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Friday, 12 September 2008

LEONE/EASTWOOD - A MATCH MADE IN CELLULOID HEAVEN




A dose of the flu put me in bed for the day, which wasn't all bad since I watched all three of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood movies back to back.

Now these films are universally loved and respected so I'm not going to really review them but I am going to offer some facts and my own thoughts, for what they are worth, on the loose trilogy.

Firstly I'm a huge Eastwood fan and I enjoy most of his films and more than a few are in my all time favourites. Okay there are a couple of stinkers - The Rookie, Pink Cadillac, and a few pedestrian efforts - Firefox, Joe Kidd and The Dead Pool. But the three westerns Eastwood made with Leone are all certified gold classics.
First up - A fistful of dollars.
c0-starring Glen Maria Volonte

Clint Eastwood was not the director's first choice for this movie - he wasn't even the second and Leone only settled on him after failing to get James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda. He reluctantly went for TV actor, Clint Eastwood because he was cheap and available. The rest, as they say, is history. It is now hard to think of anyone else in the role. A similar thing happened when Eastwood was drafted into Dirty Harry after Frank Sinatra dropped out. Now it is impossible to think of anyone else playing either Dirty Harry or the man with no name.

The Man with no name was in fact an American advertising concept and technically Eastwood is playing a different character in each of the films. But the name has stuck and throughout this post I will use the man with no name to mean the Eastwood character.

A fistful of dollars is the foundation upon which the spaghetti western sub-genre was built. Made in the same year as John Ford's last western Cheyenne Autumn, a fistful was a million miles away from any of the great American director's visions of the West. It launched a mega star who is still an A-lister today and created an entire genre. Leone, using the name of Bob Robertson, scripted a western that was basically a reworking of Kurasawa's Yojimbo. Leone was heavily influenced by the Magnificent Seven which was itself a loose remake of Seven Samurai and he even called the film, The Magnificent Stranger but both Yogimbo and Fistful owe a lot to Dashiell Hammet who penned similar town-feud scenarios most notably in the seminal, Red Harvest.

The film was made at a cost of $200,000 and took over £8 million in the US and Italy upon its initial release.

For a Few Dollars More came in 1964 and with the success of the previous film there was an increase in budget. Once again Eastwood returned, as did Gian Maria Volonte (here giving a remarkable psychotic performance) and this time they were joined by Lee Van Cleef as a second American bounty hunter. Once again Leone went after Fonda, Bronson and Coburn for this role but settled on the unknown Cleef.

To some this is the best Leone Movie but I personally think The Good, The Bad and the Ugly takes that accolade.





The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is a large sweeping epic western that is at turns comic, brutal and touching - the imaginative civil war scenes are truly cinematic and show the horror of the war between the states.

This time Eastwood's character, called Blondy, is more a likable con man than a bounty hunter and Van Cleef is the sadistic Angel Eyes. But it is Eli Wallach as Tuco who steals the movie and the chemistry between him and Eastwood is a joy to watch.

Leone jigged the characters somewhat for this movie and Eastwood's Blondy was a much more mellow character than in the previous two movies while Lee Cleef's Angel Eyes (Setenza in the Italian Version) was the grim hired gun. And Eli Wallach's Tuco was a foul mouth, evil, morally bankrupt but ever so like able character.

The action scenes were superb but it is in the quiet moments that the film truly stands out - like when Eastwood and Wallach look down on the devastated civil war battlefield and mumbles, never have so many men been wasted for nothing, or words to that effect.

The original title of the film was The Magnificent Rogues (again displaying Leone's love of The Magnificent Seven) and once again Leone originally offered the role of Angel Eyes to Charles Bronson but was turned down.

There are some great DVD's editions of all movie available.

Here I list the Region 2 versions.

Both A Fistful and For a few Dollars more are available on discs with deleted scenes, trailers etc.

But it's worth hunting out the special edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (MGM 10001040) which features the longest cut of the film available with several scenes reinstated into the movie. Several sections, cut from the American release, and never dubbed into English are added. Eastwood and Wallach even recorded dialogue for these scenes while a voice over artist dubbed the late Van Cleef. The two disc set also includes a fistful of documentaries, a commentary and trailers and other items. The documentary Leone's West is especially wonderful.


An interesting point - if Eastwood is playing the same character in all three films then chronologically THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is the first film. Since the character finds the poncho that he wears in the two earlier westerns towards the end of this movie. However the films are sequels in style and theme rather that through linear character and plot.

Ah well, here's to my next bout of flu.

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