Upon returning to America for the seventh season of Rawhide, Clint Eastwood’s stock was on the rise. The young star was a newly minted celebrity, but not in the United States. It was in Italy, where Fistful of Dollars was a huge hit, that Eastwood’s star shined brightest.
For Eastwood, Sergio Leone’s movie, shot in Spain, was a welcome chance to break Western traditions. He wasn’t tied to the restrictions of American television Westerns, where the hero always did the right thing. Instead, this international production allowed Eastwood to paint outside the lines.
Eastwood recalled the freedoms of Fistful of Dollars in a 1964 interview with James Bacon of the Associated Press.
“It’s so far out that I guess you could call it a James Bond Western. I’m supposed to be the hero, but there’s only a thin line between me and the heavy.”
“In fact, I kill 25 people in the movie and end up burning down the whole town. I’m no Sir Galahad like Shane.”
“I’m on a 28-year-old horse and I look like a refugee hermit. I settle all arguments with gunfire. I think I do one good deed in the whole picture.”
The action wasn’t the only change of pace in the production. The movie allowed Eastwood to make new and unique acting choices in the way he approached playing the mysterious Man with No Name.
“When I read the script, I told the director and producers that either this picture is the greatest flop of all time — or else it’s the best Western satire yet. I played it as satire, a little tongue-in-cheek. Apparently, we succeeded in Italy, at least. They’re sharp audiences.”
Whether Eastwood’s satirical take on the cowboy genre registered with an American audience or not, it certainly changed the trajectory of his career.