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Blu-ray Review: The Man With No Name Trilogy

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The term “man with no name,” while a common metaphor in the western genre of movies, generally refers to the series of spaghetti westerns from the 1960s that star Clint Eastwood. Sometimes called the “Dollar” series, they are A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

While the Eastwood character has many of the traits of earlier traditional American movie cowboys such as rugged individualism, he changes many others as they fit to his personal moral purposes. The man with no name is not afraid to shoot first when it is to his advantage, or walk away when it serves him no purpose.

While the character is an outsider, throughout the series there is little to truly define his full background. He is the archetypal anti-hero, soft-spoken and ready to help people who are in deep trouble. He is usually found wearing a serape which covers his revolver, which he wears on his right side. He also is seen unshaven with a cigarillo in his mouth.

The series was directed by Sergio Leone, an Italian film director, producer, and screenwriter. He refined the spaghetti western by juxtaposing extreme close-up shots with long shots as well as changing the music and intention of the characters from noble to flawed and imperfect.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) is the first of the series, and this movie essentially launched Clint Eastwood’s highly successful film career. At the time he was starring in a very popular television series, Rawhide, when he first took on the role of the man with no name. At first he was skeptical, but it obviously worked out in the end. The budget for this film was $200,000.

A Fistful of Dollars is the unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), and in fact Leone was sued over the script. As one of the earlier spaghetti westerns, it was shot in Spain, and it revolves around a stranger (Eastwood) who arrives at a little Mexican town where there is a feud between a Mexican family and an American family. Seeing a way to make some money, the stranger escalates the depth of the feud to his own purposes.

What makes this movie so unusual is the fact that the good guy is not out for justice; rather he is out for himself and, if justice happens, all the better. Personal betterment is at the core of this hero, and everything else is secondary. The story is extremely simple, but even with that and the small budget it becomes a great story with an iconic ending.

For a Few Dollars More was released in 1965 and is the second film in the trilogy. Along with Eastwood, it also stars Lee Van Cleef as Colonel Douglas Mortimer, also called the Man in Black. They portray two bounty hunters who are each searching for El Indio, a most wanted fugitive in the western territories. Eventually they will have to form a tenuous partnership to get the bounty.

Along with a bigger budget — around $600,000 — For a Few Dollars More has a lot more swagger, a lot more violence, and Clint Eastwood is a lot more molded to his role. The film itself looks better as do the  gunfights. To me this really marked the point where the series became a classic.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) had an even bigger budget and a bigger cast. Staring alongside Eastwood (the good), was Lee Van Cleef (the bad), and Eli Wallach (the ugly). The budget for this film was around $1.3 million.

This story is about three gunslingers who are competing to find a fortune in buried Confederate gold during the Civil War. It is set in Texas and once again Eastwood is cast as an anti-hero and, while he portrays the good, it is not in the traditional sense. The story also revolves around the absurdities of war such as taking a bridge no matter the cost of lives with regard to the strategic worth of the bridge. As with the last film, there is plenty of violence and lots of great scenes.

Overall, the video quality is mixed. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is essentially the same transfer; as with the 2009 Blu-ray individual release, it has some technical problems like facial textures that are uneven due to too much digital noise reduction, but seems to have better color and depth to it.

On the other hand, both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More do look much better since they have been less messed with over the original. For a Few Dollars More is the better of the two as it has a harder look to it, but this may also be because of a bigger budget to start with.

The audio has been expanded to DTS-HD Master audio 5.1 surround sound. It is not always perfect, but dialogue is clean and easy to understand. The music has a bit of a tinny sound to it, but this not being your traditional western, I think it comes across okay.

There are a lot of extras to the three disks that include:

A Fistful of Dollars — Commentary with Film Historian Christopher Frayling, The Christopher Frayling Archives: Fistful of Dollars, A New Kind of Hero, A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film, Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars, Not Ready for Primetime – A discussion on censorship, The Network Prologue with Harry Dean Stanton, Location Comparisons: Then to Now, 10 Radio Spots, Double Bill Trailer, and Fistful of Dollars Trailer.

For a Few Dollars More — Commentary with Film Historian Christopher Frayling, The Christopher Frayling Archives: For A Few Dollars More, A New Standard: Frayling on For A Few Dollars More, Back For More: Clint Eastwood Remembers For A Few Dollars More, Tre Voci: For A Few Dollars More, For A Few Dollars More: The Original American Release Version, Location Comparisons, 12 Radio Spots, and Theatrical Trailer 1 & 2.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — Commentary Tracks, Leone’s West, The Leone Style, The Man Who Lost the Civil War, Restructuring The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Deleted Scenes, and Trailers.

There is no doubt that The Man With No Name Trilogy is classic modern western filmmaking. These three films took what started with The Magnificent Seven and permanently changed the face of the western movie forever. While not perfect with regard to HD quality that some would like, this collection still is well worth the investment, and so I highly recommend The Man With No Name Trilogy.

A Fistful of Dollars

For a Few Dollars More

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Man With No Name Trilogy

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.