My re-watch of this was back-to-back with a rewatch of Yojimbo, both for Family Movie Day. Without saying a word to prejudice him, I asked my nineteen-year-old what he thought and the verdict was unanimous: it pales in comparison to the visual grandeur, the mood and everything else about Yojimbo. 3.5*
The plot-heaviness means it's only as good as its action. These set pieces exist in the odd time period between primitiveness and modernism. Leone's action scenes were influential if not quite fully formed yet, but it's an important film that brought along the spaghetti-western genre. The first entries were surpassed in action/style by many others in the explosion, including the third film and Leone's later westerns.
Apotheosis of spaghetti and even western genre at large and first film in Man With No Name or Dollar trilogy. (Worth to mention that protagonist is called Joe, Manco or Blondie from time to time in this trilogy). Movie is shot absolutely in Spain. And of course Ennio Morricone.
It is true that this is the least-polished of the "Dollars" films. Yet, every time I watch it, I see less of its flaws and more of the brilliance of the later films. All the good stuff of the trilogy is here: the striking visuals, the clever dialogue, the tense build-up and execution of the action scenes, and the music of the ever-incredible Ennio Morricone.
Strange that a guy like Leone– who deconstructed the Western two movies later with what was essentially one 180-minute-long wink– would take YOJIMBO, an already funny, ironic (weirdly enough) take on the Western genre, but then make his version so dour, dark, and straight-faced in its dealing with genre tropes. A+ visuals, but it looms in the effortless shadow of YOJIMBO with its sour violence and lack of triumph.
Right from the beginning, this testosterone-charged view of the wild West formed a powerful genre, still evoking references. Everything explored within it further on is introduced here. It may not yet be as profound as in later works, and definitely not as lyrical, but the cornerstone in all it's sexy spaghetti self is brilliantly placed.
A solid remake, but nowhere near as good as Yojimbo, which is not so much an insult as it’s hard to top a masterpiece. This time the setting is the American wild west, filmed of course in Spain. Eastwood gives a serviceably cool performance, but Mifune was better, and Leone gives equally cool direction, but again he can’t outdo Kurosawa’s expertise. An apparent staple western, but not a particularly great one.
Clint Eastwood's golden age are the 60's and this is primetime debut. He's the badass that rises from a cloud of dust with the serenity of a cheetah waiting to kill the gazelle. The way he holds that cigar in his mouth is like Christian Bale becoming Batman. The cigar chose Clint not the other way around. It's too much coolness but he handles it right.