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A Fistful Of Dollars Remake Is A Fool’s Errand – But Not For The Reason You Think

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Westerns, once the most reliable of Hollywood film genres, were no longer quite the guaranteed box office draw they used to be in the early 1960s. When John Ford delivered what felt like the eulogy for the classical version of the form with “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the door swung open for cynical revisionists like Sam Peckinpah. If you wanted to watch morally upright cowboys contending with outlaws and rustlers, television became the venue for such conventional tales.

One of the most popular shows on TV at the time was CBS’ “Rawhide,” which featured a rising young star named Clint Eastwood. After several seasons of driving cattle as the upstart Rowdy Yates, Eastwood grew restless and spent his 1963 hiatus shooting an Italian-financed Western in Spain. The quick-and-cheap production — with its comparatively explicit violence, moral ambiguity and groovy Ennio Morricone score — looked and sounded unlike any Western before it. It was shocking, controversial and a commercial hit just about everywhere it played.

“A Fistful of Dollars” changed the Western forever, and announced Sergio Leone as an exciting young talent. Producer Alberto Grimaldi quickly ordered a sequel, “For a Few Dollars More,” on which Leone made a startling leap forward as a filmmaker. It’s a formally exhilarating work that dusts its predecessor in every narrative and technical aspect. Leone and many other talented Spaghetti Western practitioners were off and running — leaving “A Fistful of Dollars” looking quaint by comparison.

While “A Fistful of Dollars” was a hit in the U.S. when it was finally released in 1967, it was quickly overshadowed that very year by Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Factor in that many cinephiles had also seen Kurosawa’s superior “Yojimbo,” and the first installment in what became known as the “Dollars trilogy” now looked woefully derivative. It had served its purpose as a Western.

So why remake it 60 years later?

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