The best (in my opinionated view) 100 films of all time - in no particular order.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Ever since 1967 I’ve been in love with a man. I was staying in London with my Aunty Jean (who was not a real aunty, but a friend of the family) when I first saw him. He was tall with a rugged face that was partly in shadow underneath a battered hat. He also carried a gun, wore a poncho and was smoking a cheroot. He was everywhere I looked in London, especially Leicester Square where his image was mounted onto a huge billboard.
His name was Clint Eastwood.
The film was A Fistful of Dollars directed by Sergio Leone and it was single-handedly responsible for reinventing and revitalising the flagging western genre. Everyone was talking about it – well, everyone except my mum who only liked soppy musicals like Hans Christian Anderson

Leone’s western was tough and uncompromising, and was (at the time) considered to be extremely violent.
The original film poster for A Fistful of Dollars
The man on the billboard was not the Clint Eastwood who had once been the clean-cut Rowdy Yates in the TV series Wagon Train. This man looked mean, grubby, unshaven and I desperately wanted to see the film. I loved westerns but it was an X Certificate and being only thirteen years old at the time, but looking only ten, there was no way I was ever going to gain admittance to any cinema in London.
I didn’t get to see the film until 1969, when it was shown over a weekend as part of a triple bill with For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (my ticket allowed me to see A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More on Saturday and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on Sunday). I was fifteen years old by then and still would not have got past the beady-eyed (and probably fascist) ticket booth attendant at the Odeon. Fortunately it was being shown at the Tivoli, a cinema that was losing customers and therefore allowed kids entrance into X-Certificates as long as they looked over thirteen and promised that they wouldn’t tell their parents. It had a non-existent security system and once inside its flea-bitten auditorium, you could smuggle your friends into the cinema via a back door that led into a corridor where the Gents toilets were situated. I finally got to see the man who had created such an impression on me two years earlier.

I loved A Fistful of Dollars so much that I began wearing a poncho myself. I thought it made me look cool. The problem was that thinking I looked cooI and actually looking cool were two entirely different things. I might possibly have looked cool if I’d not had such a baby-face and I’d been wearing my poncho in, say, Mexico or Arizona. As it was, walking around a housing estate in Blackpool wearing a patterned blanket I’d found in the ottoman chest at the foot of my mum’s bed just made me look like a bit of a prick.
“What the bloody hell are you supposed to be wearing,” mum asked me one day as I was leaving the house.

“It’s called a poncho, mum – Clint Eastwood wears one.”
“Who’s he when he’s at home?”
“He’s in A Fistful of Dollars.”
“Oh aye. And what’s that then?”
“It’s a cowboy film.”
“You and your bloody cowboy films. When are you going to grow up?”
“When I’m an adult.”
“Well, you look bloody stupid.”
“No I don’t. I look cool.”
 “Cool? You wouldn’t look cool if you were wearing it in a fridge.” She looked me up and down and a trace of anger began to show in her eyes. “Hang on, isn’t that the blanket your Uncle Chris brought back for me from Morocco.”
“Errrrrmm,” I said.
“Have you cut a bloody hole in it?”
“Ummmm,” I said, not wanting to say any real words for fear of incriminating myself even further.
Needless to say it was the end of my poncho-wearing days and the beginning of a long period of remaining in my room and only being allowed downstairs at meal times.

I bet Clint Eastwood never got grounded. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Sergio Leone almost got grounded after the release, throughout mainland Europe in 1964, of A Fistful of Dollars.
Back in 1960 John Sturges directed a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film Shichinin no Samurai – except he called his version The Magnificent Seven. Maybe you remember it. Since The Magnificent Seven, Shichinin no Samurai (or Seven Samurai if it makes you feel more comfortable) has been remade twice – once as Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), and more recently as A Bug’s Life (1998).

A Fistful of Dollars was also a remake of an Akira Kurosawa film. This time the film was Yojimbo (1961), which was itself influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 hard-boiled crime novel Red Harvest. Leone’s  problem lay in the fact that neither he or his production company never actually attempted to gain the remake rights to Yojimbo, which resulted in Kurosawa filing a plagiarism lawsuit that delayed the release of A Fistful of Dollars in North America and the UK for three years. It was eventually released worldwide in 1967. Yojimbo was remade again (officially, this time) by Walter Hill in 1996 as Last Man Standing.
I won’t dwell on the bad history of A Fistful of Dollars but, instead, I’ll list three of its merits.

1.  The production budget was so low that Leone used close-ups on the actor’s faces not just to convey emotion, but also to disguise the lack of sets. It worked and the extreme close-up became one of his trademark techniques.
2.     The soundtrack was by Ennio Morricone.
3.     Clint Eastwood was a badass.

This wasn’t Sergio Leone’s first film, although he often inferred that it was. It was his first western, but not his first feature film – before then he had made a couple of run-of-the-mill Sword & Sandal movies. It brings to mind what James Cameron said a few years later when he was being interviewed about his film The Terminator. I can’t remember his exact words but what he said went something like this: I wanted to create something special for my first feature. Now, that would have been brilliant if The Terminator had actually been his first feature and he had not conveniently forgotten about the totally forgettable Piranha 2: The Flying Killers.
When all’s said and done, A Fistful of Dollars is a fantastic film. It did away with white hats and black hats in the western genre. The films that followed, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly were, I must say, better than the first in Leone’s classic trilogy, but it was the impact of that first film that has stuck with me all this time and it’s one I’ll never forget.

Before I ride off into the sunset, the three films of the Dollars trilogy should really be viewed thus:

1.     The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
2.     A Fistful of Dollars
3.     For A Few Dollars More
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars and not a sequel to For A Few Dollars More.

Happy trails.