A Fistful of Dollars ★★★★★

I originally downloaded this as part of "Spaghetti Western" week of the 2017 Film School Dropouts challenge, but didn't get around to watching it until this month. Can you believe that I'm 49 and still have never seen any Spaghetti Westerns??!! It's just a genre that's never really appealed to me, Westerns in general I mean; but now that I'm finally starting to explore the genre in earnest, I'm coming to realize that it's actually a perfect reflection of whatever culture was going on around it at the time, whether that's the simplistic yet experimental Westerns of the '30s, the squeaky-clean white-hat heroics of the '50s, or the politically correct revisionist tales of the '80s and '90s.

The '60s were a particularly interesting time for the Western, as the genre started getting co-opted by the groundbreakers of the Countercultural era, to embrace the long-haired, rebellious, often surrealist edges that these kinds of stories were capable of telling; and those elements came together in a perfect storm in Sergio Leone's trilogy of '60s films starring Clint Eastwood, an attempt to apply the lurid standards of Italy's "giallo" genre (almost exclusively being used at the time for horror and crime tales) to a genre that Leone felt had grown tired and sad by the McCarthyesque shenanigans of '50s Hollywood. You can certainly see the results in this first film of the trilogy, a vivid nightmare of anarchy and subversion that still to this day looks like almost no other movie that's ever been made, and that must've shocked audiences at the time into peeing their pants in nerd fear of the oncoming bloodthirsty hippies.

A movie with such a threateningly subversive message that, when it first aired on television, ABC insisted that a new 10-minute prologue be filmed, in which a policeman addresses the camera to assure us all that Clint Eastwood's nameless bounty hunter is actually an undercover cop who's been sent to the small town of San Miguel to clean up its crime (also, Poochie died on the way back to his home planet), it's kind of a miracle that this trilogy of movies have become such a massive mainstream hit as they have, a case of lightning striking the exact right team of creatives at the exact right moment in history. In that spirit, I'm now looking forward to tackling the other two films in the series over the next few weeks, For a Few Dollars More and the biggest hit The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; but certainly you don't want to pass up this first film of the trilogy either, a surprisingly tight story that breaks all kinds of then-existing rules about the formalism of filmmaking, and that was like a refreshing slap across the face to youthful audiences of the late '60s yearning for a more substantial, more relevant film industry. More in a few weeks!

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