Saturday, April 3, 2010
"A Fistful of Dollars" and Clint's lesson about a real man's love of money
Title: A Fistful of Dollars
Genre: The original Spaghetti Western
Notable for: The first real Clint Eastwood movie
Clint's subliminal message: "A star is born."
Now we are talking! Well, Clint does not say much. But we here in the Flory man lair are talking!
Forty-six years after "A Fistful of Dollars" was released, no one can convince us it is not still one of Clint Eastwood's very best films. Screw Oscars and Golden Globes, dude. This is the image people instantly associate with Clint's name -- the poncho, the stony silence, the squinty stares, the hail of bullets between puffs on a stubby cigar.
This breakthrough movie made Clint an international star and icon-in-waiting. Never again would he play small roles. He was officially larger than life.
Italian director Sergio Leone received all the credit at the time for inventing this different sort of western movie and very different sort of lead role. Everyone assumed Clint was a stupid slob from a TV show.
Now we know better. Clint himself pushed to underplay The Man With No Name (never mind that one character repeatedly calls him "Joe") to such a classic extreme. Many elements of his characterization -- the quiet loner, the rejection of traditional "good guy" image, the capability of deadly violence, the personal code of justice -- became standard Clint Eastwood stuff.
At the start of the film, Clint rides into a god-forsaken Mexican town and discovers it is controlled by two rival gangs of lowlife cutthroats. Sensing an opportunity, Clint guns down enough assholes to establish credentials as the fastest pistol man around. Then he plays one gang against the other and tricks each into paying him a lot of money. Everything goes well until Clint decides to free a woman held as a sex slave by one gang leader, a sociopath named Ramon. Ramon's cackling goons beat Clint to within an inch of his life, but Clint escapes and gets his revenge in the final scene.
It is difficult today to grasp how much loathing this movie created among snobs and wanna-be intellectuals. They called the film coarse and violent and said it appealed to lower instincts of the audience. They said Clint played a money-hungry killer with no sense of justice and no interest in anyone but himself.
Snobs can be amazingly stupid.
Clint's character did fine tricking the town's bosses out of money but he was nearly killed because he freed Ramon's woman for no selfish reason. He has a moral code, all right. But it is his own code instead of the usual crap required of movie heroes.
As she escaped, the woman spoke for the audience by asking Clint why he did it. "Why?" Clint answered in just about his longest speech of the movie. "Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help." Mysterious, yes, but it was good enough for her and for us.
In other words, the snobs were so dumb they missed the very first and most fundamental lesson of The Clint Eastwood Guide to Being a Real Man.
Lesson One: Trying to get rich is a fine idea, but some things are always more important than money to a real man.
Next up: "For a Few Dollars More."