“A Fistful of Dollars” is the first part to the world famous “Dollars” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood as an unnamed gunslinger that ended with the iconic “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Though I had seen the other 2 parts, I had never seen the first movie in the trilogy. “A Fistful of Dollars” is an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” but set in 1800’s Mexico instead of Japan. The movie is famous for starting the careers of director Sergo Leone and Clint Eastwood and kick starting the Spaghetti Western movement (Italian made westerns). So it’s an Italian remake of a Japanese movie set in Mexico with an American lead actor. The film’s editors are Roberto Cinquini and Alfonso Santacana.
For this post, I’ll analyze the editing used in the famous “Get 3 coffins ready” scene from the film and how it’s used to build tension. As The Man With No Name enters a crime ravaged town in Mexico, a group of bandits try to intimidate him by firing their guns at No Name’s mule, causing it to run away in fear. After a short conversation with a bar tender, No Name learns of the town’s situation (divided between two rival gangs) and sets off to where the group of bandits are hanging out.
As he passes a coffin maker, No Name tells him to get three coffins ready, setting up the scene and informing the audience that No Name is planning on killing the bandits from earlier. As he walks towards the bandits, the camera cuts.
Showing the bandits moving to confront No Name. The movie cuts between the two twice before a new shot is introduced.
Showing a third party,Ramon, the leader of a rival gang in the town, watching the confrontation and judging No Name’s skill with a gun.
Finally, No Name and the bandits are in the same frame. The Bandits stand in foreground, No Name as the focal point in the middle and Ramon’s house in the background. The editing in this shot shows the space in which all the characters are and sets the scene for the confrontation.
The film cuts between the bandits and No Name in shot-reverse shot. No Name begins asking the bandits to apologize to his mule for scaring it, the bandits meeting the request with amusement.
The movie then cuts to close up of No Name and makes it obvious that his request is not a joke….
Then to a close up of a bandit as he realizes it as well. The shift in editing and acting emphasizes the growing threat of violence.
The shots of No Name and the bandits are then inter cut with shots of other things, like a bandit slowly reaching for his gun and several bystanders watching from the flanks. The shots keeps cutting between these as the music swells and reaches its climax….
Where No Name pulls his gun and slays all four bandits as the scene climaxes and ends, relieving the tension of the scene. This set up for gun fights would soon become the staple for gunfights to come as the Spaghetti Westerns exploded. The “Mexican Standoff” is widely used in action movies, even today.