Wednesday, 25 April 2012
For a Few Dollars More
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 talk much 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, For a Few Dollars More is indeed a near masterpiece of the genre and very close to the awesomeness of Leone’s aforementioned later 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 Leone shows us in his characters in Once Upon a Time in the West.
While Clint is billed as the star, the heart of the film is Lee Van Cleef, who plays 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 the small town of Agua Caliente for a final showdown of good versus evil, with Mortimer eventually revealing the source of his hatred for Indio and exacting satisfying revenge for 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 that motivates the man on 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 that he’d elevate to higher levels of grandiloquence in West. Like in that film, Mortimer’s backstory is seen through a repetition of a single flashback and the significance of the mysterious timepiece, which is featured prominently throughout and 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 and often underappreciated Leone Western.
The Dollars Trilogy is available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.