A quiet drifter gets caught up in the local politics between two families of the town of San Miguel. Playing both sides, he seeks to make, well, a fistful of dollars.
While Eastwood built up some fame through the late fifties, especially with Rawhide, it is really the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that set up his iconic persona. 1964’s Fistful of Dollars is a simple and tightly told story.
The Man With No Name is quickly established as quick in thought and action. He confronts some local thugs demanding they apologize for laughing at his mule. We also see a subplot involving a mother and her child showing that the Man With No Name has a sense of nobility and compassion.
One of the things that stands out to me is how they play off the character as one who survives by his wits. Even after a severe beating, he is able to find a way to escape the families and trick them to solve part of his problem, reducing his risk for the film’s finale.
The Man with No Name (in each of Leone’s trilogy he is called by different names) sets the stage for Eastwood’s western persona that was often imitated, but rarely duplicated. Eastwood displays a certain charisma right from the start here that carries the character, in spite of there being little to define him otherwise.
Simple in story and character, a Fistful of Dollars is a solid western that really (along with How the West Was Won) influenced the face of westerns as we know them today.