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A Fistful of Dollars ( ) is a 1964 Italian Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood alongside Gian Maria Volontè, Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, José Calvo and Joseph Egger. Released in Italymarker in 1964 then in the United Statesmarker in 1967, it initiated the popularity of the Spaghetti Western film genre. It was followed by For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), also starring Eastwood. Collectively, the films are commonly known as the "Dollars Trilogy" or "The Man With No Name Trilogy". This film is an unofficial remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (1961), which itself drew inspiration from earlier Westerns. In the United States, the United Artists publicity campaign referred to Eastwood's character in all three films as the "Man with No Name".

As one of the first Spaghetti Westerns to be released in the United States, many of the European cast and crew took on American stage names. These included Leone himself ("Bob Robertson"), Gian Maria Volontè ("Johnny Wels"), and composer Ennio Morricone ("Dan Savio").

A Fistful of Dollars was shot in Spainmarker, mostly near Hoyo de Manzanares close to Madridmarker, but also (like its two sequels) in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Parkmarker in Almeríamarker province.


A Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood), arrives at a little Mexican border town named San Miguel. He is quickly introduced to the feud between two families vying to gain control the town: the Rojo brothers, consisting of Don Miguel (the eldest and nominally in charge), Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) (the most headstrong) and Ramón (the most capable and intelligent, played by Gian Maria Volontè, who would reappear in For a Few Dollars More as the psychopathic El Indio), and the family of so-called "town sheriff" John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy).

The Stranger quickly spies an opportunity to make a "fistful of dollars" and decides to play both families against each other. His opportunity comes when a detachment of Mexican soldiers escorting a shipment of gold passes through the town. The gold is ostensibly being delivered to a troop of American soldiers at the border river in exchange for a shipment of modern American weapons, but upon following the Mexican troops, the Stranger watches from hiding as they are massacred by members of the Rojo gang, disguised in American uniforms and led by Ramon Rojo.

The Stranger takes two of the bodies to a nearby cemetery and sells information to both sides that two soldiers survived the attack. Both sides race to the cemetery, the Baxters to get the "survivors" to testify against the Rojos, and the Rojos to silence them. The factions engage in a fierce gunfight, but Ramon manages to kill (as he believes) the "survivors" and Esteban captures John Baxter's son Antonio. While the Rojos and the Baxters are busy, the Stranger takes the opportunity to search the Rojo hacienda, but accidentally knocks out Ramón's prisoner and unwilling mistress Marisol (Marianne Koch) when she surprises him. He takes her to the Baxters, who arrange for a prisoner swap with the Rojos.

The day of the exchange, the Stranger learns Marisol's history from Silvanito, the innkeeper: "... a happy little family until trouble comes along. And trouble is the name of Ramon, claiming the husband cheated at cards, which wasn't true. He gets the wife to live with him as hostage." That night, while the Rojos are celebrating, the Stranger rides out and frees Marisol, shooting the guards and wrecking the house to make it look like it was attacked by a large band. The Stranger tells Marisol, her husband and her son to leave town.

The Rojos capture and torture the Stranger after this betrayal, but he escapes with the help of the coffin maker Piripero (Joseph Egger, who would also resurface in For a Few Dollars More). Believing the Stranger to be protected by the Baxters, the Rojos set fire to the Baxter home and massacre all the residents when they are forced to flee the flames, including John Baxter, his son and his wife. The Rojos become the only gang left in San Miguel.

The Man with No Name returns to town to engage the Rojos in a dramatic duel. He first rescues Silvanito, who was tortured to reveal the Stranger's whereabouts. The Man with No Name kills Ramon and the remaining Rojos, except Esteban (who is shot by Silvanito), and rides away.



A Fistful of Dollars was at first intended by Leone to reinvent the western genre in Italy. In his opinion, the American westerns of the mid to late 1950s had become stagnant, overly-preachy and unbelievable, and, because of this, Hollywood began to gear down production of such films. Leone knew that there was still a significant market in Europe for westerns yet also realised that Italian audiences of the time were beginning to laugh at the stock conventions of both the American westerns and pastiche work of Italian directors hiding under pseudonyms. His approach was to take the grammar of the Italian film and transpose it into a western setting.

Eastwood was not the first actor approached to play the main character. Originally, Sergio Leone intended Henry Fonda to play the "Man with No Name". However, the production company could not afford to engage a major Hollywood star. Next, Leone offered Charles Bronson the part. He too declined the role, arguing that the script was bad. Both Fonda and Bronson would later star in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Other actors who turned the role down were Ty Hardin and James Coburn. Leone then turned his attention to Richard Harrison, who had recently starred in the very first Italian western, Gunfight at Red Sands (Duello nel Texas). Harrison, however, had not been impressed with his experience on his previous film, and refused. The producers later established a list of available, lesser-known American actors, and asked Harrison for advice. Harrison suggested Eastwood, whom he knew could play a cowboy convincingly. Harrison later stated, "Maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing Fistful of Dollars, and recommending Clint for the part."

The film was shot in Spainmarker, and although it was not the first western shot in such a manner and the film itself was evidently a tribute to Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), the film would become a benchmark in the Spaghetti Western genre that evolved from the mid 1960s.

