By Philip Nutman,
Clint Eastwood shoots up Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre over the summer, screening Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy over the next two months. In 1964, the Western, as global audiences knew it as essayed by actors such as Audie Murphy and John “The Duke”” Wayne, changed forever due to the rebellious vision of a 34-year-old Italian writer/director, Sergio Leone. An unabashed, blatant “adaptation” of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s classic “chambara” (samurai film), YOJIMBO, Leone took American TV’s favorite laconic ranch hand sidekick, Rowdy Yeats from the show RAWHIDE, an actor named Clint Eastwood, and cast him as the amoral, mysterious gunslinger cinema audiences around the world would come to embrace as “the Man With No Name.” The film, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, was so successful, it spawned two sequels: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the stunning epic, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.
Bullets and blood flew—Sergio never shied away from the sadistic nature of his vile characters—and A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS launched the “spaghetti western” and shot the spurs off the classic Hollywood visions of directors John Ford and Howard Hawks. Forget Monument Valley and Ford’s THE SEARCHERS (1956); farewell to Hawks’ RED RIVER (1948); goodbye Stevens’ SHANE (1953), or even Sam Peckinpah’s pre-THE WILD BUNCH (1969) old school saddle flicks like RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962). Once Leone pulled the trigger, the cinematic genre which America created started to mutate as the bullet hit the bone. A once vibrant but now stagnant genre was forced to either evolve or die.
Nihilism. Blood. Sweat. More blood, more sweat. Ford and Hawks and their fellow saddle riders had created a paradigm of moral certitude in which good was GOOD and evil was EVIL, a landscape of moral regeneration whereby a Man With A Good Heart and a Moral Cause could save the day via a chivalrous, judicious use of a six shooter at high noon and win the arms of a Good Woman. Well, Leone shot the horse they rode into town on.
You’ve likely seen it on TV; maybe you’ve rented the DVD, and you think you know A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. But unless you see Leone’s widescreen vision in a movie theater, you ain’t seen dirt, cowhand.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE screens Sat. July 9, 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY screens August 13, 3 PM, 7:30 PM.