Before I get going, I need to make it clear that I love both these movies. So please, hold off on the fanboy attacks…unless you think I’m wrong, then attack away. For the most part, there is not much difference between the two films; both feature a traveler who comes into a town with divided power and uses his superb fighting skills to free the town from the two governing bodies. In terms of quality they’re pretty on par as well. Sure I might lean towards Clint Eastwood over Toshiro Mifune, and I probably lean towards Kurosawa over Sergio Leone in terms of directing. The one issue I have that makes me choose Yojimbo over A Fistful of Dollars (AFFD) is the midfilm introduction of, what I’ll call, the X factor.
The X factor here is the appearance of the protagonists rival, who carries a weapon of superior technology. In Yojimbo, the samurai’s sword and skills become moot when one of the rival families brings in a new, gun toting, gang member. His gun, being a ranged weapon, makes the samurai obsolete.
This is where the problem arises in AFFD. They’ve already introduced firearms to the situation, so what X factor can be introduced to rival, and make obsolete, Clint Eastwood’s Stranger? Do you introduce someone with a faster draw? A quicker aim? an explosives expert? No, instead we get Ramon Rojo, a guy with a winchester rifle.
…A rifle? Really? Were they a rare find in Mexico? I doubt it. In the last scene of the movie there are at least 3 people blasting rifles at each other, and herein lies my problem. The technology that Ramon brings to the table doesn’t make the Stranger’s skills nor his weapon really that obsolete. In fact, I’m fairly sure it’s a conscious choice of the Stranger to carry his .45 instead of a rifle. He just walked into a town with two gang families, both of whom smuggle weapons into the US, AND HE GAINS TRUST WITH BOTH FAMILIES! Could he really not have gotten a rifle if he really wanted one? He was able to do whatever the fuck else he had to do while in town, what’s really the big deal here. Sure the rifle has range on the pistol but there wasn’t a single gunfight where they actually used range as an advantage.
AFFD tries to amp up the issue with the little bit of dialogue it has between the characters where they discuss gun preference. First, we’re given a glimpse of the rifle’s power as Ramon blasts a dozen holes into a suit of armor. Impressive I guess, but what’s the difference? No one’s wearing bulletproof armor anyway, well not till the end, and at that point the rifle was just as useless as any other gun would have been. Then we get the little talk at the party:
Ramon “When you want to kill a man, you must shoot for his heart, and the winchester is the best weapon.”
Stranger “That’s very nice, but I’ll stick with my .45.”
Ramon “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with the pistol will be a dead man.”
So we get three things here. First, there’s admission that the Stranger simply prefers his .45 to a rifle, so not having a rifle is his own fault if nothing else (he uses rifles in the subsequent films). Next, we get foreshadowing of the final battle. And finally, we get artificial amping up of X factor issue.
This argument, however, can’t be used to de-legitimize the X factor in Yojimbo for two reasons. First, firearms were actually hard to come by at the time, so it may in fact have been unlikely for the Samurai to acquire one and even the playing field. Second, we’re dealing with a Samurai here, honor bound to rely on his sword and to use his martial arts skills. And even if he got one, there’ no way he would have had enough time to learn to use it well enough to beat someone who was already practicing with the gun (as bad as he was with it).
And here’s my second problem with the situation, Ramon Rojo is introduced in the movie taking out a squad of the Mexican army; not with his rifle, but with a fucking gatling gun. A weapon that would ACTUALLY have been the game changer the movie would have needed to legitimize the X factor. How was that not used to just rain fire down on both the Stranger and the rival family in the town? The movie’s cop out argument is that the gatling gun was left at the scene to make it look like the American troops and the Mexican troops took each other out in a gun fight. But that doesn’t even make sense, if he alone could take out the entire Mexican squad with the gatling gun, then surely the American troops could have done the same. Each soldier has their own gun, so surely no one would be the wiser if the gatling gun was taken from the scene (did they have ballistics reports back then?).
The gatling gun would have made actual sense when picking an obstacle the Stranger must overcome in regard to weapons technology. There would have been a real issue here if the Rojo family just mounted that fucker on the roof of their home and sprayed the field; the Stranger’s metal plate wouldn’t have been much of an issue at that point. But doing this would have probably required deviation in the script from the Yojimbo script, and god forbid the writers put anything original into the script (not that Yojimbo wasn’t a rip off of Red Harvest). And that’s my issue with AFFD and the one reason I prefer Yojimbo; we could have gotten gatling gun hell fire slaughter scenes, and instead we get to guys playing their own version of whose is bigger. Gatling gun hell fire, that’s all I’m saying, so I’ll leave you with this. And for funsies, what should have been said, and then done, to the script writers.