Friday, 13 September 2019

A Fistful of Dollars: 55 Years since Italian Premiere

I was reminded yesterday by our friend Jayne Smart that yesterday (September 12th) marked the 55th Anniversary since A Fistful of Dollars made its Italian premiere in 1964. I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a little bit of post history and why the film was delayed in other countries. For this particular post, I have borrowed from Wiki, which is all pretty accurate.
Sergio Leone counting his Dollars
Initially, releasing A Fistful of Dollars was difficult, basically because no major distributor wanted to take a chance on a faux-Western and an unknown director. The film ended up being released in September, which is typically the worst month for sales. The film was shunned by the Italian critics, who gave it extremely negative reviews. However, at a grassroots level, its popularity spread, and it grossed $4 million in Italy, about three billion lire. American critics felt quite differently from their Italian counterparts, with Variety praising it as having ‘a James Bondian vigor and tongue-in-cheek approach that was sure to capture both sophisticates and average cinema patrons’. The release of the film was delayed in the UK and the United States, because distributors feared being sued by Akira Kurosawa, as A Fistful of Dollars was immediately identified as an unofficial remake of his film, Yojimbo (1961). As a result, A Fistful of Dollars was not shown in American and UK cinemas until 1967. This made it difficult for the American public or Hollywood to understand what was happening to Clint in Italy at the time. An American actor making films in Italy met with considerable prejudice, and was seen in Hollywood as taking a step backward, rather than a career development.
A Fistful of Dollars was released in Italy in September 12, 1964. Over the film's theatrical release, it grossed more than any other Italian film up to that point. In January 1967 the film premiered in the United States grossing $4.5 million for the year. It eventually grossed $14.5 million in its American release. In 1969 it was re-released, earning $1.2 million in rentals.
Upon the film's American release in 1967, both Philip French and Bosley Crowther were not impressed with the film itself. Critic Philip French of The Observer stated:
‘The calculated sadism of the film would be offensive were it not for the neutralising laughter aroused by the ludicrousness of the whole exercise. If one didn't know the actual provenance of the film, one would guess that it was a private movie made by a group of rich European Western fans at a dude ranch... A Fistful of Dollars looks awful, has a flat dead soundtrack, and is totally devoid of human feeling.’ June 11th, 1967
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times treated the film not as pastiche, but as camp-parody, stating that nearly every Western cliché could be found in this ‘egregiously synthetic but engrossingly morbid, violent film’. He went on to patronise Eastwood's performance, stating: ‘He is simply another fabrication of a personality, half cowboy and half gangster, going through the ritualistic postures and exercises of each... He is a morbid, amusing, campy fraud’ February 2nd, 1967
The retrospective reception of A Fistful of Dollars has been much more positive, noting it as a hugely influential film in regards to the rejuvenation of the Western genre. The 67th Cannes Film Festival, held in 2014, celebrated the "50th anniversary of the birth of the Spaghetti Western... by showing A Fistful of Dollars". Quentin Tarantino, prior to hosting the event, in a press-release described the film as ‘the greatest achievement in the history of Cinema.’

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