Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

For a Few Dollars More

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 22, 2013

For a Few Dollars More—Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski (1965; Dir:  Sergio Leone)


The opening scene is characteristic Leone, although others have used variations (Budd Boetticher at medium distance in Ride Lonesome, for example).  A distant horseman rides toward the camera, while there are sounds indicating that the camera stands in for the eyes of a second person.  After the credits (innovative for 1965), the still-distant rider is blasted out of the saddle, and it is clear that he was shot by the person through whose eyes we watched him approach.


The Man With No Name might not survive the early part of the movie.

This is the second in Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, not really a trilogy except in a general way.  There’s no continuity of story or character from movie to movie.  Clint Eastwood looks the same as he did in the first, complete with the same serape (which was rumored never to have been washed through the filming of the three movies).  This is the movie that made a spaghetti western star of Lee Van Cleef, who’d been playing western bad guys at least since High Noon in 1952.  He looks meaningfully dangerous as Col. Douglas Mortimer in the steely-eyed closeups of which the Italian directors were so fond.  Although the Eastwood character is referred to generally by fans as the Man With No Name, he is called Monco (Manco?) once early in this film.  Gian Maria Volonte also re-appears in this second film, although his character was killed in the first.  He is again the villain, this time called El Indio, leader of a gang of outlaws.


Col. Mortimer, unintimidated by hunchbacked gunfighters.

Monco and Col. Douglas Mortimer are bounty hunters, here called “bounty killers.”  We see the prowess of each separately at the start, and then they both start hunting El Indio—Monco for the reward and Mortimer ostensibly for the same reason.  Actually, Mortimer has a more personal motive for hunting El Indio.  When they first meet, they have an impromptu hat-shooting contest, although neither hat thereafter shows the effects of having been shot multiple times.  The two join forces, but we’re never quite sure if they’re really working with or against each other.  Monco gets the gang to accept him so he can see their plans and perhaps influence them.  Eventually the two bounty hunters are found out and are badly beaten.  El Indio is pulling a double-cross on his own men, with the two outsiders in the middle of it.  They both survive the lengthy concluding shootout, and it is revealed that El Indio once killed Mortimer’s young sister and her husband.  Mortimer leaves the entire reward for Monco, and they part ways amicably.

fewdollarsVolonte Volonte as El Indio

Leone grows visibly as a filmmaker from one movie to the next, or maybe he just has progressively larger budgets to work with in each of his four westerns.  In any event, the production values get better with each movie he makes.  As always, Leone is more interested in mood and myth than in storytelling.  There’s an absurdly high body count in this film, and it moves slowly, with lots of time for closeups on eyes, moody sizing-up of each other by various participants, and low camera angles.  It’s long for a mid-1960s western at about two hours and fifteen minutes, and much of it feels slowly-paced.  Sometimes it seems as though Leone deliberately withholds details of the story so he can surprise the viewer later.  It’s not entirely honest. 

As Leone sets up the final shootout between Mortimer and El Indio within a wide circle, you can almost see that he’s dying to play with a three-way shootout in the same kind of setup; he actually does this in his next movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  As with the first (and third) in the trilogy, this film has an excellent score by Ennio Morricone.  Unlike the first and third in the trilogy, the music does not sound as disproportionately loud.  This is probably the least seen of the trilogy, but it’s still remarkably good—maybe Leone’s best western.  It’s not really a sequel to the first; all three movies are independent stories without repeating characters, although several actors play similar roles in identical garb.

forafewdollarsShootout Final shootout.

Look for Klaus Kinski as Wild, the hunchbacked gunfighter killed by Mortimer.  He made more than one spaghetti western at this stage of his career.  This was filmed in 1965 in Spain but not released in the U.S. until 1967. 

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A Fistful of Dollars

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 21, 2013

A Fistful of Dollars—Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianne Koch (1964; Dir:  Sergio Leone)


In the opening scene, an American drifter wearing a serape (Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, although he’s called Joe by the undertaker) rides a mule into the Mexican town of San Miguel, not far from the U.S. border with Mexico.  He witnesses an incident where a small boy is chased away from Marisol (Marianne Koch), his mother. 

