THE DOLLARS TRILOGY
Cool is a coin that buys the bearer a fistful of slack.
There’s a moment in the stunning 4K remaster of Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly that would bankrupt any other actor’s trove of good will: Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name—the eponymous Good to Lee Van Cleef’s Bad and Eli Wallach’s Ugly—is holed up in a war-blasted town with Van Cleef and his gang, and is seen inexplicably cuddling a wee kitten in the bowl of his iconic cowboy hat¹. It’s a blink-and-you’d-miss-it-moment that would be laughably absurd in the hands of anyone other than Eastwood, but Clint’s effortless cool is like the steel plate beneath his poncho in A Fistful of Dollars: an impenetrable barrier to harm, proof against scorn and ridicule. This is a cool that minted an icon, its coin still paying dividends in everything from Tarantino’s entire catalog to the guilty pleasures of The Mandalorian.
But Eastwood’s Man With No Name is the kind of cool that cannot be copied: it’s in the languor and looseness of his careless stride, a killing machine in a surfer’s lank-limbed frame; it’s in the sandblasted squint of the eyes and the thoughtful sip of the cigarillo, lit from a thumb-struck match; it’s in the sun-scorched hardpan of Eastwood’s young face, already cragged and crannied like the dusty Mexican deserts that once rang with the jangle of his spurs. It’s a cool that defined man and genre, borrowed but never bettered.
The Dollars Trilogy reinvented the Western the way cyberpunk would later rewire science fiction: with a gritty, greedy realism and a lived-in landscape bleached of virtue, crowded with characters of questionable morals and motives. Leone’s sweeping vistas are as arid and cultivated as his extreme closeups are sweaty and visceral, all set to Ennio Morricone’s unmistakable, quintessential score. But in the Compendium of Cool, the films’ most lasting legacy will always be the poncho-clad gunslinger, cigarillo clamped between jaw-clenched teeth, his gunsmoke forever drifting over the high plains.
~ Clay D. Major
¹ The Man himself may have no name but his clothes were haute couture: Eastwood outfitted himself for the role, shopping on Hollywood Boulevard for the black jeans and trademark hat; he picked up the legendary poncho in Spain.