Why Clint Eastwood Said ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ Could’ve Been an ‘Absolute Disaster’

by Caitlin Berard

By 1964, a then-34-year-old Clint Eastwood already had 19 acting credits under his belt. The majority, however, consisted of cameo roles and uncredited appearances. And though he found success with Rawhide, he worried that he would be pigeonholed as a television star, as the jump from the small screen to the silver screen was a difficult one to make at the time.

Clint Eastwood was determined, however, and made the daring decision to travel to Spain to film a Western called Fistful of Dollars with Sergio Leone. Today, Sergio Leone is known as one of the most influential directors in cinema history, but in 1964, the Italian director was still relatively unknown, adding even more uncertainty to Eastwood’s mind.

“I didn’t know if you could make the jump to the big screen,” Eastwood explained in a 2002 interview with Roger Ebert. “A few people had. Steve McQueen did small roles and built himself up as a name in pictures. But when I came out of the foreign thing, it was strictly a luck deal, a rolling of the dice.”

Fistful of Dollars cost about $200,000 to make,” Clint Eastwood continued. “It was a Western shot in Spain as an Italian-German-Spanish coproduction, with a screenplay based on a Japanese samurai movie [Kurosawa’s Yojimbo]. All the producers were arguing among themselves about who was going to pay the bills.”

“It could have been an absolute disaster. But, we got lucky with it. And it turned out Sergio Leone was for real. We both came out of the box together.”

It’s lucky that Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood took a chance on each other, as Fistful of Dollars became a major feather in the cap of both of their careers. It launched both Leone and Eastwood on a trajectory toward icon status.

Clint Eastwood Reveals His Favorite Eastwood Movies

Surprisingly, Fistful of Dollars changing Clint Eastwood’s career for the better wasn’t enough to make it one of his favorite films. In an interview with CBS, Clint Eastwood discussed his six favorite films in which he plays a starring role.

The films include The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Bird (1988), Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006).

Unforgiven, the film Clint Eastwood once called “the perfect way to end the Western” for him, is a particular favorite for the actor because of the script. “I loved the Unforgiven script,” Eastwood explained. “You had to get a ways into it before you knew who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist. Even the villains, with the exceptions of the renegade cowboys, had good points to their character, and had dreams.”

“Little Bill (played by Gene Hackman) just wanted a peaceful life,” he continued. “He believed he was doing the right thing. The film dealt with issues – gun control, and the struggles people have within. The hero went against instinct. It was a very rich story, involving loyalty to friends, family, and rationalizing deeds. It was a very intelligent script.”