The owner of the local saloon explains that the town is dominated by two gangs, the Baxters and the Rojos.  The American thinks he can make some money for himself by playing the two clans against each other, and he’s right initially.  The most formidable of any of them appears to be Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volonte), who uses a rifle exclusively and says, “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a Winchester, the man with the pistol is a dead man.”  Marisol is Ramon’s “hostage.”  The Rojos are running scams on every side, killing contingents of Mexican and American soldiers and making it appear that they killed each other. 


Clint Eastwood with Marisol (Marianne Koch).

As matters develop, the American helps Marisol escape with her son and husband, enraging Ramon.  The Rojos beat him to a pulp, and he escapes their compound although he can barely move.  As he lies low, he sees the Rojos gun down the Baxters, including the Baxter matriarch.  He recovers while he lies in a local mine, only to find that the Rojos have taken and are torturing his friend the saloon keeper Silvanito. 


Talking things over with the fatalistic bartender Silvanito.

The American puts on his gun and poncho, and appears before the Rojos out of the cloud of an explosion.  Ramon empties his rifle into the American, who keeps getting back up and coming ahead.  Finally, he reveals that he’s wearing a heavy metal plate under his poncho, deflecting all Ramon’s shots.  He takes out all the Rojo men except Ramon, and puts Ramon’s dictum to the test.  They both reload, and the American wins.

This was filmed in 1964 in Spain, but not released in the U.S. until 1967.  Although it was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), it was made without Kurosawa’s permission, and Kurosawa sued Leone.  He later said he made more money from the lawsuit than he did from Yojimbo.  This was the film where American audiences were first exposed to (a) Clint Eastwood as a movie star, (b) a western with music by Ennio Morricone, and (c) spaghetti westerns in general and Sergio Leone in specific.  All those have worked out well.   Leone uses the full width of the panoramic screen, capturing Eastwood facing off against four and five gunmen all in one shot.  Leone and Morricone had known each other since the third grade, but this was the first time they worked together.  The music seems a little loud, perhaps because it’s usually just one whistle or flute at high-ish volume.  Note the four-note descending theme whenever the American makes an appearance or comes to a realization.  It was made with a low budget, and it features many of the hallmarks of Leone’s later work.  It became a cult classic, to be remade again by Walter Hill with Bruce Willis as Last Man Standing (1996).  Even though it was made with a characteristically low budget, it looks much better than most spaghetti westerns—evidence of Leone’s expertise from the start.


Ennio Morricone’s music here is unpleasantly jangly.  Leone wanted a Rio Bravo-type Deguello on the trumpet and Morricone came up with some Mexican-inflected trumpet music, along with his signature whistling, simple wooden flute and chanting.  The soundtracks of these three films were cheaply done and tended to avoid orchestral arrangements of original scores because of the cost that would be involved.

These three Leone films (the Dollar or Man With No Name Trilogy) made Clint Eastwood an international star.  Prior to his work in these films, he was known principally for his work as Rowdy Yates in the television western Rawhide.

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The Outlaw Josey Wales

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 21, 2013

The Outlaw Josey Wales—Clint Eastwood, Sam Bottoms, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Will Sampson, John Vernon, Bill McKinney, Royal Dano (1976; Dir:  Clint Eastwood)


The nation’s bicentennial year of 1976 was a watershed for westerns.  The early 1970s had seen a number of westerns, many of them “revisionist” or strongly influenced by spaghetti westerns.  The summer of 1976 saw the release of two excellent traditional westerns:  The Shootist and The Outlaw Josey Wales.  And then the genre fell completely out of fashion and largely disappeared.

The Shootist marked the end of the cinematic career of John Wayne, and it is tempting to see that as the end of westerns generally.  But The Outlaw Josey Wales in the same year was an early directorial effort of Clint Eastwood, who would become one of the great western directors as well as continuing to reinforce his status as a great western star.  And Bill McKinney managed to be in both The Shootist and Wales as a villain, a remarkable accomplishment.

