Made famous by Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name was based on an existing movie character. Here's who it was.
By Nicholas Raymond
April 17, 2022
Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, was based on an existing movie character. The Man With No Name is without question one of the actor’s two most iconic roles, with the other being Dirty Harry. Eastwood played the character a total of three times in his career, all of which being Westerns released in the 1960s.
Created by director Sergio Leone, The Man With No Name made his first appearance in 1964’s Fistful of Dollars. Eastwood’s portrayal of the quick-shooting, cigar-smoking drifter earned him international attention and launched him into stardom. Eastwood reprised the role in two additional Sergio Leone films, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Though none of the films were directly linked story-wise, the similarities of Eastwood’s three Spaghetti Western roles made it clear that they were all essentially the same character. In each movie, Eastwood’s wandering, opportunistic gunslinger was depicted as a fearless anti-hero and the fastest shot in the West.
Given that most Western protagonists at the time were heroic figures in the mold of John Wayne and Gary Cooper, The Man With No Name was certainly a new kind of character for the genre. That being said, he wasn’t an entirely original creation. Leone’s inspiration for Fistful of Dollars came from Yojimbo, a 1961 Japanese samurai movie directed by Akira Kurosawa. When developing the movie, Leone borrowed so much from Yojimbo that it was often described as an unofficial remake of the Kurosawa film. In addition to the plot and many other aspects of the movie, Leone used the main character, Toshiro Mifune’s Kuwabatake Sanjuro, as a template for the Man With No Name.
When comparing the two, it’s easy to see Mifune’s character in The Man With No Name. In Yojimbo, Mifune played a no-nonsense, unshaven ronin who wandered across Japan. Just like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Fistful of Dollars, Mifune’s character was a loner and an anti-hero who profited from working for two feuding gangs. In doing so, he mercilessly killed dozens of enemies who were easily outmatched by his prowess as a swordsman. The toughness that Mifune exuded and the apparent effortlessness in which Sanjuro accomplished his goals mirror Eastwood’s performance in all three installments in Leone’s The Dollars Trilogy.
Eastwood may have gone on to greater levels of fame after Fistful of Dollars than Mifune, but his Japanese counterpart had a “cool” factor to it that was quite similar to what made The Man With No Name so appealing. In fact, Mifune’s mastery of the unbeatable swordsman role allowed him to take a path that wasn’t that different from the one that Eastwood took through most of the 1960s and the 1970s. Just as Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western hero largely defined his image through much of his career, Toshiro Mifune played rugged, sword-wielding drifters across a lost list of samurai classics.