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Sergio Leone's three ‘Dollar’ Westerns starring Clint Eastwood were filmed in Spain and Italy from 1964-1966, but not released in the United States or the UK until 1967. After the success of A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More in Italy, United Artists saw the box-office potential of these two radically different Westerns. The third instalment was to be the most ambitious yet, with United Artists advancing half of the $1-million budget and negotiating for 50% of the box-office takings outside of Italy. When released in December 1966 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly grossed a staggering $6.3-million in Italy alone. The three films were then prepared for released in the USA, where they were promoted by distributor United Artists with a clever advertising campaign centred around ‘The Man With No Name’ tag-line. In reality Clint Eastwood does not play the same character in each film. He actually is named in each instalment, so the first two films were slightly trimmed to delete all reference to his identity when first screened in English speaking markets. As was the tradition with Italian productions at this time, all of the footage was filmed silently, with the various foreign actors speaking dialogue in their native language. The vocal performances were then dubbed for the Italian release, and again with English dialogue for US & UK distribution. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) debuted in the United States in January 1967, and May in the UK, also playing for three weeks at the London Pavilion from June 8, 1967. Its sequel For A Few Dollars More (1965) opened in April 1967 in the US, and October in the UK.

A Fistful of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More ad & poster

Although awarded an ‘X’ certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, both films were cut further to remove some of the more sadistic violence. The final film in the trilogy The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) premiered in the US in December 1967, but was not seen in the UK until August 1968. In both territories its running-time was drastically reduced from the 178-minutes of the original Italian release in 1966. The film was cut to 161-minutes for release in the US, and 148-minutes in the UK. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was restored to its original length and re-released in 2002.

Initial reviews for the films in the UK were less than kind, and it took some time for them to achieve the cult status that we recognise today. Penelope Mortimer in The Observer said of For A Few Dollars More:

...with its howling manic music, its startling photography, its operatic direction by Sergio Leone, it should be extremely funny, in the same way that the Bond films, seen through a sane eye, are extremely funny. Violence is, after all, the basis of slapstick...”

For A Few Dollars More/A Fistful of Dollars London Pavilion 1969

United Artists then re-released For A Few Dollars More/A Fistful Of Dollars on a double-bill which debuted at the London Pavilion in April 1969, although this time promoted as the original “Man With No Name” classics.

The ‘Dollar’ westerns were re-released again with other United Artists distributed films on double-bills throughout the early-1970s before their sale to television. A Fistful Of Dollars debuted on BBC1 on Friday August 1, 1975; followed by For A Few Dollars More on Tuesday December 30, 1975, and finally The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (in its shorter UK version) on Monday April 19, 1976. All three films had their more violent scenes trimmed further for the original TV screenings, and naturally then shown in the standard panned-and-scanned format, which resulted in the loss of half of the original widescreen Techniscope image.

After an absence of 18-months Sean Connery's most recent James Bond film You Only Live Twice was re-released to cinemas in April 1971 on a double-bill with A Fistful Of Dollars, the first of the so-called ‘spaghetti westerns’ starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone. The double-bill also played at the London Pavilion for three weeks from Thursday May 3, 1971. Although the James Bond films had played with a Western as a supporting feature in the past; this new pairing was unusual to say the least, as the Clint Eastwood westerns were then all rated ‘X’ certificate. In 1970 the British Board of Film Censors raised the minimum age for admittance to ‘X’ certificate films from 16 to 18. Even under the old regulations the combination of an ‘A’ and an ‘X’ rated film on the same bill would significantly reduce the audience that could be admitted to see them. Many provincial cinemas got round this loss-maker by replacing the Clint Eastwood western with another ‘A’ certificate film in afternoon performances in order to maximise their profits.

All advertising for You Only Live Twice now stated ‘Sean Connery AS James Bond’ instead of the ‘IS’ used in the original 1967 campaign. It is interesting to note that although the National Screen Service produced new quad-crown posters for the James Bond/Dollar Western double-bills, these were basically two double-crown posters printed side-by-side and without the word ‘AND’ overlaid on the artwork. This meant that many cinemas could cut the poster in half and use them independently, or with another film if they were playing a different programme. Over the years these posters have been mislabelled in auctions as original double-crowns (20 X 30 inches), when in fact they are actually half of a quad-crown poster (30 X 40 inches when uncut). The printers credit (in this instance Lonsdale & Bartholomew) appeared in the bottom right-hand corner, so only one of the pair would have this. Posters created for other United Artists James Bond double-bills have the word ‘AND’ on the artwork to link the pairing, or are genuine composites of the two original release posters using artwork from the respective films. Now that Sean Connery had been announced as returning as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever, his name was now linked to the character of James Bond once again.

You Only Live Twice/A Fistful of Dollars (1971)

Goldfinger/For A Few Dollars More (1971)

Goldfinger/For A Few Dollars more Odeon Newcastle 1971

Encouraged by the success of You Only Live Twice/A Fistful Of Dollars despite its certification anomaly, United Artists then re-released Goldfinger (which hadn't been seen in UK cinemas for two years) with For A Few Dollars More at the London Pavilion, where they played for three weeks from Thursday June 27, 1971. The pair also played for seven days at the Gaumont cinema in Aberdeen from the same date, but this double-bill does not appear to have had a wider release until August of 1971. Once again, many cinemas (including the ODEON Newcastle pictured left) chose to pair Goldfinger with another United Artists distributed Western (often The Magnificent Seven (1960), or its 1966 sequel Return Of The Seven) in afternoon performances so children could attend without adults.

