07 Oct Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars Costume
Costume design is one of the unsung necessities in film-making. There are awards for it, sure, but there are awards for a lot of things that the general public does not discuss or recognize in filmmaking. Costume design can change the aura and vibe of an entire film. Without proper costumes, a film can feel flat and not true to the script. This is exceptionally relevant in a period piece – in shows such as Downton Abbey, or films like Gangs of New York.
The entire western genre relies on proper costume design to set the mood and tone of the era. It definitely helps to have the saloon, the desert backdrop, and the like – no one wants to see a western take place in the Canadian wilderness – but there is much more to it than that. One of the best examples of costume design in the western film genre, and probably all of cinema itself, is Clint Eastwood’s costume in A Fistful of Dollars. His portrayal as The Man With No Name is the stuff of legend, and he went on to play the character in two more films. The Man is an icon that has transcended the genre and has become the model for most any cowboy themed character in modern pop culture. While a significant portion of this has to do with the astounding job that Eastwood does as an actor, anyone would be remiss to think that it didn’t also stem from the instantly recognizable attire he wears in the film. I’m going to break down this costume piece by piece, and analyze how and why it is so effective, and has remained iconic for over half a century.
Let’s just start at the top, with his hat. Now, a cowboy hat is a pretty basic piece of attire in this type of film, right? It seems as though the creators of this film realized that and decided they couldn’t just throw a hat on Eastwood and call it a day in that department. The hat they give him in A Fistful of Dollars tells a story by itself. Look at how worn in it is. Look at the rips and tears on it. Could they be from bullets? A scuffle in another town? As the viewer we don’t know, and this gives an unspoken edge to the character. It implies a series of adventures we’ll never see, and brings The Man With No Name to life with a simple tear in a hat. In a costume, that is an element that you want. You want it to feel alive and not as though it was just pulled off a clothing rack.
Moving down, let’s touch upon some of the elements that Eastwood wears under his trademark poncho (which we’ll get to at the end). Eastwood’s character maintains an edge in the film that skirts just along the border between gentleman and outlaw. His attire in scenes such as the one above exemplifies this trait. The denim-colored button-up shirt with the sleeves undone, worn under a dirty sheepskin vest give him the “best of both worlds,” to use an overused term. The button-up shirt puts him in a class of gentlemen – an old-school man who always wears his best. However, the undoing of the sleeves and the worn-out vest display the complete opposite. Those aspects are more telling of someone who does not abide by what’s deemed “respectable” by society’s terms, and they double up with the stance that Eastwood maintains in scenes like this (sitting backwards on a chair, slouching forward) that say he could care less about what others see him as. The line is a fine one to ride, because you do want your protagonist to have an air of class, but in a western film, they can’t be too clean cut. The costume designers for this film managed to toe right along that tightrope with their work.
Eastwood’s holster and revolver are also important elements to the character of The Man With No Name. The gun from this film is iconic. The rattlesnake emblazoned upon the handle is an obvious symbol for how quick and dangerous Eastwood’s character is, and the design is brilliant. A rattlesnake is the best animal to describe The Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars. Early in the film, in a scene that screenshots below are pulled from, he dispatches four men with the revolver in seconds. The gun, and in turn the holster, are depicted as almost an extension of the Man With No Name himself. In a scene later in the film, a would be killer is stopped by the sight of Eastwood stepping out of his relaxed position and staring him down. This scene would not be nearly as effective if the rattlesnake revolver had not been established as such a deadly extension of Eastwood’s persona earlier in the film. If he’s able to reach for his holster, there’s a good chance you’ll be a dead man if you reach for yours.
Alright guys, but for real. This is the big one, and the one that people most remember The Man With No Name for. Clint Eastwood’s poncho from the Man With No Name trilogy. I’d say it’s a safe bet that many know of it from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. You know, one of the greatest films ever made? That one that serves as the blueprint for how to create a western film (alongside The Magnificent Seven). Right, that one. Glad we’re on the same page.
However, the poncho actually made its debut here in A Fistful of Dollars. Right off the bat, we have to touch on how the above image might be one of the most…look, I don’t want to use any profanity, but frankly the whole get-up is too cool to describe it without at least a little bit. So I’ll refrain. You get where it’s going. In this solitary moment, Eastwood genuinely looks like the toughest man on the planet. Anyone would back down when he slings that poncho up over his shoulder and glares in this manner. The fight should be over before it even begins – unless you’re those dummies that try to pull their guns, I guess. I suppose I should rephrase to “anyone with a brain would back down…” Yeah, that’s more apt.
There’s one thing I want to touch upon regarding the relevance of the poncho to the film though.
This shot is taken from the same scene as above, but it’s from before he throws the poncho over his shoulder to reveal his weapon. In scenes like this, the poncho serves to expound upon the mystery of the Man With No Name. We already don’t know anything about him, and the poncho only adds an even bigger air of uncertainly. We know nothing about what he holds beneath it, and as funny as it seems, we don’t even know his body size or shape in this moment. It works like a cloak, almost mythical, shielding the character from anything that may reveal too much. It’s not until he is ready to pull it back that we are ready to find out.
Or it was just cold in the Old West. Whatever.
Anyways, that covers the most important bases of Eastwood’s costume in A Fistful of Dollars. There’s so much time and effort that goes into costume design, and hopefully as time goes on, more and more people will appreciate what these masters of art do for the films we love.
And remember, if you’re looking for a costume yourself, or just want to look as intimidating as possible in public, you can always shop our store for official Clint Eastwood replica ponchos.