A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) & For A Few Dollars More (1965) IMDB Top 250 Reviews

Happy Birthday to Clint Eastwood, who turns 86 today! 🙂

My blog is having a Clint Eastwood Week (I reviewed Play Misty For Me yesterday). And I figured what better way to celebrate his birthday today than to review his famous Dollars Trilogy for my IMDB Top 250 Project as they’re all in the 250. Well, I already recently reviewed The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (you can see that review HERE). I didn’t realize it was the “third” in the trilogy when I watched it first but it really doesn’t matter as the stories aren’t connected (they just have the same director & composer plus the main actor playing a different character in each). It was interesting seeing their “evolution”, however, as I think each film was better than the previous one. Let’s start by talking about the first in the trilogy: A Fistful Of Dollars.

A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari)

Directed by Sergio Leone

Based on Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa & Ryuzo Kikushima

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volontè, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, Joseph Egger

Music by Ennio Morricone

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A wandering gunfighter plays two rival families against each other in a town torn apart by greed, pride, and revenge.

My Opinion:

I had no idea that this movie is basically the Yojimbo story by Akira Kurosawa & Ryuzo Kikushima (but not credited at the time, apparently). That’s interesting – there are a lot of Kurosawa films in the Top 250 & I’m very eager to work my way through them as I love Seven Samurai. So far, I’ve watched Ikiru & Rashômon so I’ll make Yojimbo the next one (I’ll have a Kurosawa Week once I’ve watched them all). I really liked the story of a drifter playing two rival families off against each other so am looking forward to seeing the original & comparing them.

I get the impression that some people may slightly prefer these first two Dollars films to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. As I said above, I personally think each film got better & that the final one is the best but the first two do have much better pacing, less distracting voice dubbing, and stories that are easier to follow & that actually get right into things from the start instead of meandering along for almost three hours until reaching a fantastic finale.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is the only one I’d call a “masterpiece” but these first two are also very good in a different way & are much more straightforward in telling their stories, which some people may prefer. There’s still a fair amount of time spent on characters standing around & staring at each other but it wasn’t yet to the extreme Leone went to in Once Upon A Time In The West. No, I’m not being a smart ass because I think that film is brilliant – the opening scene honestly contains the best staring ever committed to film. Here you go – the Once Upon A Time In The West staredown!

But back to A Fistful Of Dollars… I did find this the weakest of the three, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t really connect with or care about any of the characters (other than one family with a small boy) whereas the next film had a better revenge theme going on that I found more interesting & also had a good partnership that this one lacked. There’s plenty here for dudes, though – lots of fighting (with & without guns) and the usual amount of Clint Eastwood just looking like a stud while smoking & wearing a poncho. Eastwood IS very cool in these spaghetti Westerns, whether they’re your sort of thing or not, and has a great presence that not all actors manage (but is matched by his co-star in the second film). I now have less experience with his Dirty Harry movies than his Westerns but I think the Westerns suit him better.

This film does of course have yet another great showdown (as to be expected at the end of every Leone film I’ve seen so far). To say it’s the weakest of the three (or four if I include West as well) isn’t really a bad thing as all the Leone films I’ve now seen are fantastic & I can understand why they’re so popular even though this isn’t my favorite genre so I’ll never love them to the same degree as fans.

My Rating: 7/10

For a Few Dollars More (1965) (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più)

Directed by Sergio Leone

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Music by Ennio Morricone

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Two bounty hunters with the same intentions team up to track down a Western outlaw.

My Opinion:

Now… For A Few Dollars More was genuinely enjoyable! Don’t get me wrong – I think these Leone films are beautiful works of art and worthy of the praise & recognition they later achieved but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t find them all a bit of a chore to sit through. Of all four I’ve seen, I’d rank this as the third best yet I’d also say it’s the most enjoyable overall in that it’s the only one that held my interest the entire time.

It’s a simple (if rather cliché) story of revenge but, hey – that’s what I want from a Western. The one seeking revenge is Lee Van Cleef’s character. And what a great character he is! It’s the only time another character felt as important as Eastwood’s (if not more) and I cared about his story. The two of them are fantastic together & have amazing chemistry onscreen. He was also the “Bad” to Eastwood’s “Good” in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but this was a much better role for him & I preferred their relationship in this.

