Viking Night: A Fistful of Dollars
By Bruce Hall
May 8, 2012
So you think Hollywood is out of ideas, because the remake machine is an insatiable beast whose unholy hunger can never be satisfied? Well, have you heard the one about the Samurai film, inspired by the American Western, based on the noir crime novel that inspired the Italian Western that was filmed in Spain that in turn redefined the nature of American film forever? The Western as you know it might not be as American as you thought. But that's okay - people have been borrowing each other’s ideas for as long as people have had ideas. And lawn mowers.
So calm yourself; that’s what storytelling is all about. It's the exchange and redefinition of old ideas into new ones. And lawn mowers.
The things we find familiar today were new to people at some point, maybe even revolutionary. In the present, people swap their cell phones every three months but there was a time when a mobile was an expensive luxury, and if you had one you kept it for years. If you wanted to be a writer you stayed home and did it with a word processor and a bottle of scotch. Doing it in front of a coffee shop with a laptop was unheard of, because back then laptops weighed 47 pounds, and coffee had not been invented yet.
But I digress. What you find familiar and boring today was at one time cutting edge, and in cinema you can easily trace the genesis of these moments. One of the most significant happened when everyone in Hollywood turned down the lead in some ridiculous low budget flick set to shoot over in Spain. Besides, it was a Western. Nobody liked those any more. This was 1964. People liked war movies. They liked movies about angry young men on motorcycles. They liked watching Sean Connery wear a tuxedo while he killed people. They liked The Beatles. But they didn't like Westerns.
Or maybe they did like Westerns. They just didn't like the kinds of Westerns people were making. The genre hadn’t evolved to fit the times. Audiences were more sophisticated now, and the whole Black Hats/White Hats thing was just so…1958. It was time for a new breed of American hero and obviously, an Italian guy named Sergio was the man for the job. He would direct, and Rowdy Yates would eventually star in it. Yeah, that one. Head 'em up, move ' em out. Maybe not so shocking today, but television actors making the leap to film was less common back then.
It’s hard to illustrate this in today’s terms except to say that in the opinion of many, the modern equivalent would be you getting to replace Tom Brady just because you won your office fantasy league. In reality, television was a vast resource for modern, forward thinking creative types just like the future Dirty Harry himself. Not like today, when it’s all Snooki and Jimmy Fallon and Fox News. Clint Eastwood was already well known because lots of people loved Rawhide. But believe it or not, there was a time before he had the power to buy and sell you like a used car.