A Fistful of Dollars

at the Harvard Square Theatre tonight

A Fistful of Dollars, the perfect western, is without suspense--there's not a who-dunnit, what's-happening-baby minute in it. Sergio Leone doesn't let melodrama disturb his intimacy with an object or an actor's gesture.

He lingers over what ordinary westerns cut short in the interest of plot. A soldier is escaping across the river; a man guns him in the back. We don't see a brisk wound-writhe-tumble sequence, then cut to the next scene. We watch the fall, the body drifting in the river, the horse vaguely turning toward shore. All at a distance. No sudden tight thrill, just cool death.

Leone scrutinizes with the same drawn-out fascination the territory where his hero moves. The florry sand, the green-feathery plains, the mountain rocks that look like rubble--each expanse whispers desolation. So does the town. Leone focuses on the white walls till the whole place seems bleached of life. The movie exults in barrenness. There are no comings and goings of common folk. The spot is without schools, churches, or community councils.

The hero belongs on that spot. He mouthes no morality. Not that he's inarticulate (that in the movies usually means the hero agrees with society but doesn't know how to say yes). He's simply his own man. He doesn't need to tell himself what he thinks, and what others think is of two-bit consequence.

Leone thrusts this hero forward insistently. The camera is tight on Clint Eastwood as he chews his cigar, clips a sentence, tips his hat, swallows soup. The concentration creates a giant out of a so-so Rawhide type. At the final confrontation with his enemies, Eastwood appears out of a cloud of dynamite dust.

In the wild nowhere land, with a hero never emasculated by romance, a vision of death, or whole-hog brutality, it doesn't seem incredible. In fact, it's rather nice.