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A Fistful of Dollars: A hero diminished by the villain’s stupidity, or his own ingenuity?

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    Vili Maunula

    In Rhapsody on a Film by Kurosawa, the author Leonard Ginsberg briefly notes that because of the way that Leone has chosen to translate the ending of Yojimbo into the gunslinger world, the character played by Clint Eastwood is made a lesser hero than his counterpart in Kurosawa’s film. More specifically, his issue is with the metal plate.

    It would be obvious to anyone after the second shot that the hero was wearing a protective device: 1) A superb marksman shoots at a man; 2) The man reacts as if hit in the targeted spot; 3) Even so, he gets up as if not hit at all. 4) Repeat 1) – 3). One repetition confirms the surprise; the rest confirm the villain’s stupidity. … A dumb or headstrong villain may pursue a refuted strategy to its fatal conclusion. Such a villain diminishes the hero, who would be outfoxed by a shot to the head… (Ginsberg, 6)

    Now, I agree that a shot to the head would probably have been my move, had I found myself in the position of Ramón. However, I would not go with Ginsberg’s interpretation that this scene makes Ramón look stupid, and therefore diminishes the hero or the film. On the contrary, I think that Leone has put the scene together quite well.

    By emerging, ghost-like, from the dynamite induced dust cloud, both Leone and Eastwood’s character have created something which is visually quite otherworldly. As the hero steps forward, seemingly not hurt by the rifle fire, he keeps taunting his enemy: “The heart Ramón, don’t forget the heart”. It is all very theatrical, and the implication seems to be that this man has come back from death, and as such can never be killed again. For Ramón to lose it and not realise what is actually going on is, I think, understandable.

    I am also wondering if, on purpose, Eastwood’s character reacts to the shots not as if shot at the heart, but, as it seems to me, as shot at the stomach. Is he deliberately trying to suggest to Ramón that he is not actually hitting the spot (which he of course is), therefore guaranteeing that Ramón keeps aiming where the plate is and not, for instance, at his head?

    Having said all this, there is also another way of considering the final showdown in Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, something that I feel also Gingsberg hints at.

    As mentioned, in Leone’s film the hero builds a protective device and, requiring no other development, outsmarts his enemy with it. Meanwhile, Kurosawa’s hero not only outwits his opponent by deciding on a throwing knife as a long distance weapon with which to disarm the foreign born threat of a pistol, but also has to resolutely train himself at knife throwing in order to pull off his plan. Whereas with Eastwood it is all about brains (and endurance, one might add), for Mifune’s hero it is actually not enough to come up with a plan, but he also has to develop a new skill to overcome the enemy. Therefore, if we feel the need to compare the two heroes, I would say that the Japanese character does score a slight win over his Italian-American doppelgänger. But it is not because Ramón is stupid. Rather, it is because Eastwood’s character’s plan requires only brains and guts.



    When I read that part of the book I thought ‘well, that makes me even more stupid, because I not just didn’t guess he had a metal jacket, the second time I watched it I”d forgotten the ending so I was again surprised!’ I really don’t think it was intended to make the villain look stupid, I think it was just a clever way of coming up with an alternative to ‘swords/knives plus brains beating guns’.

    I think the key difference between the heroes of both films is that Eastwood is given some element of motive for his actions, whereas Mifune seems to have none whatever, he just does it to amuse himself. This makes Eastwood a more conventional hero, but Mifune the more genuinely interesting one.



    I thought the entire scene (Leone) cartoonish. Why don’t you just shoot him in the head? I thought. But Eastwood did seem ghostlike (though a ghost wouldn’t have buckled back, the bullet would have gone right through!) and Ramone seemed confused, but not stupid. The stupid one was the brother up in the window who took forever to shoot. With THAT advantage, he should have sent a bullet through Eastwood and the barkeep the second Eastwood took out his brother.

    Also, didn’t Eastwood show some brains by learning how to create that breastplate? But Mifune/Kurosawa still win. I loved the knife scene, loved the way Mifune advanced forward, taking the challenge (I can’t remember the line right now, but it was a taunt that he reacted to) with that gigantic smile and “surprise!” throwing the knife expertly into the hand with the gun. So cool. I don’t remember the name of the character who had the gun, because I just think of him as Liberace.

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