Considering how influential this film was in kickstarting the ‘Spaghetti’ Western, the careers of director Sergio Leone & composer Ennio Morricone (billed here as Dan Savio), and in pulling Clint Eastwood up from small screen to large, they’ve sure taken their time putting out a decent edition! Bad old versions may still be about, but a proper restoration, made for the 2008 Blu-Ray, set things right all ‘round. The trouble likely stems from the original negative which used a cut-rate WideScreen process called TechniScope that loaded two images onto every frame of 35mm film. (Leone used it for all his Westerns.) The loaded image doubled the width by using only half the space on each negative frame (putting one picture on top of the other). It was then squeezed and printed for projection in full-frame 35mm anamorphic; ‘pushing’ the grain in unpleasant ways that made even new prints look like dupes. So, kudos to whomever returned to the original negative to get the most out of them; and kudos to the film for being worth the effort. Like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN/’60, it’s an Akira Kurosawa remake (YOJIMBO/’61, uncredited), redressed from Samurai Japanese to South-of-the-Border Western (filmed, of course, in Spain). The story gimmick is that Eastwood, an opportunistic stranger in a violently divided town, manages to sell his loyalty & info (sequentially) to both sides, carefully pocketing fees from each faction. Leone’s later films enlarged on the basic model with his considerable talents & personal style intact, but the bigger scale (in the physical production as well as in plots & less abstracted characterizations) could feel a bit calculated in comparison to this succinct beauty.
DOUBLE-BILL: Leone followed up with Eastwood in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE/’65, but it’s not really a sequel. Imagine your own by returning to Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO/’61 before watching that film’s even better actual sequel, SANJURO/’62.