On Monday September 27, 1971 Goldfinger/For A Few Dollars More opened at the 841-seat Corinthian cinema in Dublin where it played for two weeks. For A Few Dollars More like its predecessor had a lower rating in Ireland which permitted over 15s to see the double-bill. Unusually newspaper listings stated that under 12s were allowed in if accompanied by an adult! This implies that the version of the film screened in Ireland had been significantly cut even further by the Irish Film Censor's Office. Both A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More were re-rated by the British Board of Film Censors in 1981 to be ‘AA’ certificate in cinemas [admission to children of 14 years or over], and are now a ‘15’ certificate on home entertainment media in the UK, with all previous cuts waived.

A third combination of Dr. No/The Good, The Bad And The Ugly appears to only have been released in the Republic of Ireland, and screened at the Superama Cinema in Dublin for two weeks From Friday October 22, 1971, but this time restricted to over 18s. The huge 2,000-seat cinema had previously been called the Dublin Cinerama Theatre, and capable of playing the handful of films made in the three-panel projection system on its huge curved screen. Before 1965 there were no certificates for films screened in the Republic of Ireland, with content tailored for a general audience by the Irish Film Censor's Office. This resulted in the majority of films being subjected to cuts. After 1965 those films aimed at an adult audience were certificated as suitable for ‘Over 16’ or ‘Over 18’ by IFCO, but were still routinely cut, or sometimes banned outright in Ireland.

A Fistful of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More/Hang 'Em High front-of-house stills

A new double-bill from United Artists then went on general release across the UK in early November 1971. From Russia With Love which had not been seen in cinemas for two years, was paired with Hang 'Em High, a 1968 Western directed by Ted Post, and also starred Clint Eastwood. This was not part of the ‘Dollars’ series, but in the eyes of the average cinemagoer it was from the same stable. The film was made after Eastwood's return to the USA once the Italian westerns had been released, and was clearly an attempt to cash-in on their success. The ‘One and Only’ double-bills had more or less finished their life-cycle by the end of 1971 to make way for Diamonds Are Forever which went on general release in March 1972, but were revived later in the year along with a new official United Artists James Bond double-bill which paired Dr. No with Thunderball.

Although Sean Connery had made it clear he was finished with Bond, he did attend the press show of Diamonds Are Forever at the ODEON Leicester Square on Wednesday December 29, 1971, bringing Roger Moore as his guest, fuelling speculation that Moore would be cast as the next 007. Roger Moore was not formally announced as the new James Bond until August 1, 1972 - and until then Sean Connery would still reign at the box-office. However, not all of Sean Connery's films would prove profitable for United Artists. In December 1971 Diamonds Are Forever had broken box-office records at the ODEON Leicester Square, but just over a year later The Offence played to a largely empty auditorium at the flagship 2,000-seat West End cinema. Opening on Thursday January 11, 1973, The Offence failed to attract a large audience at the huge venue, and there was a similarly poor reception (even when paired with the popular 1971 James Garner comedy Western Support Your Local Gunfighter) at the 1,934-seat New Victoria, where the two films played for six days from Monday February 5th. The Offence fared better at the four-screen Cinecenta off Leicester Square in Panton Street, where the film played on the smaller 150-seat Screen 1 for three weeks from Thursday February 15, 1973. With its grim subject matter The Offence was far more suited to intimate art-house cinemas than the vast auditoria of the large picture palaces.

The Offence Odeon Leicester Square 1973

As part of Sean Connery's $1.25 million contract to return as 007, United Artists agreed to finance two other films of his choosing in which he starred or directed. In spite of its relatively small £385,000 budget The Offence did not make a profit for nine years. Although critically acclaimed at the time of its release, the box-office failure of The Offence caused United Artists to pull out of the deal they had made with Connery, and a planned film version of Macbeth (which Connery was to direct) was shelved after the success of Roman Polanski's 1971 hit.

The Offence had a brief general release across the UK from Sunday March 11, 1973 and was then largely unseen until its BBC1 television premiere on Monday April 21, 1980. The film was critically well-received on its original release and is now regarded as one of Sean Connery's finest screen performances. On Saturday March 17, 1973 The Offence was playing at the 1,198-seat ODEON Camden Town, but the afternoon performance was given over to a sell-out live closed-circuit television screening (in black & white!) of the FA Cup quarter-final tie between Chelsea and Arsenal. Live football was clearly more profitable than the depressing Sean Connery drama. With tickets selling at £1.80 each the live screening grossed over £2,000 for the cinema. By comparison, the average price of a cinema ticket in 1973 was 40-pence, illustrating just how unpopular The Offence was on its original release.

The Offence Odeon Camden Town March 17, 1973.
The Offence ODEON Camden Town Saturday March 17, 1973.

By the end of the decade United Artists were suffering financial difficulties, and it would be a double-bill of two of their biggest hits that temporarily helped save them from bankruptcy. Roger Moore's third James Bond adventure, The Spy Who Loved Me, would be paired with a film from United Artists’ other successful franchise, in an attempt to recoup some of their losses. The first two Inspector Clouseau films had been major box-office hits for United Artists, but the series would go on to even greater heights when Peter Sellers finally agreed to reprise his most famous role in 1975.


 
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