BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS: SPECIAL EDITION"
Blu-ray; 1964; R for mostly bloodless violence; streaming via
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.
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.
This isn’t the first time that “Fistful” has been released on Blu-ray, but it is the first time it’s been released by Kino Lorber, which means that if you were burned by the previous, almost-unwatchable versions, get a hammer and smash the piggy bank. Those folks know who to do a movie right and, remastered in 4K, this one’s never looked better.
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.
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.
The 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 color correction from a 1965 reference print. Dallamono, who also filmed “For a Few Dollars More,” died in 1976.
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 previous editions, and the color toning is more accurate, but would have been much better if the film was released in 4K Ultra HD.
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