Another thing that worked a bit better in this one than the previous film was the main baddie. He’s an evil bastard but also not quite right in the head & haunted by things in his past. He felt more developed than a lot of Western baddies. Actually, all the characters felt more well developed than usual (other than Eastwood’s but I think that’s always the whole point of his mysterious Man With No Name characters). That’s a big part of what made this film the most enjoyable – I can’t fully get into a film unless I buy into the characters & the story and this film did a good job with these elements.

Okay – I’ve not yet mentioned the Ennio Morricone score for either of these films. I don’t want to go on & on as I already raved about him in my review for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but, damn, the man is a genius. There were no specific themes that stood out for me as much as in that one but the music truly helps make all these Leone spaghetti Westerns. Without the scores, I know I wouldn’t personally rate any of these movies as highly. The score is as important to these films as is Eastwood’s character & Leone’s cinematography. They all work perfectly together & make these films far greater than they’d be with one of these three elements missing.

Well, I think I’ve said enough about these movies. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert on Westerns but the four Leone films I’ve seen really are something special & definitely have my appreciation as beautiful works of art. I do think that each movie got better & better with Once Upon A Time In The West actually being the best overall. However, I’d probably stick with The Good, The Bad And The Ugly being my favorite as I think the score as well as the final 30 minutes or so of that film easily tops all others & pushes it into the “masterpiece” category that I don’t like to use as a label too often (if you’re curious, I gave both those movies a score of 8/10). I highly recommend both of those films at the very least but, if you want to start a bit smaller, the first two Dollars films are more easily “digestible” & For A Few Dollars More is probably the best one for non-Western lovers as I think a lot of people love a basic story of revenge.

My Rating: 7.5/10

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) IMDB Top 250 Review

Hi everyone! I’m finally doing my own IMDB Top 250 review again! I’ve been too lazy about doing these myself instead of just posting guest reviews… Let’s get started!

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
Italian title: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo

Directed by Sergio Leone

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Eli Wallach

Music by Ennio Morricone

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

My Opinion:

First of all, I better point out that I shouldn’t be allowed to review a Western as I “clearly know nothing about them” and should just “delete” my blog (as an extremely angry, Western-loving troll told me in the comments of my review for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Man I love trolls! And I always reply to them like a damn idiot.

Well, here’s a further reply to the issue my troll addressed: We all have a “first time” experience of EVERYTHING in life – why should we not be allowed to discuss something just because we don’t have a thoroughly extensive knowledge of it? I’m working my way through the IMDB Top 250, partly, to gain more knowledge of films that are seen as classics and to have a better understanding of those that are within the genres that I’ve not really explored before (mainly war movies & especially Westerns). So I apologize if I offend anyone by discussing yet another Western even though I haven’t managed to first watch “every Western known” like that troll has. Good for him! I’d rather watch a wide range of films from all kinds of different genres. (For the record, I gave The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance quite a positive review). Now onto my uneducated review of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

This is Western #5 for me out of the Top 250 and I’m afraid to say that I found it slightly disappointing after starting with Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (although I did like it more than The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid & Unforgiven). Personally, I thought West was a better film overall and enjoyed it more than this one. However, I believe West had a much larger budget so it’s not totally fair to compare the two. Also, I’ll say that this one has a brilliant ending and I absolutely loved the final half hour or so plus I of course couldn’t get enough of the amazing Morricone score. 

How the hell had Ennio Morricone not won an Oscar before this year?  He’s a true genius so, until this year’s Oscars, I’d always just assumed he’d won one before now. I didn’t further look into it until after seeing The Good, The Bad And The Ugly as I wanted to see who the hell managed to beat Morricone that year but the film wasn’t even nominated for any Oscars at all, let alone the score. This score wasn’t even nominated?!?! It’s a masterpiece! Stupid Academy… (Even IMDB users have more sense – this film is currently very high at number 9 out of 250)

This film is the third in what later became known as Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy“, which I did know but didn’t actually think to look at the order in which they came out & for some reason thought this was the first of three instead of the last. The other two are in the Top 250 as well so maybe I should’ve watched them in order? I suppose it doesn’t matter too much as the stories are unrelated & Eastwood has a different name in each but it would’ve been interesting to see how Leone’s movies developed over time.

