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The Man with No Name Trilogy

MGM Home Entertainment
3 - DVD Box set containing:

Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari)
1964, 100 minutes
Color, Standard (Flat) and Widescreen (not 16:9 enhanced) versions
Double sided, single layer
Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles English and French
Starring Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonte, Wolfgang Lukschy, Seighardt Rupp, Joe Egger, Aldo Sambrell, Mario Brega
Music by Ennio Morricone
Written by A. Bonzzoni, Jaime Comas
Directed by Sergio Leone

For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più)
1965, 131 minutes
Color, Widescreen (not 16:9 enhanced)
Single sided, single layer
Dolby digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono French
Subtitles English, French and Spanish
Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Maria Krup, Luigi Pistilli, Klaus Kinski, Joseph Egger, Aldo Sambrell
Music by Ennio Morricone
Screenplay by Luciano Vincenzoni
Directed by Sergio Leone

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo)
1966, 161 minutes
color, Widescreen 16:9 enhanced
Single sided, dual layer
Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono French, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish
Subtitles English French and Spanish
Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli,
Music by Ennio Morricone
Screenplay by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone
Directed by Sergio Leone

Note, 6.02.07: these films have been remastered as special editions; Savant's review is here.

MGM Home Video has packaged their first DVD box set, which combines all three of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood films, in special gift packaging.

Originally released in America in 1967, the three 'dollars' films were Italian productions spread out across several years. Sergio Leone, an energetic and creative director whose previous film, The Colossus of Rhodes, was a solid hit in the sword'n sandal or peplum genre launched by Hercules (1957), had also gained notoriety by claiming to be the assistant director on Robert Aldrich's Italian production Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), even though he was fired after only a day. As other Italians looked to other genres to supplant the waning peplum format, Leone created a uniquely styled, hardboiled, internationally viable series of Westerns that would make a major star out of a second string television actor and change the Western forever.

Leone's style jettisoned ingredients deemed essential in Hollywood and introduced his own ideas into a fading genre. Glamour, prettiness, historical sentimentality and moral preaching were out. Violence, ruthlessness, and materialist practicality were in. Leone added his own stylistic simplicity and dynamic visual sense. The surface of the genre was stripped to its brutal core, but Leone's striking characters and arena-like landscapes seemed to reveal a mythical foundation beneath, that American Westerns rarely touched upon. As the series progressed, the films became yet more formal and visually alienated. The characters' most subtle movements and eye-twitchings, often in extended, huge closeups, became elements of a mysterious codified world of their own. Astute reviewers described Leone's style as 'operatic' and compared his haunted, murderous gunslingers to the refined, stylised characters of Japanese Kabuki plays.

This was pretty stiff art-talk for a series of gritty 'oaters' produced in Italy, in a film culture where commercial exploitation was geared for maximum lira and often little else. While most producers were grinding out Maciste sagas or shoestring horror films, Leone somehow got started with a remake of a Japanese samurai film, scored by a tyro musical talent named Ennio Morricone, and created his own piece of Western history.

The five Leone Spaghetti Westerns are presently the most popular Westerns of all time - the John Ford crowd seem to have aged demographically, and the Peckinpah devout are vocal but small in number. The legion of Leone fans, however, crossover seamlessly from the beer-and-football type to art film devotees. His style has never gone out of fashion and is immediately recognizable in parodies and televison commercials, like the current Del Taco spots.

Fistful of Dollars (there's no "A" onscreen, probably a goof by the producer of the animated titles) copies Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo almost shot for shot in telling its wicked tale of an utterly opportunistic gunslinger who wanders into a feud between rival gangs in a woebegotten town. Impossibly self-assured, he manipulates both sides against a greedy middle, precipitating a bloodbath and piling up ironies of fate faster than he piles up bodies. A good portion of Leone's style emerges fullgrown in the low angles, slow buildups to lightning-fast action, and in particular the nonverbal communication of most story points - which greatly helped international audience enthusiasm. The original credits changed Leone to 'Bob Robertson,' and composer Ennio Morricone to 'Dan Savio'; only later were they given proper billing. Most of the actors and many of the crew were left unbilled or given weird truncated or Anglicized names.