Eastwood was instrumental in creating the Man with No Name's distinctive visual style. He bought the black jeans from a sport shop on Hollywood Boulevardmarker, the hat came from a Santa Monicamarker wardrobe firm and the trademark black cigars came from a Beverly Hillsmarker store. On the anniversary DVD for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it was said that while Eastwood himself is a non-smoker, he felt that the foul taste of the cigar in his mouth put him in the right frame of mind for his character.

Leone reportedly took to Eastwood's distinctive style quickly, and commented that "I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two facial expressions: one with the hat, and one without it."

Because A Fistful of Dollars was an Italian/German/Spanish co-production, there was a significant language barrier on the set. Leone did not speak English, and Eastwood communicated with the Italian cast and crew mostly through stuntman Benito Stefanelli, who also acted as an unofficial interpreter for the production and would later appear in Leone's other pictures.

A Fistful of Dollars became the first film to exhibit Leone's famously distinctive style of visual direction. This was influenced by both John Ford's cinematic landscaping and the Japanese method of distension, perfected by Akira Kurosawa. Leone wanted an operatic feel to his western and so there are many examples of extreme close-ups on the faces of different characters that function like the arias in a traditional opera. They focus the attention on a single person and that countenance becomes both the landscape and dialogue of the scene. This is quite different from the Hollywood use of faces where the close-up was treated as a reaction shot, usually to a piece of dialogue that had just been spoken. Leone's close-ups are more akin to portraits, often lit with Renaissance-type lighting effects and are pieces of design in their own right.


The film's music was written by Ennio Morricone, credited as Dan Savio. Morricone recalled Leone requesting him to write "Dimitri Tiomkin music" for the film. The trumpet theme is similar to Tiomkin's El Degüello theme from Rio Bravo (1959) (that was called Un dollaro d'onore in Italy) while the opening title whistling music recalls Tiomkin's use of whistling in his Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). "Some of the music was written before the film, which is unusual. Leone's films were made like that because he wanted the music to be an important part of it, and he often kept the scenes longer simply because he didn't want the music to end. That's why the films are so slow - because of the music." Though not used in the completed film, Peter Tevis recorded lyrics to Morricone's theme for the film. As a movie tie-in to the American release, United Artists Records released a different set of lyrics to Morricone's theme called Lonesome One by Little Anthony and the Imperials.


Although the film was advertised in trailers as "the first film of its kind", the plot and to an extent the cinematography was based almost entirely on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo (written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima), and was the subject of a successful lawsuit by Yojimbo's producers. Kurosawa remained insistent that he receive compensation. He wrote Leone: "It is a very fine film, but it is my film."

British critic Sir Christopher Frayling identifies three principal sources:

"Partly derived from Kurosawa's samurai film Yojimbo, partly from Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest (1929), but most of all from Carlo Goldoni's eighteenth-century play Servant of Two Masters..."

Sergio Leone has cited these alternate sources in his defense. He claims a thematic debt, for both Fistful and Yojimbo, to Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters—the basic premise of the protagonist playing two camps off against each other. For Leone, this rooted the origination of Fistful/Yojimbo in European, and specifically Italian culture. Obviously, it can be claimed that Leone has a vested interest in doing this—distancing the accusations of his stealing Kurosawa's ideas, if those ideas were already borrowed from an Italian classic.

The Servant of Two Masters plot can also be seen in Dashiell Hammett's 1929 detective novel Red Harvest. The Continental Op hero of the novel is, significantly, a man without a name. Leone himself believed that Red Harvest, in turn, had influenced Yojimbo:

"Kurosawa's Yojimbo was inspired by an American novel of the serie-noire so I was really taking the story back home again."

Leone also referenced numerous American Westerns in the film, most notably Shane (1953) and My Darling Clementine (1946).

Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima eventually won their lawsuit, and as a result received 15% of the film's worldwide gross and exclusive distribution rights for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Kurosawa said later he made more money from this project than he did from Yojimbo.


The film was described as a phenomenal success in Italy and Europe by The New York Times soon after its debut in the United States. Bosley Crowther stated that nearly every Western cliche could be found in this "egregiously synthetic but engrossingly morbid, violent film." He went on to praise Eastwood's depiction of a half gangster half cowboy, and noted the plethora of violent spectacles as another distinction in the film.

In popular culture

A Fistful of Dollars is often quoted or parodied in popular culture. Notable examples have been included in films (for example, Back to the Future Part III, Kill Bill and Kentucky Fried Movie); episodes of TV shows (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Futurama and Samurai Jack); and popular music (in the work of, for example, The Mars Volta and CPO).

The film was novelized in 1964 by Frank Chandler and is part of the "Dollars Western" paperback series based on the "Man with No Name" character.

The movie Last Man Standing (1996) starring Bruce Willis is a version of both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars.

Stephen King has credited the Dollars trilogy with inspiring the atmosphere of his novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger.

See also


  1. Los primeros decorados del Oeste en España, en Hoyo de Manzanares
  2. Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone (Tauris, 1998).
  3. Relive the thrilling days of the Old West in film |
  4. A Fistful of Dollars
  5. French-made documentary about Richard Harrison
  6. Richard Harrison interview
  7. (in Italian)
  8. Ennio Morricone q&a Observer Music Monthly March 2007
  9. The BFI Companion to the Western, 1988.
  10. Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns, 1981.

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