For its time & budget, I realize that The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is a damn masterpiece. I have to admit, though, that the dubbed dialogue is very distracting in this one. It’s not something I noticed as much in West but I suppose there were a lot more English-speaking actors in that one. Apparently Leone cared much more about the look of the film than the dialogue so all the dialogue was recorded in post-production.

However, I personally appreciate a “sweeping epic” such as The Good, The Bad And The Ugly with a beautiful score & visuals much more than, say, a modern-day, straightforward, documentary-style Oscar winner such as Spotlight. The two Leone films I’ve seen just say “now THIS is proper filmmaking!” to me. I guess it depends on what kind of movies you prefer but someone with zero experience of Spaghetti Westerns may struggle with the length, slow pace & bad dubbing of this film (I’m experienced – I have two Spaghetti Westerns under my belt now). 😉

As for Clint Eastwood, I do quite like him as an actor but never fully understood the appeal before (although I’m liking him even more recently after watching two great 70’s classics of his – Escape From Alcatraz & Play Misty For Me). I kind of understand the appeal now after finally seeing one of his classic Spaghetti Westerns. The dude is f*%#ing cool, okay? Look at him in that poncho! Look at the cool way that cigarette hangs out of his mouth!

After this movie, I thought “Damn – I wish Eastwood had played Harmonica in West instead of Charles Bronson”. Bronson is okay but Eastwood had that extra special something in the same way Harrison Ford had something special as Indiana Jones. I just read that Eastwood was offered the role of Harmonica but turned it down due to falling out with Leone. What a shame! I really liked Eastwood in this and he helps make this a classic along with “The Bad” and “The Ugly” – Lee Van Cleef & Eli Wallach, who are both also great in the film. I especially liked the relationship between Eastwood’s & Wallach’s “Good” & “Ugly” and the fact that you apparently couldn’t trust anyone in the Wild West.

Summary:

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is a fantastic film and I can see why Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns are so highly regarded to this day. However, I’m not going to pretend that it’s now going to be an all-time favorite of mine. Yes, I found it overlong and too slow at times (I watched it off & on over two days while doing chores) plus it was very hard to not be distracted by that bad dubbing. But there are a lot of films like this that I almost like the thought of more than the actual film itself…

For example: I couldn’t stop thinking about The Man Who Fell To Earth after watching it – it looked cool as hell and David Bowie was this amazing otherworldly presence but it’s so flawed that to call it a good film would be a lie even though I loved it. I feel kind of the same way about The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and also Once Upon A Time In The West (although both indeed ARE very good films). What I’m doing a horrible job of trying to explain is this: I’d find it very hard to sit down and watch any of these three films from start to finish again but I think the overall look, feel, and score (the latter in the case of the Leone films) make these the exact sort of movies I wish were still being made. Well, okay – some are as The Revenant is this same sort of thing (and I think it would’ve made a more worthy Best Picture Winner than Spotlight as it’s the one that’ll be more appreciated and seen as a masterpiece in 20 years in the same way Leone’s movies are seen now). The artistic beauty of Leone’s films makes me happy and I find that very moving in a way that I rarely get with films nowadays. Sorry… that sounds cheesy as hell! Hey – look at Clint Eastwood’s smokin’ hot son Scott:

Where was I? This review is almost as long as the movie itself! (2 hours 41 minutes, FYI). Basically, I’m a sucker for a film with awesome visuals & a beautiful score and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is one of the all-time greatest when it comes to these two things. I may never sit through it for its entirety again but I’ve re-watched the ending, starting with the scene involving Morricone’s gorgeous The Ecstasy Of Gold, several times in the past month. It’s not very often that I have the desire to keep re-playing a part of a movie like that so I consider that to be some damn fine filmmaking.