As a DVD, Fistful is a mixed blessing. The features have diminished, with fewer audio tracks and languages than the previous releases. The non-enhanced widescreen transfer looks quite good, as does the flat pan'n scan version encoded on the opposite side of the disc. Compared to the earlier laser, the letterboxed picture is a 100% improvement. If the pan'n scan looks particularly grainy, consider that all three of the 'dollar' films were shot in Techniscope, a clever money-saving format that exposed only half of a 35mm frame by pulling down two perfs instead of four, between frames. Technicolor processing made up the difference in quality when the image was blown up and squeezed into a normal anamorphic projection print, but when a Techniscope film is pan'n scanned, what results is a bleary blowup of an image area smaller than 16mm. This is why television prints of many European productions look so miserable in American broadcasts and VHS tapes (or at least one reason). The audio track is an improvement over earlier tape releases. The original English language mixing job was a really inferior mono track - previously there was even a 60 cycle buzz audible in quiet moments - but the DVD has apparently been given extra effort. For extras, there is only an American trailer. MGM's insert booklet is more insightful than usual.

For a Few Dollars More took a year to follow Fistful in Europe, but came out almost simultaneously in America. Here Leone stretches his canvas, adding an ambitious flashback structure to the plot pitting two very different bounty hunters against a really nasty gang of bank robbers headed by the same head baddie from the first film, Gian Maria Volonte. Leone also weaves the melody associated with a muscial watch into the structure of the film. Clever uses of music as a narrative device became more and more pronounced in his later Once Upon a Time... films, where the cues actually came first, with Leone building his sequences around them. Perhaps a bit slow, this second film film can boast some of the slickest gundowns in the series and for horror film fans has a twitchy performance from favorite Klaus Kinski. At one point Lee Van Cleef actually strikes a match on his gritty neck!

The Man with No Name appears to be a concept for the dollars films invented by clever United Artists publicity men. In each of the Italian originals, the Eastwood character has a given name. In For a Few, it is Manco, which in both Italian and Spanish means 'crippled,' or one-armed. In Spanish it has an extra colloquial meaning of thief: calling someone Manco implies that he's light-fingered and is running the risk of having a hand lopped off as a punishment.

The DVD of For a Few Dollars More, actually a year old, is a frustration. It is the best presentation of the film so far available after decades of trimmed copies in a variety of versions. The bits still outstanding are fairly insignificant. But, painfully, much of the audio is out of sync. The post-dubbed dialog is sometimes difficult to ascribe to the mouth movements, but for long stretches of For a Few, gunshots happen a split second before they are heard. This really harms the impact of Eastwood's triple-spin gundown of three killers in a bar in the earlier part of the film. Anyone claiming the audio to be correct can plainly see the offset in Eastwood's consequent sideways shooting of a man on the barroom floor. The track is just plain out. This cripples the disc almost as badly as bad sync sinks Warners' musical Camelot, huge sections of which are half-a-word off.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is by far the most famous of Leone's films, having the signature Morricone theme, a grandiose production budget that stages entire Civil War battles as a sideshow for the antics of a trio of greedy treasure hunters, and the added charm of Eli Wallach's Tuco, who personifies the comedic side of Leone in a perfect performance of unusual depth. A fairly standard piece-together-the-mystery search for a gold-laden grave is set against the contrasting styles of its three protagonists, who for American audiences were arranged in a moral hierarchy contrary to Leone's intentions. Scenes cut from the international release slightly balance the sadism of the Van Cleef character Angel Eyes, making nonsense of the labels slapped on the trio in their freeze-frame introductions. Blondie's (Eastwood) moral code is only a few clicks less odious than Angel Eyes, and Tuco's exuberant gusto, even when doublecrossing his partners, comes off as downright loveable under the mercenary circumstances. GBU would appear to be a prequel to the other two films, not only because the Civil War usually predates the typical Western millieu, but because Eastwood's Blondie acquires his trademark serape near the end of the film, from a dying soldier to whom he lends a last smoke.

The DVD of GBU is the same as the one issued in January of '98, and is still a terrific disc. Its 16:9 anamorphic enhanced picture looks crystal clear on the largest widescreen monitor, far outstripping its companion films. The audio is crisp, punchy monaural. The MGM archivists, after talking to the original producers of these movies, have concluded that they were all only finished monaural, and that the oft-talked about 'stereo originals,' are a myth.

The extras include 14 minutes from the original Italian cut of the film, accessible through a not- particularly friendly menu system but rewarding to Leone fans. Each of the clips adds more depth to the story. A full rundown on the extras is the subject of a Savant Good, Bad & Ugly restoration article, recently revised with new information. MGM is presently attempting to restore even MORE footage to GBU, news of which will be reported on DVD Savant as it becomes, well, reportable.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Man With No Name Trilogy Box Set rates:

Fistful of Dollars
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Fair
Supplements: Poor

For a Few Dollars More
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Poor
Supplements: Poor

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Excellent

Packaging: Three Keep-Cases in a decorated gift box.
Reviewed: November 4, 1999.

Text © Copyright 1999 Glenn Erickson

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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