A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari) is a 1964 Italian-Spanish Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood alongside Gian Maria Volonté , Marianne Koch , Wolfgang Lukschy , Sieghardt Rupp , José Calvo , Antonio Prieto , and Joseph Egger . Released in Italy in 1964 then in the United States in 1967, it initiated the popularity of the Spaghetti Western film genre. It was followed by For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), also starring Eastwood. Collectively, the films are commonly known as the "Dollars Trilogy " or "The Man With No Name Trilogy". This film is an unofficial remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (1961), which itself drew inspiration from earlier Westerns. In the United States, the United Artists publicity campaign referred to Eastwood's character in all three films as the "Man with No Name ".
As one of the first Spaghetti Westerns to be released in the United States, many of the European cast and crew took on American sounding stage names. These included Leone himself ("Bob Robertson"), Gian Maria Volonté ("Johnny Wels"), and composer Ennio Morricone ("Dan Savio").
A Fistful of Dollars was shot in Spain, mostly near Hoyo de Manzanares, close to Madrid, but also (like its two sequels) in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park in Almería province.
A stranger (Clint Eastwood), arrives at the little Mexican border town of San Miguel . An innkeeper, Silvanito (José Calvo), tells the Stranger about the bitter feud between two families vying to gain control of the town: on the one side, the Rojo brothers, consisting of Don Miguel (Antonio Prieto) (the eldest and nominally in charge), Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) (the most headstrong), and Ramón (the most capable and intelligent, played by Gian Maria Volonté); on the other, the family of the town sheriff, John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy).
A stranger, Joe (Eastwood), with innkeeper Silvanito (José Calvo), watches as Mexican soldiers bring a shipment of gold through San Miguel.The Stranger, spying an opportunity to make money from the situation, decides to play both families against each other. His opportunity comes when a detachment of Mexican soldiers escorting a shipment of gold passes through the town. The gold is ostensibly being delivered to a troop of American soldiers in exchange for weapons, but following the Mexican troops out of town, the Stranger witnesses them being massacred by members of the Rojo gang, dressed in American uniforms and led by Ramon Rojo. The Rojos take the gold.
The Stranger takes two of the bodies to a nearby cemetery and sells information to both sides that two Mexican soldiers survived the attack. Both sides race to the cemetery, the Baxters to get the "survivors" to testify against the Rojos, the Rojos to silence them. The factions engage in a fierce gunfight, with Ramon managing to "kill" the "survivors" and Esteban capturing John Baxter's son, Antonio . While the Rojos and the Baxters are fighting, the Stranger searches the Rojo hacienda for the gold, but accidentally knocks out Ramón's beautiful prisoner and unwilling mistress, Marisol (Marianne Koch), when she surprises him. He takes her to the Baxters, who in turn arrange to return her to the Rojos in exchange for Antonio.
During the exchange, the Stranger learns Marisol's history from Silvanito: "... a happy little family until trouble comes along. And trouble is the name of Ramon, claiming the husband cheated at cards, which wasn't true. He gets the wife to live with him as hostage." That night, while the Rojos are celebrating, the Stranger rides out and frees Marisol, shooting the guards and wrecking the house in which she is being held in order to make it appear as if it was attacked by the Baxters. The Stranger tells Marisol, her husband , and their son to leave town, at the same time giving them some money to tide them over. Marisol asks the Stranger, "Why do you do this for us?", and for the first and only time the Stranger provides an insight into his actions: "Why? Because I knew someone like you once. There was no one there to help. Now get moving".
Discovering that he freed Marisol, the Rojos capture and beat the Stranger, but he escapes, killing Chico (Mario Brega) in the process. Believing the Stranger to be protected by the Baxters, the Rojos set fire to the Baxter home and massacre all the residents as they are forced to flee. Among the dead are John Baxter, his wife, Consuelo (Margarita Lozano), and Antonio. Now the only gang left in San Miguel, the Rojos confront and beat Silvanito, whom they think is hiding the Stranger.
The Stranger returns to town, where he faces the Rojos in a dramatic showdown. With a steel chest plate hidden beneath his clothing, he taunts Ramon to "aim for the heart" as Ramon's rifle shots bounce off. Killing all present except Ramon, the Stranger challenges Ramon to reload his rifle faster than he, the Stranger, can reload his pistol. He then shoots and kills Ramon. Esteban Rojo, unseen by the Stranger and aiming at him from a nearby building, is shot dead by Silvanito. The Stranger says his goodbyes and rides from the town.
- Clint Eastwood as Joe, the foreigner ("The Man with No Name")
- Gian Maria Volonté (as Johnny Wels) as Ramón Rojo
- Marianne Koch as Marisol
- José Calvo (as Jose Calvo) as Silvanito
- Joseph Egger (as Joe Edger) as Piripero
- Antonio Prieto as Don Miguel Rojo
- Sieghardt Rupp (as S. Rupp) as Esteban Rojo
- Wolfgang Lukschy (as W. Lukschy) as John Baxter
- Margarita Lozano (as Margherita Lozano) as Donna Consuelo Baxter
- Bruno Carotenuto (as Carol Brown) as Antonio Baxter
- Mario Brega (as Richard Stuyvesant) as Chico
- Daniel Martín as Julián
- Aldo Sambrell (as Aldo Sambreli) as Rubio
- Benito Stefanelli (as Benny Reeves) as Dougy
- Lorenzo Robledo: Baxter's member
The film's music was written by Ennio Morricone, credited as Dan Savio. Morricone recalled Leone requesting him to write "Dimitri Tiomkin music" for the film. The trumpet theme is similar to Tiomkin's El Degüello theme from Rio Bravo (1959) (that was called Un dollaro d'onore in Italy) while the opening title whistling music recalls Tiomkin's use of whistling in his Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). "Some of the music was written before the film, which is unusual. Leone's films were made like that because he wanted the music to be an important part of it, and he often kept the scenes longer simply because he didn't want the music to end. That's why the films are so slow - because of the music." Though not used in the completed film, Peter Tevis recorded lyrics to Morricone's theme for the film. As a movie tie-in to the American release, United Artists Records released a different set of lyrics to Morricone's theme called Lonesome One by Little Anthony and the Imperials.
- When the film was to air on ABC as a television movie, a four and a half minute prolugue was added depicting the Stranger being offered a pordon by an unidentified official to clean up the situation at San Miguel. The Stranger is shown vaguely, making it easier to hide the fact that the Stranger here was not portrayed by Clint Eastwood. The reason this scene was added was as a moral justification to American viewers for its violence.