My Rating: 8/10

Awesome theme. So damn awesome. But this one actually gives me chills:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) IMDB Top 250 Review

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An IMDB review by me! Finally! I’ve been slacking…

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

IMDB Rank: 208 out of 250 (as of 01/01/2013)

Directed by John Ford

Starring:
John Wayne
James Stewart
Vera Miles
Lee Marvin
Edmond O’Brien
Woody Strode
Andy Devine
John Carradine
Lee Van Cleef

Running time: 123 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A senator, who became famous for killing a notorious outlaw, returns for the funeral of an old friend and tells the truth about his deed.

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My Opinion:

It’s me! Reviewing a Top 250 film on my own blog! I’ve really neglected this Top 250 project while I’ve let all of you review them for me instead. I’ve reviewed all of the Studio Ghibli films in the Top 250 but, besides those, it looks like my last review was of Unforgiven last September. And here I am now with another damn Western (which I watched last September. I’m so behind!). I have to say that of the two things I was dreading in the Top 250, Westerns & war movies, I’m far preferring the war movies so far. (Once Upon A Time In The West was pretty awesome, though).

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So… John Wayne! This is the first & only John Wayne movie I’ve watched in my life. His movies were of such a different era that I really can’t relate to in any sort of way & I’ve never had any interest in exploring any of his films. I remember flipping through channels once as a teen & there was some John Wayne movie on where he was spanking a woman. Spanking?! Not in some weird, kinky, S&M way but I got the impression that she was maybe his wife & had disobeyed him or something so that was her punishment. (Okay – I can’t believe I just Googled “John Wayne Spanking” but I did & the movie was a year after this one & called McLintock!). Anyway, that sort of sexism just wouldn’t fly today so I can see why John Wayne films aren’t exactly popular amongst a new generation whereas the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns still are. They’re beautiful, sweeping epics (I assume – I’m basing this only on Once Upon A Time In The West) while John Wayne’s “spanking movie” feels like it’s from 50 years before West instead of just five. Having said that, though, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is pretty good & nothing like the very limited knowledge I have of other John Wayne films which had a very old look & feel. I think the fact that it was in black & white helped to keep it feeling less “dated” in an odd sort of way plus I think “serious drama” works much better in the Western genre than “silly spank comedy”. Also, what helped a lot for me was the fact that James Stewart was in this. I love Jimmy! That’s what convinced me to watch this one instead of putting it off (unfortunately, it’s no longer in the Top 250 like it was when I started this project).

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IMG_0372This is Liberty Valance. SPOILER: he gets shot…

I think this movie has a really good story & I liked the way it’s revealed in flashback as a small group of old friends gather for a funeral. James Stewart plays an educated lawyer & politician while John Wayne plays the rugged silent hero type but, hey – these are the exact kind of roles these two are known for & they’re perfect in this film. I’ll admit I got a little bored in the middle when the political stuff was going on (James Stewart running for some political something or other) but the scenes between Stewart & Wayne as well as the scenes involving the big baddie terrorizing the small community (Liberty Valance, played just right by Lee Marvin) were great. I also enjoyed the little bit of a love triangle between Stewart, Wayne & Vera Miles. So there are a lot of big stars in this one (including Lee Van Cleef although I can’t say I really remember him in it now – I don’t think it was a huge role). But my favorite actor in this (after Stewart) would be Woody Strode. He has a pretty big role as Wayne’s ranch hand & close friend. He was also in the incredible opening scene of Once Upon A Time In The West and has such a great look. I’d totally want to cast him in a movie if I ever made one (but he’s kind of not alive anymore). I looked him up & see that his last role was in that Sharon Stone/Leonardo DiCaprio Western The Quick And The Dead at the age of 80. Makes me want to watch that silly looking movie now – would be fun to see a young Leo again as well. Here’s Strode in this & West:

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Summary:

I know I don’t have much experience with Westerns but I can say that, as someone who isn’t a fan of the genre, I thought The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was pretty good. I really enjoyed the story plus the characters were very well-developed and you cared what was going to happen to them & to their close friendships. You love the goodies & hate the baddies in this one, which is really the point of all Westerns, isn’t it? It’s a shame this isn’t in the Top 250 anymore as young people keep voting in current shit like Interstellar, meaning all the older films are being overlooked and will now probably be totally ignored. This one is worth a watch if you like a decent good guy vs bad guy movie filled with revenge, love, loyalty and loss.

My Rating: 7/10

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