24 March 2011

Movie Series: The Dollars Trilogy

A Fistful of Dollars http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058461/
A Few Dollars More http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059578/
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060196/

  aka The Dollars Trilogy

This classic spaghetti western trio, written and directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, are still good films to watch today.  They weren't intended as a trilogy, but they can easily be watched as one.

Each film centers around a bounty hunter, The Man With No Name, played by Eastwood.
In A Fistful of Dollars he positions himself between two warring families, playing one against the other and profiting from them demolishing each other.
In A Few Dollars More, he teams up with another bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef) to return a whole gang of bank robbers for their bounties, but this story has a B story motivation for Van Cleef's character that reveals itself by the end of the film.
In The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Eastwood and two others race to find a fortune of gold buried by fleeing Confederates in an old cemetery.  Yes, Lee Van Cleef appears this one too, but he plays a different character, which might be confusing if you aren't expecting that's the case. 

The series is notable because their style is so different from the Hollywood westerns preceding them. Each subsequent film is better than the one preceding it, which is an accomplishment few serial movies achieve, and this is the case probably because all three have strong stories and Sergio Leone's filmmaking techniques continued to improve. And a final notability - to this day there are many pop culture and modern film refrences back to these films, mostly nods to the Good the Bad and the Ugly. 

Sure there's lots of english overdubbing of the minor characters that doesn't match up to the mouth of the actors, but that doesn't really detract from the films. They were filmed in Spain, voiced in Italian, so that's to be expected and easily ignored. The strength of the films are in the story plots, the locations, the camera work, the music and the primary actors.  One can see the stylistic influence these movies had on many American-made films after.

Westerns have resonated with the American film audiences since the beginning of film making, hitting the height of popularity in the 50's. Many times have people announced that audiences no longer want to watch westerns, only to be proven wrong by another awesome western hitting the screen.  Recent examples that come to mind would be Tombstone, the True Grit remake, and, of course, the highly successful series Deadwood. And a special mention of Firefly and Serenity - probably the best Space Western. 

Yes, Westerns aren't dead yet.  And that's why it's important to see the best of what came before.  They've had such an impact on modern movie making, styles, and stories.  Seeing good movies from the past that are so influential on modern films really helps distinguish between the good, the bad, and the mediocre films. And plenty of films and TV shows reference this series, even if it's an offhand comment made in a comedy. And The Dollars Trilogy is a good an example of one facet of why the genre works so well.

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Tangential note: A Fistful of Dollars is an unofficial remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo.  I've never seen Yojimbo, but Netflix keeps suggesting it to me. Maybe I should watch it. 
To date I've only watched one Kurisawa film, The Seven Samurai, which is an awesome film. Sure it's subtitled, but I got so caught up in the story I forgot I was reading the subtitles.  The classic western The Magnificent Seven is a remake of The Seven Samurai, and is a good movie in its own right, but it is clearly only as good as it is because it stands on the shoulders of Kurosawa's film.  IMO The Seven Samurai is the better of the two.

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