Wales (played by Eastwood) is a Missouri farmer at the start of the movie.  His family is killed, and he is left for dead, by Union-sympathizing Kansas Redlegs led by McKinney’s character.  Wales joins southern border guerrillas under Bloody Bill Anderson and rides with them through the Civil War.  In the fighting, Wales has honed his skills as a warrior, particularly as a “pistolero.”  All this is set up economically at the start of the movie. 

joseywales The quintessential Josey Wales shot.

Refusing to surrender with the rest of his guerrilla band at the end of the war, Wales heads south into the Indian Nations (now Oklahoma) and Texas with a price on his head, pursued by the vengeful Yankee Redlegs.  Along the way, he picks up two Indian companions—Lone Watie, an old Cherokee (played memorably by Chief Dan George), and Little Moonlight, a Navajo woman escaping from captivity with Cheyennes, Arapahoes and white trash.  Wales rescues what is left of a Jayhawk family from scurrilous Comancheros, and he bonds with the inhabitants of the small, dusty Texas town of Santo Rio, where the Kansans are headed.  He has accumulated a new family and taken on more humanity, but before he can settle down he has to deal with hostile Comanches and the nasty Redlegs pursuing him.  However, the only thing worse than continuing to pursue Wales is catching him.  When there is no way out, he doesn’t waste time trying to back away.  “You gonna pull them pistols, or whistle ‘Dixie’?”

Dan George almost steals the movie in his restrained way.  The interplay between Wales and Watie features an understated humor, with Watie frequently having the last word.  Wales tries to discourage Watie from coming along with him:  Referring to the death of family and earlier companions, he notes, “When I get to liking somebody, they ain’t around for long.”  Watie replies, “I notice when you get to disliking somebody, they ain’t around for long neither.”  


Wales demonstrates his ability to sneak up on an Injun (Chief Dan George).

There are nice casting touches throughout the movie.  John Vernon is good as the conflicted traitor/hunter Fletcher.  Bill McKinney is relentless and despicable as the leader of the Redlegs.  Sam Bottoms gives what may be the best performance ever by any of the Bottoms brothers, playing a dying young Confederate from Alabama in the early part of the movie.  Will Sampson has an appropriate gravitas as Ten Bears, the Comanche chief.  John Russell briefly appears at the start as Bloody Bill Anderson, and Richard Farnsworth is one of the Comancheros.  The denizens of Santo Rio make a nice ensemble, including longtime western character actor Royal Dano.  The weak point in the cast is Sondra Locke as Wales’ romantic interest, but she was Eastwood’s girlfriend at the time.  And she doesn’t get in the way that much.

The Outlaw Josey Wales has a nice look to it.  It’s not as glossy as some westerns, but the interior lighting seems more authentic, and the backwoods characters dirtier than in more Hollywood-ized period westerns.  Wales carries multiple pistols (Walker Colts, which were substantial), two prominently at his waist (not tied down on his legs).  He can also use a rifle to good effect, as he does to give the Redlegs a “Missouri boat ride.”  The movie was filmed on the Feather River in northern California and in southern Utah, and uses its settings well. 


Wales (Clint Eastwood) negotiates with Comanche chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson).

There’s a fair amount of violence in this one, and Wales displays one of the very best cinematic versions of the famous “border shift,” in which the gunfighter reverses the positions of his guns to put them in firing positions.  In addition to sporadic violence throughout the movie, rather a lot of Locke gets flashed when she is attacked by the loathsome Comancheros.

One historical quibble:  At the end of the movie, a couple of Texas rangers show up in Santo Rio to document the end of Josey Wales and close the case.  This would be 1865 or 1866, and the Texas Rangers had not yet been reconstituted after the Civil War, since the federal authorities in Texas didn’t want any local law forces with dubious loyalties

Eastwood would yet make more westerns, but only a couple more.  They’re good, though:  Pale Rider and Unforgiven, also on this list of great westerns.  Josey Wales doesn’t have the pure nasty punch that the later Unforgiven does, but it has much more re-watchability.  The underlying novel, Gone to Texas by Forrest Carter, is decent, too.

