13 May 2024

'The Man With No Name' returns to Blu-ray

From Widescreen, 3:01 pm on 13 May 2024

Physical media is now almost entirely aimed at collectors but luckily there are some special packages being put together to keep us interested.

Still from the 1965 spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More featuring Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name".

Photo: ViaVision

Even collectors are having a tough time enjoying physical media these days. If your passion was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar or Star Wars, you now have to scratch that itch in expensive fashion by importing discs from overseas. Disney pulled out of the DVD business in Australia and New Zealand last year and have subcontracted it to Sony for the rest of the world.

Luckily, there are a few boutique labels producing attractive and unusual packages, to keep those of us that love shiny things happy.

Earlier this year, Australia’s ViaVision put out a special two-disc Blu-ray set of the first two “Man With No Name” spaghetti westernsA Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. The box has a that funky lenticular design in which the cover picture moves as you tilt it. There are also a collectible set of six photos from the two films. The boxes are also numbered, guaranteeing that your copy is one of only 1500 produced worldwide.

But is that enough to set collector pulses pounding?

When I mentioned on social media yesterday that I was watching these two films I got a few replies from people roughly my age saying they remembered watching those films for the first time with their dads, either at the cinema or on VHS. For a lot of people, these legendary Sergio Leone films will bring those memories flooding back, helped by Ennio Morricone’s iconic music. I’m still humming For a Few Dollars More now, twenty-four hours after the film finished.

That’s despite the fact that I hadn’t even seen For a Few Dollars More before yesterday. I remembered watching A Fistful of Dollars as a kid but, even then, I was a sequel snob and assumed that the second film would be inferior. Reader, how wrong I was.

Still from the 1965 spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More

Photo: ViaVision

Clint Eastwood was an ageing Western TV star in 1964, hoping to transition to the movies but with no clear pathway. Roman director Sergio Leone had a feature script ready to be shot in Almería, Spain, with a tiny budget but big ambitions. A Fistful of Dollars was essentially a remake of Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, Yojimbo, but ownership of the central idea ended up proving quite a tangle. Eastwood admired the Japanese film and figured that, even if Leone’s European co-production was a failure, he would at least get a trip to Spain and Italy out of it.

As it turned out, the film made him a global superstar and he would return to the character (or at least a character like that, ownership was once again tangled) twice more.

Despite being known as “the man with no name”, Eastwood’s characters in Fistful and A Few Dollars More actually do have names. What they don’t have is a past, at least not a past that they bother to explain.

In A Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood is “Joe”, a lighting fast gunman who arrives in the border town of San Miguel to find it divided between rival criminal gangs. He realises that he can play the two clans off against each other, manipulating his way to the riches that they have hidden between them.

Still from the 1965 spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More featuring Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood.

Photo: ViaVision

In For a Few Dollars More, he is “Manco”, a bounty hunter forced to team up with a competitor (Lee Van Cleef in his first major role) in the hunt for a psychopathic bank robber named Indio (Gian Maria Volonte).

The story in the first film – thanks to Yojimbo – is stronger and tighter, but everything else about For a Few Dollars More is superior. Leone had a much bigger budget, a grander canvas, a growing sense of style. His compositions in the second film are much more Leone-like – close-ups of craggy (dare I say ‘ugly’) faces filling the screen. His masterpieces – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West – were still to come but For a Few Dollars More holds up very strongly nearly sixty years later.

It needs to be pointed out – for those that care about this sort of thing – that the transfers of both films are the same as the ones released by MGM back in 2010 (as well as the all the extra features) so if you already have those discs, all you are getting this time around are some postcards. Both of these films have since gone through recent 4K restorations that are available on UHD and Blu-ray from the New York company Kino Lorber – just not here in New Zealand.

The versions in this package remain pretty good but both betray some damage from the original source prints and the advanced age of them may disappoint the purist.

Another factor you might want to bear in mind is that both of these discs are also in another ViaVision box set – the Clint Eastwood Film Collection. For a few dollars more (ten, in fact) you lose the postcards and the fancy box, but you gain The Beguiled (1971), The Eiger Sanction (1975) and In the Line of Fire (1993).

Box cover for the ViaVision limited edition of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More

Photo: ViaVision

A Fistful of Dollars & For a Few Dollars More collector’s pack is available from local retailers (or direct from viavision.com.au) and the R.R.P. is $64.99. A slightly less collectible DVD version of the package is only $39.99. If you insist on streaming, both films are available on Prime Video or digital rental.