Upon his return to the United States for the seventh season of “Rawhide,” Clint Eastwood’s career was on the upswing. Although he had become a new celebrity, it was in Italy, where “A Fistful of Dollars” enjoyed immense success, that Eastwood’s star shone the brightest.
For Eastwood, Sergio Leone’s film, filmed in Spain, provided a refreshing opportunity to break away from traditional Western conventions. Unlike the constraints of American television Westerns, where the hero always upheld a moral code, this international production allowed Eastwood to think outside the box.
Eastwood recalled the freedoms of Fistful of Dollars in a 1964 interview with James Bacon of the Associated Press.
“It’s so far out that I guess you could call it a James Bond Western. I’m supposed to be the hero, but there’s only a thin line between me and the heavy.”
“In fact, I kill 25 people in the movie and end up burning down the whole town. I’m no Sir Galahad like Shane.”
“I’m on a 28-year-old horse and I look like a refugee hermit. I settle all arguments with gunfire. I think I do one good deed in the whole picture.”
The shift in the movie wasn’t limited to action; it also provided Clint Eastwood with the opportunity to make fresh and distinctive acting decisions in his portrayal of the enigmatic character known as the Man with No Name.
“When I read the script, I told the director and producers that either this picture is the greatest flop of all time — or else it’s the best Western satire yet. I played it as satire, a little tongue-in-cheek. Apparently, we succeeded in Italy, at least. They’re sharp audiences.”
Whether Eastwood’s satirical take on the cowboy genre registered with an American audience or not, it certainly changed the trajectory of his career.