Sergio Leone’s “Per un pugno di dollari” (***1/2 out of ****) ranks not only as a landmark horse opera in the history of the western but also in evolution of the spaghetti western. Hollywood had been churning out westerns since “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903, and the Italians had been cloning those westerns before Leone revolutionized them with this Clint Eastwood epic. Indeed, mainly on the plains of Spain, Leone would reinvent the western and make it more violent than it had been until Sam Peckinpah broke new ground with his controversial 1969 western “The Wild Bunch.” “Per un pugno di dollari” altered everything and forged a new hero who was for all practical purposes an anti-hero. Joe (Clint Eastwood) shoots first in a duel, wears stubble on his jaws, and seems motivated largely by money. At one point, he behaves like a guardian angel, but for the most part, he is in it for what he can get out of it. Leone had to pare this sagebrusher down to its quintessential components because of a shoestring budget. Nevertheless, despite its financial shortcomings, this Italian-German-Spanish co-production looks fantastic in its 2.35.1 letterbox format and the Spanish and Roman locale double more or less invisibly to the simple but exciting plot. Most die-hand “Dollar” fans know that Leone and producers Arrigo Colombo and Giorgio Papi had to settle a copyright infringement suit with Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” before they could release the film outside of Italy. Leone maintained that eighteenth Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni’s play “A Servant with Two Masters” inspired “Per un pugno di dollari,” but the courts ruled in Kurosawa’s favor.
Later, Joe returns to the scene of the massacre and appropriates two Mexican bodies and deposits them in the local graveyard. He earns $500 from each the Rojos and the Baxters when he tells them about the surviving soldiers. While the two clans are shooting at each in the graveyard, Joe finds Ramón’s gold and runs into Marisol. He punches her in the face quite by accident and then hands her over to the Baxters who engineer a trade for their son.
"A Fistful of Dollars" is not without flaws. Of course,Ramón should have put a bullet in Joe's head instead of repeatedly shooting him in the heart in the final duel. Clearly, however, the villain must have his own flaws and Ramón's incredulity at his failure to kill Joe with his first shots undermined him. Chico should have smashed up Joe's right hand--his gun hand--instead of stomping on his left hand. Curiously, nobody ever gets the gold that Ramón stole from the Mexicans and concealed in his warehouse. Did the Baxters have to pour out of the front door of their headquarters during the massacre? Couldn't they have exited by the back doors. Presumably, the low budget prevented this alternative from being staged. Esteban could have shot Joe down from ambush when Joe empties his gun before the final duel with Ramón.