There are three dialogue-free scenes in the quintessential 1964 spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars — in which Clint Eastwood’s nameless antihero pits the sadistic Rojo brothers against corrupt sheriff John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy) — that every genre-loving moviegoer should see at least once projected on a theater screen.
In the first of these formative sequences, Eastwood and co-star Marianne Koch — as the understandably suspicious Marisol, a reluctant hostage of cold-blooded murderer Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volontè) — create a playful air of anticipation by exchanging a few knowing glances. Eastwood cautiously nods at Koch after she squints at him with disapproval from an open window. She parts her lips; he freezes, interested, but she slams the window shut anyway. The scene ends once he slowly relaxes his toned cheek muscles.
The next essential sequence finds Marisol reunited with her bawling son Jesus (Nino Del Arco) and her stoic husband, Julian (Daniel Martín). Director Sergio Leone and editor Roberto Cinquini masterfully crosscut between Eastwood and his co-stars to suggest that a gunfight could break out at any moment. This scene’s pacing and shot choices make it as tense as Leone’s most spectacular action set pieces.
For final proof that looks can kill, see the film’s third unmissable sequence: the concluding shootout, when Eastwood and Volontè are reduced to a pair of eyes as their characters quickly reload. You need a big screen to behold fully these close-ups of Volontè’s devastating glare and Eastwood’s iconic scowl.
A Fistful of Dollars
Directed by Sergio Leone
Opens May 25, Metrograph
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 23, 2018