For a Few Dollars More (1965) dir. Sergio Leone
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté, Luigi Pistilli, Klaus Kinski, Panos Papadopulos
By Alan Bacchus
I would never dispute that The Good, the Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West were Sergio Leone’s best films, two of the best Westerns ever really. And I wouldn’t argue about the importance of A Fistful of Dollars as the first spaghetti western. But we don’t much talk about For a Few Dollars More. After all it’s the middle chapter in the unconnected Dollars trilogy and it wasn’t the first spaghetti western, nor is it the best.
But looking back on the picture in glorious Blu-Ray, courtesy of Fox’s Dollar Trilogy Set, For a Few Dollars More is indeed a near masterpiece of the genre and very very close to awesomeness of Leone’s aforementioned latter pictures.
Unlike the cynicism and sheer brutality of A Fistful of Dollars, and even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More is the only other film to come close to the humanity in his characters Leone shows us in Once Upon a Time in the West.
While Clint is billed as the star, the heart of the film is Lee Van Cleef, playing Col. Douglas Mortimer, a former soldier turned bounty hunter plying the wild west for wanted criminals and reward money for their capture. Clint, whose character actually has a name, Manco, is also a bounty hunter treading the same ground as Mortimer, an equally beguiling killer who stacks up bodies for money. The two eventually meet in El Paso following the villainous El Indio ( Volonte) who aims to take down the well fortified El Paso bank.
Manco attempts to join the gang to help take the score while plotting with Mortimer to collect the bounty of each gang member. The bank job is completed with Indio escaping to a small town of Agua Caliente for a final showdown of good and evil, with Mortimer eventually revealing the source of his hatred for Indio, and exacting satisfying revenge against a grievous crime against his family in the past.
Mortimer is portrayed like Charles Bronson’s Harmonica Man in West. While he is as cold and calculating as the other killers in the film, there’s a deep pain which motivates the man in his journey. Leone crafts some wonderful tension between the two gunslingers. When Clint and Van Cleef are on screen together it’s a marvel of gritty eye-squinting machismo, with Van Cleef matching Eastwood’s screen charisma and confidence in character.
Leone and his writers use some of the same plotting devices which he’d elevate to higher levels of grandiloquence in West. Like West Mortimer’s backstory is seen through a repetition of a single flashback and the significance of the mysterious timepiece which is featured prominently throughout is revealed dramatically in the final Mexican showdown.
So you might call For a Few Dollars More a testing ground for Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but the picture stands up well on its own as a great often underappreciated Leone Western.
“The Dollars Trilogy” is available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment