 (May 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Jolly Film/Constantin Film/Ocean Films/Unidis/United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Roundly considered one of the greatest westerns ever made, A Fistful of Dollars put both Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood on the scene, and also catapulted the Italian western genre into popularity. Based upon Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, it tells the story of “Joe” (Eastwood), a wayward stranger who wanders into the town of San Miguel, which is overrun and controlled by less than savory people. Making it his mission to play them all like chess pawns, he takes on this group of outlaws in order to save the townspeople and potentially pocket some hidden gold.
The first in what became the Dollars trilogy, or the Man With No Name trilogy (an invention of the United Artists' marketing team), it also influenced film language in a way that, not unlike Kurosawa, would be analyzed and studied by film scholars and historians for years to come. It also rebirthed westerns in the U.S which, at the time, were in a slow state of decay. The days of Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott were a thing of the past, particularly at a time when edgier types of filmmaking were being born thanks to the relaxation and eventual deletion of the Hays code.
Clint Eastwood is trend-setting in a mostly silent and observant performance, almost always a step or two ahead of both the other characters and the audience. His quiet, cigar-smoking, poncho-wearing, six shooter-packing persona would carry him through a number of westerns throughout the 1970s, and indeed, even into other genres. Leone uses him masterfully, painting the desert canvas with an American west that’s totally different than ever before. The grizzled, weathered faces of the actors, soaking in dirt and grime, give the film a gnarly, lived-in look. Even the architecture appears to be cobbled together from not the greatest of building materials.
Above all, A Fistful of Dollars is impeccably well-made and entertaining. It unfolds in a grand manner and every moment has been given careful consideration. Every shootout and every line of dialogue is precise and well-photographed, using the placement of the camera to tell the story in a boldly visual way. Leone would go on to make four more westerns, 2 of them with Clint Eastwood, but none of them can match the raw purity of A Fistful of Dollars.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the film sports a 4K transfer that restores the United Artists/Transamerica logo at the opening. Like its Blu-ray predecessor The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the presentation of A Fistful of Dollars features many pros and cons. The pros include excellent grain reproduction and mostly clean frames, with only minor speckling popping up from time to time. Stability is never an issue and the overall personality of the transfer appears organic. Cons pop up with some frequency, particularly when it comes to brightness. Sometimes scenes appear a tad too dark, including a moment when Joe finds the hidden gold while the bad guys are at the cemetery. You can barely make out his face during that moment, meaning his reaction has less of an impact.
The biggest problem is the lack of consistency in the color palette. For the most part, it carries a yellowish hue, but at other times, blue is pumped into it, as well as flashes of orange. Apparently the color correction was based upon original prints of the film, and if that's the case (can't say I was kicking around during its initial release), it's at least true to the original presentation of the film. Whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate, but a good side-by-side video of the restoration compared to one of those prints would have been helpful. As is, it's still a great-looking film, but it may leave you with a nagging feeling of wanting it to look even better, and in an age when preservation is more important than ever, it definitely should.
The audio presentation comes in English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The mono track is really the way to go as it represents the film the best overall, or perhaps it's just a preference point on my part. The 5.1 offers many of the same qualities, just in a wider presentation that also singles out Ennio Morricone's score a bit more; but the original mix, complete with some minor hiss, is perhaps more appropriate. All of the dialogue exchanges are perfectly discernable and the sound effects, including those booming gun blasts, which are full of personality.
This release also features a wonderful of array of bonus material, some new and some old. There's an audio commentary by the always excellent author/historian Tim Lucas; another audio commentary by Sergio Leone biographer and film historian Christopher Frayling; Marisol: Sergio Leone's Madonna in the West, a 33-minute interview with actress Marianne Koch, directed by Mike Siegel; The Frayling Archives: A Fistful of Dollars, a 19-minute interview with Christopher Frayling as he digs through his film memorabilia collection; A New Kind of Hero: Sir Christopher Frayling on A Fistful of Dollars, a vintage 23-minute featurette about the film; A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on Fistful of Dollars, a vintage 9-minute interview with the actor about his experiences making the film; and Tre Voci: Three Friends Remember Sergio Leone, a vintage 11-minute featurette with producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and actor Mickey Knox.
Also included is Not Ready for Primetime: The Lost Prologue to Fistful of Dollars, a vintage 7-minute interview with filmmaker Monte Hellman who discusses the prologue he was hired to shoot specifically for the TV version of the film; the 6-minute prologue itself, which also features Harry Dean Stanton, but also an additional interview with Leone collector Howard Fridkin who originally recorded it on tape; Location Comparisons, a 6-minute video comparison of what the original filming locations look like today; the Trailers From Hell version of the film's trailer with commentary by filmmaker John Badham; nearly 3 minutes of various outtakes and trimmed shots from the film, presented silently in HD; 3 animated image galleries: A Fistful in Pictures (164 stills), Promoting A Fistful of Dollars (166 stills), and A Fistful of Dollars – On the Set (29 stills); 10 radio spots; a double bill trailer for both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More; the original theatrical trailer; and a set of other trailers for Sergio Leone's films For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and A Fistful of Dynamite (AKA Duck, You Sucker!).
As with Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, the A/V presentation makes this far from an authoritative release. It’s bulked up with a multitude of entertaining and varied extras, including Tim Lucas' wonderful audio commentary, but a better release of the film sometime in the future is all but a certainty. For now, it's at least a bump up from its Blu-ray predecessor with a slightly sharper image and more extra material to dig through. By and large, it's a fine, if flawed, release.
– Tim Salmons