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Blu-ray Review: A Fistful of Dollars

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When considering the list of Hollywood icons, one would be hard-pressed not to put Clint Eastwood at the top of the pile. Eastwood played many a famous role, and has been a part of some of the most memorable pieces of film ever put together. As grandiose as his career is, however, few roles he has played stand out quite as much as the Man with No Name.

Otherwise known as the Dollars Trilogy, the Man with No Name is the star of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. These films, all from mid 1960s, and directed by Sergio Leone, are considered among the first and best Spaghetti Westerns. They were inspired and withstand the test of time nearly five decades later. All three films have recently been released on Blu-ray for high definition consumption.

A Fistful of Dollars is the first in the trilogy, and therefore should be examined as such when tackling the reviews. An entertaining piece from start to finish, A Fistful of Dollars has been the subject of controversy over the years. Though the movie is entirely a western, the plot and many of the scenes were lifted straight from Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Yojimbo. Leone’s film is considered an unofficial remake at this point, though it’s quite clear where the inspiration came from.

In A Fistful of Dollars, the Stranger (Eastwood) arrives at a quaint Mexican village on the border named San Miguel. The place is rather off-putting and it would seem that there are thugs aplenty. It’s a town where killers and those with money rule over the common folk, but rather than having one boss, there are actually two. Naturally that mucks things up for everyone caught in the cross-fire.

The Stranger soon asserts himself as a person of interest for both factions. He showcases his talents with a pistol and demands a high price. It’s a deadly game he’s playing, but soon enough the Stranger shows his true intentions of straddling the fence between both positions of power. Deftly he uses his skills with a gun and information gathering to cause chaos and confusion. In the midst of everything is a beautiful woman and a cache of stolen U.S. gold. With these plot twists thrown into the mix, the Strangers true colors come to light.

In terms of plot, A Fistful of Dollars is really as entertaining as it gets. The drama, action, and atmosphere are unmatched in terms of westerns and it’s clear why a franchise was built up around the Stranger. Eastwood’s acting, combined with Leone’s direction, really made this film a class act. Sure it borrowed (stole) heavily from Yojimbo, but it’s entertaining in its own right and in all honesty it doesn’t take anything away from its source of inspiration.

If you haven’t seen A Fistful of Dollars before, you should make a point to do so. It’s a must own film and a timeless classic that deserves to be in everyone’s collection. Consider it highly recommended!

A Fistful of Dollars is presented on Blu-ray with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p high definition output. The film is served up on a single 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc with AVC encoding at 36 MBPS. This individual release’s transfer is identical to the one that of The Man With No Name trilogy set released last year. Keep that in mind if you were looking for an upgrade. Considering the film’s age, it should be no surprise that there are flaws inherent in the transfer. Some colors are a little on that flat side, there’s grain, shimmer, and some dirt.

With that being said, this is a gritty western to begin with and some of that’s to be expected from the source material. The picture is sharp enough with plenty of detail and no edge enhancement. Some close-ups feature solid textures, while others may be a little murkier than others. All around black levels are rich and shadows offer plenty of depth. This is a solid restoration from start to finish, and any of the flaws are simply attributed to age.

For audio, A Fistful of Dollars offers up English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio as its main source. There’s also an original English mono track , Spanish 2.0 mono, and a French 5.1 DTS for added flavor. Considering the film was initially recorded and released with a mono track, it’s really no surprise that even the 5.1 MA track is a bit flat. There’s limited directionality and the soundstage doesn’t really pop. One shouldn’t expect it to do so, but in terms of audio quality the track is clean and there’s really no flaw to speak of.

Bonus features on this disc are worthwhile, though again do keep in mind that these have all been available before in some form or another. To begin with there are lightweight features such as trailers and radio spots. A “Location Comparison” features locations of the film as they appear today, “Not Ready for Primetime” goes into the reasons a prologue had to be created for the film, “A New Kind of Hero” looks at some of the comparison between Kurosawa and Leone’s character direction, and “A Few Weeks in Spain” is an interview with Clint Eastwood. Also included here are “Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars”, where some of the production staff is interviewed, and an audio commentary with Christopher Frayling, who is well-versed in Spaghetti Westerns.

All in all A Fistful of Dollars is a must own Blu-ray release. The film is a classic, the picture quality is much improved over the DVD, and the bonus features are meaty enough to snack on after watching the film. It’s a movie you’ll come back to again and again. Just keep in mind that this release doesn’t really differ from the one that’s part of the already available trilogy. Highly Recommended

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