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Pale Rider

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 11, 2013

Pale Rider—Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Richard Dysart, John Russell (1985; Dir:  Clint Eastwood)

The title reference is to a phrase from the book of Revelation in the New Testament, also quoted more explicitly by the Johnny Ringo character in Tombstone.  The scripture refers to a pale horse with a pale rider, who is death.  In retrospect, this film is also apparently a remake of Shane, with Clint Eastwood even more mysterious and implacable than Alan Ladd’s gunfighter in the earlier movie.  The basic story is of small miners and settlers versus an established mining company in northern California’s gold country, with all the strength apparently on the side of the establishment.  Until the Preacher (Eastwood) rides in, that is.


As in Shane, the principal miner/settler (Michael Moriarty) is somebody with strong moral and community sense but not the skills with violence to defend himself or his community.  And the principal settler’s woman (girlfriend, in this case, played by Carrie Snodgress) is attracted to the new, stronger intervener.  So is her 15-year-old daughter, setting up a new kind of potential conflict.  As in Shane, while defending the miner community, the Preacher remains visibly separate from them.  With Shane, there was the sense that Shane would like the kind of family and roots he saw among the settlers, but ultimately recognized that he could never be like them.  The Preacher never gets that close or makes any attempt to avoid violence.  He’s always definitely “other.”  From the beginning he seems to see the final climax is inevitable and strides unswervingly toward his role in it.

Unlike Shane, there is a suggestion of the supernatural and foreknowledge about the Preacher.  A shot of Eastwood’s unclothed back in one scene shows a pattern of bullet scars, repeated during the climactic shootout on another character.  It doesn’t seem that somebody with these scars could have survived the incident that created them.

There are also links with prior Eastwood films.  The supposedly dead character who returns for revenge is a Clint Eastwood specialty (cf. High Plains Drifter and Hang ‘Em High), as is a principal character with no name (as in A Fistful of Dollars and its sequels).

Two other elements of Shane are rather obviously repeated in Pale Rider.  There is a shootout in the street, where a miner is forced to face odds that he can’t possibly beat.  In Shane, it was a laughing, black-clad Jack Palance against Elisha Cook, Jr.  Here it is the corrupt Marshal Stockburn and six duster-clad deputies against one drunk miner in the street.  The result is the same, but even more ruthless.  And instead of the young boy yelling for Shane to come back at the end, here it is the 15-year-old girl.

As in Shane (and countless other westerns), there is a climactic shootout, very effectively done, with the Preacher against Stockburn and six deputies.  The corrupt Marshal Stockburn with six hired gunmen as deputies recognizes, and is shocked by the appearance of, the Preacher during the climax.  Stockburn is played by John Russell, who over the years played head bad guy Nathan Burdette in Rio Bravo and, briefly, Bloody Bill Anderson at the start of The Outlaw Josey Wales.  This role is kind of a reference to his years as Sheriff Dan Troop of Laramie in the television series Lawman from the early 1960s.  If the head bad guy’s son looks familiar, it’s because he’s Sean Penn’s brother Christopher.

The action can be a little slow; the Preacher doesn’t even put on a gun until about two-thirds of the way through the movie.  The sense is sometimes that director Eastwood is still working out some of what he learned from Sergio Leone twenty years before, with a few more reaction close-ups and low-angle shots than are really needed to tell the story.  Eastwood also plays with light and shadow in interesting ways.  And the outdoor setting in the Sawtooth Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border is magnificent.  One of the ways it’s made clear that the bad guys are evil is by the way they despoil the environment through their hydraulic mining practices.  You can also see one of the themes here as similar to Unforgiven—the former gunman’s unsuccessful attempt to reform into a more peaceful role.   Although much about Pale Rider suggests that it’s an obvious homage to Shane, it’s very much worth watching on its own.  It’s well done, and very Clint Eastwood.


Pale Rider movie poster art by Michael Dudash. The original is in the possession of Clint Eastwood.

