On seeing Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," Sergio Leone thought it would make a great western. "Yojimbo" was inspired by Dashiell Hammett's novel "Red Harvest" and also by Hollywood westerns like "Shane." As Leone said, "It would be wonderful to take it back to where it originally came from." So in 1964 the western was reinvented in Italy as a low budget film originally called "Il Magnifico Straniero" (The Magnificent Stranger). The title was changed to "A Fistful of Dollars."
Though not the first Italian western, Leone's approach was truly unique. It became a huge success in Italy and made a movie star of Clint Eastwood. Thus the "spaghetti western" was born. The prototype for the cynical, ultra-cool action hero (or antihero) had now been established. Also integral to the film was maestro Ennio Morricone's score using the pseudonym Dan Savio while Leone billed himself as Bob Robertson in homage to his father’s alias Roberto Roberti. Gian Volonte was billed as John Wells, Marianna Kock was Marianne Kock, Benito Stefanelli was Benny Reeves. It was hoped the film would be accepted as an American film.
The first screening of the film was in Florence, Italy on August 27, 1964. It was a stifling hot day and releasing a film in August in Italy in those days was the kiss of death. The cinema was ancient with fixtures and fittings dating to 1908 and was located in an alleyway. The producers, discouraged by comments in the Italian film industry had not invested a single lira in publicity. The film was listed only in the local daily newspapers.
As expected the film did little box office on Friday and Saturday and Leone had returned home to Rome very discouraged. When he called the manager late Monday he was told the receipts had doubled Sundays. By Tuesday and Wednesday people were being turned away. By word of mouth the film became a hit and was later released throughout Italy and became not only the biggest film of the year it was highest grossing western ever released in Italy.
Today we look back and celebrate not only the launching of a new type of western but a new style of filmmaking and the creation of the antihero. 50 years later we are still feeling the effects this film created and the way films are made today.