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.