After a stint in the United States Army during the Korean War, Clint Eastwood broke into Hollywood and struggled, landing only “blink and you’ll miss him” parts. Eventually, Eastwood was cast as Rowdy Yates in the television series Rawhide. Unfortunately, Eastwood’s contract forbade him from making movies in the United States during his free time. Meanwhile, Italian director Sergio Leone was putting together a movie based upon the Japanese classic Yojimbo, eventually known as A Fistful of Dollars. After getting turned down by everyone from Henry Fonda to Charles Bronson, Eastwood was recommended to Leone, and, figuring that any film work was better than none, Eastwood took his Rowdy Yates wardrobe and headed off to Spain, where the movie was filmed. The movie, in which Eastwood played The Man With No Name, became a worldwide hit and spawned two more Man With No Name classics, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Throw in Eastwood/Ted Post’s 1968 western Hang ‘Em High, and you’ve got a fantastic four-DVD set, MGM’s 2009 The Clint Eastwood Collection.
In Fistful of Dollars, a mysterious gunslinger (Eastwood) rides into a small town ruled by two rival factions living under a wary truce. Ever the opportunist, the gunfighter turns both gangs against each other, all the while making as much money off of them as possible. Eventually, the man becomes involved in a final gunfight with hotshot gunfighter Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volonte.)
Fistful of Dollars is very violent. There’s gunplay aplenty, not only involving Eastwood’s Man With No Name character, but between the rivals, the Baxter’s and the Rojo’s. Eastwood lives up to Leone’s faith in him as he plays the character to the hilt, often acting with only his eyes and facial expressions (Eastwood was enticed by this fact when he read the script and would later, when reading a script for a potential film, would take a pencil and strike out an inordinate amount of dialogue.) And Volonte’s performance is top notch in his portrayal as the Rojo’s cold-blooded, heartless, expert shot. And as good as the performances are, it’s Ennio Morricone’s musical score that makes the movie, as his music adds to the tension of the gunfighting scenes.
The Fistful of Dollars DVD is formatted in both widescreen and full screen. There are no Special Features other than the theatrical trailer.
In Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965) Eastwood’s character (called “Monco” here) is a bounty killer intent on getting as rich as possible so that he can purchase a place and retire. He rides into town only to discover another bounty killer, Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef,) already in town. After a $10,000 reward is offered for a ruthless killer named El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte, again,) the two become rivals before eventually deciding to team up.
For a Few Dollars More is my favorite in The Man With no Name trilogy. Like its predecessor, it’s extremely violent and dark, although there is at least one humorous moment in which Monco and Mortimer shoot the hell out of each other’s cowboy hats in the street. Eastwood, by this point, had the character down cold, and Van Cleef is his usual strong self (according to Howard Hughes’ book Once Upon a Time in the Italian West, Van Cleef was out of movies and was squeaking by as an artist. When he landed the role, he figured he’d show up for a couple days work and was shocked to learn that he was the co-star.) And once again, Volonte portrays a psychopathic killer to perfection. And again, Morricone’s score only enhances the film, adding to Leone’s tension-filled scenes. If anything, Morricone’s work on For a Few Dollars More is even better than his Fistful of Dollars soundtrack. All in all, this one is definitely worth repeated viewings.
Unlike the Fistful of Dollars DVD, For a Few Dollars More is only available in widescreen format. And once again, the only Special Feature is the theatrical trailer.
In The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Eastwood’s character (called “Blondie” here) has teamed up with a bandit named Tuco (Eli Wallach,) and together, the pair is running a bounty hunter scam (essentially, Blondie keeps turning the wanted Tuco in and collects the bounty, then rescues him prior to Tuco’s hanging so that they can do it all again in the next town.) Blondie and Tuco learn of $200,000 worth of gold buried in a cemetery and set off to collect. The problem is, a ruthless bounty hunter known as Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is also after the gold. And while Tuco and Angel Eyes are both know the name of the graveyard, only Blondie knows the name of the grave under which it’s buried, resulting in lots of crossing and double crossing.
Eastwood and Van Cleef are their usual solid selves here—Eastwood plays the same character with ease by this point, and Van Cleef easily switches from the good Col. Mortimer to the bad, cruel Angel Eyes, but it’s Wallach that really shines in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Wallach plays his Tuco character so over the top that he steals the movie with his comedy (not to mention, he’s onscreen more than Eastwood and Van Cleef.) In the meantime, Leone’s direction is impeccable—the man really understood how to build the tension before a shootout, and Morricone’s score helps in that department (and his theme song is a classic—even people that have never seen the movie likely knows the music when they hear it.) It’s a long movie, and a few scenes probably could have been cut (Tuco’s brother as a priest, for instance,) or shortened, it’s still an ultimately satisfying watch.
The Special Features on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly DVD are practically nil, but at least there is one. This DVD comes with Audio Commentary from historian Richard Schickel, which means you can watch the movie with him running commentary during the film. Personally, I’ve always been irritated by this feature so I never use it, but it’s there in case you want it.
In Ted Post’s 1968 film Hang ‘em High, Eastwood plays Jed Cooper, a law-abiding (he’s a former lawman) cattleman who’s driving a recently purchased herd home when he’s intercepted and hanged by a lynch mob that leaves him for dead. Unfortunately for them, Cooper survives and returns to his law roots with the idea that he can legally hunt the mob down. As he does so, Cooper also has to deal with a hanging Judge (Pat Hingle) with his own agenda, cattle rustlers (led by a young Bruce Dern,) and even a love interest (Inger Stevens.)
Hang ‘em High is closer to a “traditional” western when compared to the previous three films in this set, right down to the Hollywood musical score. Cooper has a conscious, for instance, in this one, (let alone an actual name.) Eastwood still plays Cooper in a similar method to his Man With no Name, with minimal dialogue and lots of acting through his eyes and facial expressions. Post also put together a strong supporting cast. In addition to Hingle’s fine performance (although I thought Stevens was a bit wooden in her portrayal of Rachel Warren,) Gilligan’s Island fans will recognize Alan Hale, Jr. as a member of the lynch mob, and viewers will appreciate Ed Begley’s performance as Captain Wilson (the leader of the mob.) Star Trek fans should recognize Mark Lenard (Spock’s father) as a prosecuting attorney, and Hawaii 5-0 fans will be able to point out James McArthur’s stint as the hanging preacher (not to mention, Dennis Hopper does his usual fine work as a looney, doomed prophet.)
Like the Fistful of Dollars DVD, this one is available in both widescreen and full screen formats. And like Fistful and For a Few Dollars More, the only Special Feature is the theatrical trailer.
Lack of Special Features be damned, The Clint Eastwood Collection is definitely a set worth owning—it’s not like these four flicks are ones you’ll tire of watching. Basically, it’s your chance to own four classic Clint Eastwood westerns in one box, which means more bang for your buck. Highly recommended.
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