Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
Of course I was going to watch “For a Few Dollars More”. What was I even thinking? The urge to watch it was there right after “A Fistful of Dollars” ended, and fighting it was just foolishness on my part. I also have not seen this movie in a long time, it’s been years literally, so coming back to it was a real treat to say the least.
The first thing to note is of course that this is a story on a significantly grander scale than “A Fistful”. It travels much more and it does not follow only one character. With this it seems much closer to what Leone actually wants to be doing, if we’re to judge by his films that followed, which is a new kind of western on a large canvas. And although he doesn’t quite get there with “For a Few Dollars More” the desire is more than obvious. But one of the great aspects of “For a Few Dollars More” is that he seems to plant the seeds for his two epic masterpieces “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” right here in this film.
For “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” it is the core structure that he borrows, with three central characters, all with their own intentions and motivations. And for “Once Upon a Time in the West” it is the fact that while the main plot is going on, he is building up a revenge side-plot in the background. So in that sense this film is like the amalgamation of the thematic forces that drove Leone as a filmmaker at the time, which makes it something of a signature film for the director. Of course, these elements are more pronounced and more ably executed in those two films that followed but it is quite exciting to see them play out in this film, and to such a great effect.
The story follows two competing bounty hunters, one of whom is our famed “man with no name”, who are hunting down an infamous outlaw known only as “El Indio”. El Indio is played by Gian Maria Volonte and he is quite the scene stealer in this film. He gloriously chews through the scenery and relishes in the maniacal nature of his character. And one of his pursuers is Colonel Mortimer, played by the hawkish Lee Van Cleef, who has a score to settle with him. This is of course the mentioned revenge subplot, and is meticulously exposed by Indio’s flashbacks and its ultimate reveal is foreshadowed with the very distinct melody that is played by harmonica throughout the film. Wait, no. The harmonica is in that other movie.
Music is a great factor for any film but its machinations are rarely as apparent as in Leone’s films, and with this film he decides to make it a part of the plot. In fact his use of music is oftentimes very obvious, but when you have such glorious music, and deal with such mythic themes and not characters but symbols, obvious is the only way to go. The music in his films is of course the product of one of the greatest cinema composers of all time, Ennio Moriconne. His music ingrains itself in the very fabric of the film to the point where the images become quite inseparable from it and in turn when you hear the music without the following images, you can’t help but visualize them in your head. Unlike some composers he does not compose for the sake of the music, but he does it for the sake of the film. He actively tries to enhance the image on the screen, and the fact that his music is so unforgettable speaks volumes, not only to how great of a composer he is, but also to how much he understands the intent behind the very films he works on. And with Leone, he has certainly found his perfect partner.
Before I wrap this up I need to mention another aspect of Leone’s films that has always fascinated me and that are the henchmen, and in general just the faces he casts in minor roles. Leone obviously loved to cast unique looking individuals in even the most minor of roles, and this gave his films a great sense of personalty because every face is memorable and seems to matter in some way. So apart from having a great sensibility for capturing vast landscapes and dusty towns he clearly had the same passion for the landscape of the human face, which is more than apparent by his trademark use of extreme close-ups.
As for this film, the thing that remains to be said is that while it does seem like a stepping stone to greatness (but only because we know what comes after) it is also a completely thrilling ride by any standard. It further reinvents the genre with it's style and plays against the ingrained expectations of the genre, just like its predecessor did.
But it is not just a pure coincidence or a marketing ploy or whatever that the first three films of Leone are brought together in to this “dollars trilogy”. Apart from the thematic connection and Clint Eastwood, there is a clear progression from one film to the next. In the quality, in the scope of the vision and mostly in the density of the content and the style. And while “For a Few Dollars More” is truly a remarkable film, for me better than its predecessor, the best is clearly yet to come.
Original title: Per qualche dollaro in più
Clint Eastwood - Manco
Lee Van Cleef - Col. Mortimer
Gian Maria Volonte - El Indio
Klaus Kinsky - The hunchback
Luigi Pistilli - Groggy
Original language: Italian