Forgotten Films: Edgar Wright’s A Fistful of Fingers

Forgotten Films is a semi-regular feature on Film Junk where we explore interesting movies that have fallen off the radar or slipped through the cracks over the years.

You probably know Edgar Wright as the man behind the camera for most of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s collaborations including Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, and even before that, the TV show Spaced. However, with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World coming out this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to look back at his very first feature film, a hard-to-find low budget comedy made without Pegg and Frost called A Fistful of Fingers.

Edgar Wright got his start making movies in England at a very young age, and by the time he was 18, he was already generating some fairly high quality stuff. If you have the Hot Fuzz special edition DVD or Blu-ray, you may have seen Dead Right, the 1993 short film that inspired Hot Fuzz. Around the same time, he also made another short called A Fistful of Fingers, which would eventually be remade as a feature-length project when he graduated from college in 1995.

Looking at Wright’s filmography over the years, it’s clear that he loves working in comedy, but he is also a true cinephile who enjoys jumping from genre to genre. Hot Fuzz pays tribute to cop movies while Shaun of the Dead is an homage to zombie flicks, and he plans to eventually complete this trilogy with a sci-fi movie tentatively called The World’s End. However, before all of those ever happened, Wright parodied the spaghetti western and, in particular, Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy with A Fistful of Fingers.

The movie was reportedly shot for £10,000 (about $15,000 U.S.), and stars his friend Graham Low in the lead role as “No-Name”, a gunslinger who rides into Somerset aka Deadwood Town in search of his rival The Squint (Oli van der Vijver). (Low would later re-appear in Hot Fuzz as The Living Statue performance artist.) After the death of his loyal horse Easy, No-Name swears revenge and sets off to settle the score once and for all. Along the way he meets up with an indian named Running Sore (Martin Curtis), and they stumble across a buried treasure as well. The movie also features former EastEnders star Nicola Stapleton in a small role, and British TV personality Jeremy Beadle makes a cameo near the end of the film that will make no sense to anyone who lives outside of the U.K.

One of the first things you notice about this movie is that it features a pretty cool animated opening credit sequence, which was created by his brother Oscar, a comic book and storyboard artist. (He also does a gory animated interlude in the middle of the film as well.) The score provided by François Evans is also a nice riff on Ennio Morricone’s style. These elements all give the illusion that what you are about to see is actually much better than it really is — an illusion that starts to fade after the first half hour or so. The film opens with a lot of energy and creativity, but by the end has been nearly reduced to wandering aimlessly through the English countryside.

The sense of humour falls somewhere between Monty Python and The Naked Gun. Everyone rides pantomime horses, and there are tons of visual gags and self-refential comments littered throughout the dialogue. Some of the comedy is clever (the “token female” who asks if she has any lines) and some of it is cute (the musical montage of No-Name remembering the good times with his horse), but I have to admit that some of it is also pretty awful. Part of the blame falls on the acting (particularly Graham Low, who can’t do a Clint Eastwood impression to save his life) but the writing is not all that sharp either. For example, one of the very first exchanges goes as follows:

Outlaw: “Draw!”
No-Name: “I can’t.”
Outlaw: “Why not?”
No-Name: “I don’t have a pencil.”

Groanworthy puns are passed off with the expectation of being genuinely amusing, but at the same time, there is a tongue-in-cheek tone that indicates that they were aware of how bad some of it is. Clearly Wright’s sense of comedy has matured a lot since this film, and most of his movies nowadays are no longer straight up spoofs. They usually aim to play as full-fledged entries in the genre they are poking fun at, which A Fistful of Fingers definitely does not do. It is much more a goofy joke-a-minute parody in the vein of the Zucker Brothers’ films.

Although there is much about the movie that feels clunky, you can definitely see Wright starting to establish his trademark quick-cutting style and energetic camera work (actually you could see a lot of that already in Dead Right). There’s an early scene in a saloon where the clientele remain silent and motionless until No-Name enters, and it is cross cut in an exaggerated way that is both suspenseful and funny. Sure, the crash zooms and extreme close-ups are emulating Sergio Leone, but you can also see that some of these techniques have stuck with him right through to today.

Either way, this movie is easily a step above a student film, and it was successful enough to get picked up for a limited theatrical release and broadcast on Sky Movies in the U.K. Most importantly, though, it landed Wright directing gigs with Paramount Comedy on the show Asylum and the BBC for Is It Bill Bailey?, where he met Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson who went on to star in and co-write Spaced.

Wright was reportedly not fully satisfied with how the final product came out, which is probably why this movie has never been released on DVD. Currently the only way to get a copy of A Fistful of Fingers is on VHS or via bootleg DVDs and torrents. Perhaps one day Edgar Wright will decide to go back to the Western genre and draw inspration from this film much like he did with Hot Fuzz, but in the meantime, if you’re a fan of his work, you might want to check this out. Blazing Saddles it ain’t, but there are still some inspired moments, even if it was likely better served as a half-hour short film rather than an 80-minute feature.

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  • Hmm, I’m always interested in reading about the no-budget films of great directors (because I know thats how I’m gonna have to do it one day).

  • I found Dead Right painful to watch and am glad that your review talked me out of ever tracking down A Fistful of Fingers. Still, if Dead Right yielded Hot Fuzz and Spaced yielded Scott Pilgram, I’d definitely be down for watching an Edgar Wright western when he gets around to doing it right.

  • Andrew Hancox

    I’m selling a copy of this film on ebay at the moment if anyone’s interestered:
    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=320879473370#ht_500wt_1252