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Nicholas Chennault ~ August 5, 2013

Unforgiven—Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Jaimz Woolvett, Richard Harris, Saul Rubinek (1992; Dir:  Clint Eastwood)

A bleak and unyielding western, one of the two westerns that won the Best Picture Oscar in the early 1990s—a period not otherwise noted for its production of westerns.  It’s a great western, but it’s not where you’d start if you weren’t already familiar with this genre.


This is the movie that established Clint Eastwood as one of the premier directors of his time, and not just of westerns.  Eastwood is said to have approached a script that had been kicking around Hollywood for 20 years, with the intention of making the last western.  It obviously wasn’t the last in a literal sense, but it feels like it has a note of grim finality.  And Eastwood himself hasn’t made or appeared in another western since.

unforgiven1  Eastwood as William Munny

Eastwood’s performance as reformed, then unreformed, gunman William Munny is the linchpin of the film, but Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman are superb as well.  Hackman won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as sadistic sheriff Little Bill Daggett.

Farmer, widower, family man and former gunman William Munny is “a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition,” although you wouldn’t know it to see him initially in his role as a pig farmer.  He is reluctantly brought out of retirement by a young man who calls himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to collect the bounty a group of prostitutes have put on some cowboys who cut up the face of one of them in Big Whiskey, Wyoming.  Over the course of the movie Munny reverts more and more to his previously cold-blooded self, especially when his long-time sidekick Ned Logan (elegantly played by Morgan Freeman) is killed by the vicious Little Bill.  Ultimately, for Munny there is no going back to pig farming this time.  It’s a fascinating journey as the characters make their choices and play them out, their free will pitted against an increasing sense of grim inevitability.  The most moral character is probably Freeman’s, and he ends up dead.  For least admirable character, it’s kind of a toss-up between Eastwood and Hackman, and the winner is the one who’ll be the most ruthless.  It’s powerful stuff.  William Munny recognizes what he’s doing, but is relentless in doing it anyway.  “Hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

There’s running commentary by Little Bill himself, as he kind of adopts nebbish scribe W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) to explain his tactics and motivation in trying to maintain some kind of order in the violent town of Big Whiskey, while the bounty attracts all kinds of undesirables.  Among them is bounty hunter English Bob (Richard Harris), of whom Little Bill makes short work.  Beauchamp has come west in search of western stereotypes he thinks he knows, only to find that the real thing is a lot more daunting and dangerous.  Munny becomes more hard-bitten and even less verbal as the movie goes on, although he doesn’t seem to mind explaining himself to the writer, either, so far as there is an explanation other than “I’ve always been lucky when it comes to killin’ people.”  Finally, there’s a futility about it.  From the dying Little Bill:  “See you in hell, William Munny.”  “Yeah.”


For a movie whose subject is killing, with the cost of killing to both those killed and those doing the killing, this movie nevertheless carries quite a kick without anywhere near the body count of less gritty fare like Young Guns or, obviously, such classics as The Long Riders and The Wild Bunch.  For those who think of westerns as all action, beautiful horses, impressive landscapes, quick justice and the adventure of blazing guns with no introspection, this is kind of an antidote.  From Hal Herring:  “These are collisions set in motion on a grand scale that remain extremely human and comprehensible.  There has never been a set of characters so believable, yet so extreme, and, even with all of the cruelty, so likable.  You never know, exactly, who to root for.”

This is unsurprisingly rated R for violence and language.  It seems impossible to make a western with modern cinematic standards for gunfights without having an R rating, and this one is particularly grim.  This may not be a movie that one will love, but one has to see it if one loves westerns.  For the second time in three years (and only the third time ever), the Oscar for Best Picture went to a western when Unforgiven won it, and Eastwood won for Best Director.  With his respect for tradition, Eastwood dedicated the movie simply “To Don and Sergio”–his film-making mentors, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel (director of his Dirty Harry movies and Two Mules for Sister Sara).

This is the most recently-made of five westerns on the AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American movies, where it appears along with High Noon, The Searchers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch.  (There are six if you count Treasure of the Sierra Madrehttp://www.afi.com/100years/movies10.aspx)

Note:  Don’t confuse this one with the overblown, John Huston-directed The Unforgiven from 1960, with Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn (as an adopted Kiowa sister) and Audie Murphy.

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