Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Dollars Trilogy (Sergio Leone)

The Dollars Trilogy is a group of three films by director Sergio Leone - A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. It is often heralded for the birth of the Spaghetti Western, redefining the ageing Western genre and merging it with an Italian influence (such Westerns would also include Spanish influence). As a result, The Dollars Trilogy is often referred to as The Spaghetti Western Trilogy as Sergio Leone's films are by far the most well known.

Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name
'The Good'
Source: Wikipedia
In actual fact, European 'Spaghetti' Westerns had been around since the beginning of cinema, and typically featured a low budget combined with a completely different view on the traditional American Western. Because of their small funding, they relied on a small profit to create the next film, and the market was very saturated.

An upstart called Sergio Leone fancied a piece of the market and, having previously worked as an assistant on the Italian drama Bicycle Thieves, he penned A Fistful Of Dollars. The story is often compared to Yojimbo, a Japanese story about one man setting crime lords off against each other for his financial reward (Leone later faced a legal challenge from Yojimbo's director for his efforts).

Nowadays, Clint Eastwood would be seen as a coup for the upstart Leone but back in 1964, however, Eastwood had only a handful of minor films and a series of Rawhide to show for his brief acting career. Despite his co-star on Rawhide being offered the job before him (and rejecting it), Eastwood was hired for filming in a remote region of Spain in 1963.

Lee van Cleef as The Man In Black
'The Bad'

Despite very much being Sergio Leone's film, Clint Eastwood was instrumental in creating his character including the design of the clothing and his quirks. It was agreed that Eastwood's character would never be referred to by name and only became known as "Joe". He would later go on to be referred to as The Man With No Name - the protagonist anti-hero central to all of the trilogy.

A Fistful of Dollars was released in 1964 to huge critical acclaim throughout Europe but it would take another three years for the film to reach the other side of the Atlantic. In the USA it was greeted with surprise from officials for the violent content and a prologue was filmed in order to justify Joe's actions.

Following the somewhat surprise success of A Fistful Of Dollars, Sergio Leone turned his mind to creating a second film. It is worth noting that Leone never intended to create a trilogy, but wanted to continue developing separate films. He was thoroughly aware that Eastwood was the outstanding on screen star and knew he had to secure his signature for a second film and it was Eastwood's character that the film studios managed to link to each film so that they could be marketed together.

Eli Wallach as Tuco
'The Ugly'
Source: Notes of a film fanatic
Also drafted in to A Fistful Of Dollars was Lee van Cleef (following Eastwood's Rawhide co-star rejection again) as Eastwood's on-screen bounty rival and Gian Maria Volonté as the bank-robbing Indio.

For A Few Dollars More was released in Europe a year after its predecessor and, due to the delay on A Fistful of Dollars, four months after its predecessor in the United States. Once again, it was critically acclaimed and the arrival of Lee van Cleef was a welcome addition.

Now that he had two outstanding films under his belt, Leone began to be approached by studios in America for a third instalment. United Artists managed to persuade him to direct the third film - albeit this time with a far higher budget that the other two Dollars films.

Once again, Eastwood and van Cleef were signed up as "The Good" and "The Bad" - neither character had a name and were referred to as Blondie and Angel Eyes respectively. Eli Wallach was also signed as the third member of the gang, Tuco "The Ugly".

The name of the film (and thus the characters alternative names) was not thought up until halfway through production, with United Artists hoping for a nod to The Man With No Name. Leone, meanwhile, was working under the name The Two Magnificent Tramps - referring to Blondie and Tuco's financial deal. Eventually, Luciano Vincenzoni, the film's screenwriter, mentioned The Good, The Ugly, The Bad - a concept which Leone loved.

Once again, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was released a year after its predecessor in Europe and a few months later than For A Few Dollars More in the United States. Initially it was ridiculed for being overly violent and was generally not received very well. Views have changed over time (especially in regards to violence), and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly now regularly features in top movie lists worldwide.

As for the main people connected with the films, Eli Wallach moved into minor roles which he still fulfills to this day (he is currently 96 years old!). Lee van Cleef also went back into obscurity - although his life changed so that he became well known for the number of spaghetti westerns he was cast in. A year after his trilogy, Sergio Leone was asked to direct Once Upon A Time In The West for Paramount Pictures. He later returned with Once Upon A Time In America but other than that he also moved into general obscurity.

As for Clint Eastwood? Let's just say he made a few dollars more.


  1. This is an excellent and well put together post on the Dollars Trilogy. These movies were fantastic when I was young and they are still great today. Whenever I am channel surfing and I run into one of these, I will finish watching it no matter where in the movie I come in. Well done review.

    1. Thanks, Chuck. You're a gentleman.

      They are just a brilliant set of films.