In an interview featured on The Sergio Leone Anthology, biographer Christopher Frayling asserts that Leone deserves to be ranked in the pantheon of great directors with John Ford and Stanley Kubrick. After watching the four classics contained in this boxed set, few movie buffs will find it possible to argue with Frayling’s claim. These classics from the director’s most creatively fertile period have been given fine new transfers and are accompanied by hours of previously unreleased supplementary material. (MGM is also selling the titles separately.)
The set begins with A Fistful of Dollars, a Western remake of Yojimbo that established Leone and star Clint Eastwood as international icons. It also introduced the director’s characteristic motifs: an impressionistic manipulation of time and space, human experience stripped to its most brutal impulses, and sound design aiming for emotional truth over literal reality. In this film and its sequel, For a Few Dollars More, cinematographer Massimo Dallamano (credited in the first movie as Jack Dalmas) used the 2-perf Techniscope format, a widescreen process that was both economical and aesthetically appropriate. In an insightful commentary track, Frayling analyzes the style and provides details about the production.
Like all of the films in this set, A Fistful of Dollars includes a second disc packed with supplements that are educational and entertaining. Frayling contributes a featurette in which he expands upon some of the ideas addressed in the commentary track, and Eastwood provides further context in a separate interview. Another featurette includes remembrances by three of Leone’s collaborators: producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and actor Mickey Knox. (Additional interviews with Frayling, Eastwood, Grimaldi, Donati and Knox are featured on the disc of supplements that accompanies For a Few Dollars More.)
For the 1977 TV broadcast of A Fistful of Dollars, network execs required a new prologue that would give the film’s violence a moral justification, and to that end they hired Monte Hellman to direct some new footage. The filmmaker created an opening in which he shot around a new actor — disguising the fact that it wasn’t Eastwood by framing the hero from the back and below the waist — and gave all the lines to a lawman played by Harry Dean Stanton. This sequence and an interview with Hellman are included in this package.
Dallamano’s dynamic juxtaposition of faces in extreme close-up and landscapes in glorious long shots continues in For a Few Dollars More, which features more densely composed frames and even more elliptical storytelling than Fistful. In addition to the aforementioned supplements, For a Few Dollars More contains a commentary track by Frayling and a featurette on the alternate release versions of the film.
The movie’s epic scope allows it to serve as a transition to the even grander The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (photographed by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC), which appears in this set in the same extras-laden special edition that was released in 2004.
The highlight of the set for Leone enthusiasts is the DVD debut of the 1971 release Duck, You Sucker! (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite). This ambitious tale of the collaboration between an apolitical thief and a troubled ex-IRA explosives expert is perhaps Leone’s most underrated film. Cinematographer Giuseppe Ruzzolini keeps the intimate and the social elements in perfect balance, often contextualizing interpersonal relationships against epic backdrops in a logistically elaborate tale of revolution’s implications for society and the individual. Frayling discusses the film’s politics and Leone’s aesthetic development on his commentary track and in a separate interview.
Other supplements include an interview with Donati, a look at the Leone exhibition that was mounted in 2005 at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, and featurettes on the movie’s restoration and locations. (Locations featurettes accompany both Dollars pictures as well.) An additional documentary explores the different cuts of Duck, You Sucker! The film was drastically shortened for its U.S. release, and Leone’s original 157-minute cut is the version presented on this DVD.
This set’s bonus materials also include radio spots and theatrical trailers for all four films.
Aside from some unfortunate flaws in the source material (particularly in Duck, You Sucker!), the transfers are generally solid, with great tonal range and subtlety in the evocatively lit close-ups as well as clarity and detail in the sweeping vistas. The soundtracks have all been superbly remastered; the psychological complexity of Leone’s stylized sound design remains intact, with separation that is effective but not distracting.