Monday, July 26, 2010

The Man with No Name

Classic Clint on Blu-ray

By David Luhrssen
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A barely perceptible silhouette crawls forward on the trail, a slight shadow on the face of the rocky desert. The silhouette is a horseman at the onset of For A Few Dollars More and the only sounds are the absent-minded humming and jangling of the distant rider—until a rifle shot cracks the stillness and the tiny silhouette collapses. The perspective is like that of an uncaring god, mirroring the director’s vantage on his material. For Sergio Leone, the American West was not his heritage even if it was his fascination. Unencumbered by any romanticized, Davy Crockett notions of frontier life, Leone was free to portray the West as it sometimes was—a nasty brutal field for avarice.

Leone was not the first to direct a “spaghetti Western,” but was the first to enjoy any success in the nascent genre. Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), a Spanish-German-Italian co-production at a time when filmmaking was becoming less tied to national cinemas, was a runaway hit on the European continent and in Japan—where its similarity to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was evident—before its 1967 release in the U.S. and U.K. A Fistful of Dollars and Leone’s next two films, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, have been packaged in a Blu-ray set called “The Man With No Name Trilogy.”

Although the spaghetti Western genre produced little else of note, Leone’s trilogy elevated an American television actor, Clint Eastwood, into an international star. The unnamed characters he played spoke tersely and were endowed with the deadly glare that would serve Eastwood well in the future. In A Fistful of Dollars he first appears with his back to the camera; gradually his unshaven visage is revealed—a face of few emotions. Eastwood’s characters are supremely self-assured, a confidence born out by an amazing proficiency with guns and ability to instantly size-up any situation.

The downbeat yet supremely cool mood for Leone’s trilogy was set by the remarkable scores of Ennio Morricone, who conceived Western music for an era of electric guitars—a sound as lonesome as the desert wind stirring the sage on the bad lands of the imagination.

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