4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / SDR FRAME SHOTS
(1&2) Clint Eastwood stars as the lone American cowboy who rides into the border town of San Miguel and is confronted by a gang of gunslingers for the Baxter clan. Eastwood created his character’s visual style, by buying a pair of black jeans from a shop on Hollywood Boulevard, the hat from a Santa Monica wardrobe firm, and the trademark black cigars from a Beverly Hills shop. The poncho was a gift from the director.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS”
Blu-ray; 1964; R for mostly bloodless violence
Best extra: The feature, “A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film”
SEE IF THIS sounds familiar.
An anonymous stranger—a lethal, anonymous stranger who doesn’t say much—arrives in a village just as two rival factions are facing off in a power struggle. No one on either side is a role model, and the stranger, sensing an opportunity, hires himself out to both sides then orchestrates a showdown in which he’ll come out on top.
Right, it’s Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai classic “Yojimbo,” starring the great Toshiro Mifune. And it’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” Sergio Leone’s 1964 classic starring the great Clint Eastwood in his career-defining role as the ‘Man With No Name.’
(1) Italian director Sergio Leone filmed the majority of “A Fistful of Dollars” in Southern Spain. This outpost was captured in Cortijo El Sotillo, which has been converted into a hotel. (2&3) The Man with No Name ‘Joe’ stops for water. (4) The beautiful Marisol, played by German actress Marianne Koch. Don’t miss her recent interview featured on this special edition disc.
Most fans know by now that Leone drew from Kurosawa when he made “Fistful,” the blueprint for the Spaghetti Western and the first in a trilogy (“For a Few Dollars More,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”). Leone even had Eastwood chew on a cheroot, a nod to Mifune’s ever-present toothpick.
But did you know that Kurosawa was inspired by John Ford, especially the majestic panoramas of Monument Valley captured by cinematographer Winton C. Hoch? There’s also an argument to be made that Mifune’s ronin, a carved-in-stone antihero (like Eastwood’s stranger), took a cue from Ethan Edwards, the ex-Confederate officer that John Wayne played in Ford’s epic, “The Searchers.”
Timelessness never goes out of style.
It’s also been outfitted with a boatload of extras, including insightful commentaries with film historians Tim Lucas and Sir Christopher Frayling, an interview with actor Marianne Koch, original outtakes, an animated image gallery, then-and-now location comparisons, a discussion about the television broadcast with maverick director Monte Hellman (“The Shooting”) and actor Harry Dean Stanton’s network prologue.
(1) Austrian actor Joseph Egger plays Piripero the town casket maker. (2) Baxters men surround The Stranger. (3) Saloon proprietor, Silvanito played by José Calvo. (4) The Stranger empties his six-shooter. (5) German actor Wolfgang Lukschy plays corrupt Sheriff John Baxter. (6) The Stranger gets a hotel room overlooking the town.
All of them are good, but the best is still “Two Weeks in Spain,” Eastwood’s candid, funny recollections about making the movie.
Having worked mostly in TV, including five years as Rowdy Yates on “Rawhide,” he took the role because he’d never been to Spain and knew going in that it was a low-budget shoot: He brought his own hat and jeans from America and, to make sure he’d have them to wear the next day, took everything back to the hotel each night.
The only complaint is there isn’t a feature on composer Ennio Morricone, one of the all-time greats, or cinematographer Massimo Dallamano, both of whom were integral to Leone’s vision.
(1) Mexican soldiers escorting a shipment of gold through the town. (2) The gold was to pay for the illegal exchange of U.S. rifles along the Rio Grande River. (3-5) The Stranger and Silvanito are shocked that the American soldiers are actually members of the Rojo gang who massacre the Mexican soldiers.
The original 4K restoration was funded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and captured from the original Techniscope camera negative at the Cineteca di Bologna’s archive in Italy by Unidis Jolly Film S.R.L. Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri (“La Dolce Vita”) supervised the 2018 color correction from a 1965 reference print but it suffered from an excessive yellow tint. Dallamono, who also filmed “For a Few Dollars More,” died in 1976.
The new KL Studio Classics edition features two discs – 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, and both have been given a new color grading. The standard dynamic range colors are natural and saturated, and the 4K provides a more cinematic experience with its more organic film grain look. From top to bottom and size to size the 2160p disc improves with overall clarity – especially with the beautifully composed wide shots.
Film grain is quite apparent since the Techniscope format used two frames within the normal 35mm frame, a way of cutting costs in low-budget moviemaking. Even though it can’t match the clarity of traditional 35mm widescreen films, the sharpness is a leap forward compared to the previous 2018 edition.
Considering the source material, the 5.1 Surround and 2.0 tracks do a workmanlike job. Neither are going to fill every corner of the room, but the dialogue’s clear enough, the gunfire packs some punch and, most importantly, Morricone’s score delivers.
– Craig Shapiro and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) The Stranger offered his high-priced services to the Rojos, and the Baxters have accepted an invitation. (2) Austrian actor Sieghardt Rupp plays Esteban Rojo. (3) The Stranger orchestrates an exchange to return Antonio Baxter to his father and mother. (4&5) Italian actor Gian Maria Volontè plays Ramón Rojo leader of the Rojo clan, who agrees to return Marisol, to be reunited with her husband and child. (6) Silvanito and the Stranger watch over the exchange.
The Violence Escalates
(1) Rojos capture and beat the Stranger. (2-4) The Rojos set fire to the Baxter home and kill all the residents. (5) Now the only gang left in town, the Rojos beat Silvanito thinking he’s hiding the Stranger. (6&7) Esteban Rojo takes aim at the Stranger, but his armor plate saves the day. The same technique was used by Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) against Buford ‘Mad Dog’ Tannen in “Back to the Future III.” (8) The cinematic style of a Leone Spaghetti Western - close-ups intercut with wide shots.