A decade ago, I was a teenager in high school. I had my first job at my local movie theater and used my newfound disposable income to get a Netflix subscription.
Over the summer of 2004, 17/18 year old Matt wrote 21 movie reviews and posted them on IMDb. Recently, I dug up these reviews and decided to revisit each movie and evaluate how my tastes have changed over the last decade.
So for each of these posts, I will write a present-day review and then copy/paste the original review after. Then I’ll compare the two and give a summary at the end. You can find all the reviews here, follow me on Twitter here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, lets talk about A Fistful of Dollars.
My 2014 Review
A Fistful of Dollars is the first movie in the “Man with No Name Trilogy”, which also featured For a Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, Fistful wasn’t the first “Spaghetti Western” but it was the one at the start of the craze here in the States. The movie was a remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s ronin movie, Yojimbo (1961).
A nice piece of trivia I didn’t know about was that Leone apparently didn’t get Kurosawa’s permission to remake Yojimbo. Kurosawa and co-screenwriter Ryûzô Kikushima sued Leone and ended up with 15% of Fistful’s international box office and exclusive Japanese distribution rights for Leone’s movie. This actually delayed the movie’s release in the U.S. until 1967.
So how did I feel about the movie? Pretty underwhelmed, to be honest.
I love the aesthetic and the iconic music from Enno Morricone suits the movie beautifully. Eastwood is extremely engaging as a lone wanderer playing two rival gangs against each other. The classic scene in which Eastwood asks a group of men to apologize to his mule is one of my favorite scenes in just about any movie for the way it demonstrates who Eastwood’s character is.
But, for me, A Fistful of Dollars doesn’t hold up to the beauty and brilliance of that early scene. The story gets somewhat dry and muddled in the middle before finishing strong with yet another classic scene of the Western genre. I just couldn’t connect to the story being told between those two sequences.
The gun fighting sequences and scenes where Eastwood is navigating the conflict between the two factions are handled spectacularly. The “Man with No Name” (despite being referred to as Joe in dialogue and credits) is very clever but doesn’t come out of the movie unscathed. There’s plenty of tension and suspense that plays out well over the course of the movie.
In fact, I don’t have many negative things to say about the movie overall except that I simply felt disconnected from it. A Fistful of Dollars had its audio track added in post-production, giving the dialogue a poorly synced, off kilter quality. It was a little off-putting but not enough to entirely derail the movie for me.
A Fistful of Dollars has a lot of things working in its favor. It’s a classic that helped revolutionize the western genre and ushered in many Italian imitations. There are iconic scenes and performances in the movie. The sum of its parts, however, made me feel disconnected and, for the most part, unsatisfied.
OBSESSIVE GRADE: WORTH A TRIP TO RED BOX
This movie may not be worthy of your home collection, but it is worth the effort it takes to travel to your nearest Red Box kiosk.
My 2004 Review
“4 stars out of 5; Yojimbo Preferred But This Is Still Terrific”
18 June 2004
*-Catch it on TV **-Worth a Rental ***-Buy Used/On Sale ****-Buy New/Top Dollar *****-Worthy of a Blind Buy
Before A Fistful of Dollars I had never seen a Sergio Leone film. I now know the error of my ways and it has become quite clear what I have been missing out on. A Fistful of Dollars is the tale of a mysterious man who wanders into a small town governed between two rival families of bandits. He sets out to rid the town of the families by pitting them against one another. The film is the first in Leone’s “Man With No Name Trilogy” and a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo. I loved Yojimbo and was greatly entertained by A Fistful of Dollars. Sergio Leone managed to take the masterpiece that was Yojimbo and create a spectacular classic that is in the same league as it’s [sic] Japanese counterpart. The film can both stand apart from Yojimbo and at the same time stand along side it as an equally amazing cinematic experience.
Clint Eastwood seems to have some fun with his role as the man with no name, simply referred to as Joe. He stays calm in the face of danger and carries an intense coolness throughout the film that makes him all the more entertaining to watch. While I found myself a bit annoyed at the score for the film, I found the pacing to be just right. The amount of action in it was enough to not get in the way of telling the story of a man bringing piece [sic] back to a deserving town. Joe is compassionate for the townspeople and alludes to his mysterious past while not giving too much away about himself. Sergio Leone’s direction is everything I had hoped for after hearing so much about this legend.
A Fistful of Dollars was a great movie-watching experience. It never let up and was just an overall cool movie. However, I would have to say that I prefer Yojimbo by a very slight margin. While Clint Eastwood was amazing in his role he cannot compare to Toshiro Mifune’s performance in Yojimbo. This film deserves a rating of **** out of 5 and I am now eager to see more of Sergio Leone’s work and as soon as I possibly can.
Summing Up: Then and Now
“Hey everyone! I like classic Japanese movies AND the western movies they influenced! Take me seriously as a film critic!” – 17-year-old Matt Hurt
This is the part of these decade reviews I haven’t been too eager about. Coming up after this one is a pair of Kurosawa reviews that I’m kind of dreading revisiting. I’m excited to revisit the movies, mind you, but the reviews are going to be filled with cringe. It may shock you to know, I was a bit of a pretentious film snob in my teen years.
As a result of that pretension, I latched onto the work of Akira Kurosawa. Looking back on it, I think it was a way for me to cultivate a snobby identity separate from my peers. I’m not proud of it, though it did expose me to movies I wouldn’t have sought out if I wasn’t a douche. And Kurosawa is still a filmmaker I admire.
As for A Fistful of Dollars, this review is my most cringe-inducing one yet. I was full of blind accolades and vague analysis back then. I was also blatantly wrong in some cases. “Joe is compassionate for the townspeople…” That may be true, sure, but throughout the review I imply he’s a noble character who’s looking to restore order to the town. Yet, one of his first lines in the movie is “There’s money to be made in this town.” I guess 17 year old me didn’t catch that.
At the end of the day, however, I don’t really think we can trust the opinion of a deluded teenager whose analysis of a classic western boils down to it being “an overall cool movie.”