Should I Watch..? 'For a Few Dollars More'
What's the big deal?
For A Few Dollars More is a spaghetti western movie released in 1965 and is the sequel to legendary western movie A Fistful Of Dollars. Reuniting star Clint Eastwood with Italian director Sergio Leone, the film sees a couple of trigger-happy bounty hunters on the trail of a villainous outlaw about to attempt the most audacious bank heist the West has ever seen. The film also stars Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Mario Brega and Klaus Kinski. The film is notable for being the second part of the Dollars trilogy as well as its soundtrack by Ennio Morricone which is an integral part of the film's narrative itself. The film earned around $15 million in the US but received a lukewarm reception from critics at the time. Contemporary reviews have been kinder, often citing the fact that despite being overshadowed by A Fistful Of Dollars and the equally iconic The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, this film stands up as possibly the best of the three.
What's it about?
The ruthless outlaw known as El Indio has been sprung from prison by members of his gang who murder all but one of the guards during the escape. Reunited with a pocket-watch that he holds dear to his heart, El Indio announces his plan to rob the supposedly impenetrable bank in El Paso which holds almost a million dollars. While his gang prepare themselves for the heist, El Indio is haunted by memories of a heinous crime he committed in his youth and indulges in smoking a powerful narcotic to cloud his mind - and judgment.
As news of El Indio's escape spreads, the bounty of $10'000 offered for his head attracts the attention of former army officer Douglas Mortimer who saddles up his impressive collection of rifles and heads off in pursuit. But he is far from the only one - a poncho-wearing drifter known as Monco is also in town and having recently cashed in an earlier bounty, he now finds himself free to bring El Indio in himself. The question is, will the two bounty hunters work together and end up taking each other out?
Lee Van Cleef
Col. Douglas Mortimer
Gian Maria Volontè
Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone*
Release Date (UK)
5th October, 1967
What's to like?
Even if you haven't seen A Fistful Of Dollars, you can thankfully follow this film without too much trouble. You'd also be surprised at how weirdly familiar it feels - there's something oddly comforting about the dusty vistas and rides through the desert. Having Clint lead from the front helps enormously, his grizzled features perfectly suited to the genre. But Clint is actually part of a triumvirate of leading stars - Van Cleef makes such an impression as the unflappable man in black that it kept him working in the genre for years while Italian actor Volontè matches both men as El Indio, as complex as he is reviled and ruthless and that's despite his lack of English. Between the three of them, they make For A Few Dollars More far more entertaining than the somewhat simplistic first film.
What also helps the film is Leone's crisp direction, unwittingly breaking several conventions of Hollywood westerns like showing the shooter and the target in the same shot. But Leone's masterstroke is the soundtrack by Morricone, one of many classic soundtracks from the composer. It might lack the familiarity of his score for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but it simply fits the film like a glove, Leone directing the film specifically to fit the music. I loved the musical cue from the pocket-watch, a tinkly tune that serves as a chilling countdown in a duel as well as a powerful motif of the film itself. The narrative offers plenty to savour such as Kinski's hunchbacked member of Indio's gang and the big reveal of Mortimer's motivations, a subtle moment that might have been overshadowed by the final showdown but handled superbly.
- Leone reluctantly sought a new producer for this sequel after falling out with previous partners Jolly Films who insisted that he make a sequel to the successful A Fistful Of Dollars otherwise he wouldn't get paid. The title of this film is rumoured to be a spiteful dig at his previous producers.
- Officially, Eastwood's "Monco" character is not the same one seen in A Fistful Of Dollars. Jolly Films sued Leone for ownership of Eastwood's "Joe" character but the court agreed that the character's mannerisms and appearance belonged in the public domain.
- It was the final film for Austrian actor Josef Egger who played the old prospector who speaks to Monco about his battle with the train company. He also appeared in A Fistful Of Dollars (like many of the cast) but in a different role.
What's not to like?
This film is a lot more daring than many of its contemporaries with a brutality not often seen at the time. The film includes many shootouts, a traumatic rape scene, cold-blooded murder and Indio's obvious drug abuse. This isn't the sort of old-fashioned western we're accustomed to, feeling more adult and gritty than one might suppose. Mind you, consider the fact that both of our heroes are cold-blooded bounty killers themselves and this shouldn't be too much of a shock.
There are times when the narrative stands aside to allow Leone to shoot a scene that stays in the memory such as the stand-off in the back street between Monco and three possible assailants. Personally, I'd have liked to see more of Indio - I was fascinated by how he was haunted by his own past but still pursued the life of an outlaw, as if he was trapped by his own reputation as a gang boss. He was a more conflicted character than first impressions give and I love the idea of planning the audacious bank-job as a way of ending his life, knowing the size of the target on his back.
Should I watch it?
For A Few Dollars More delivers on the potential seen in A Fistful Of Dollars but expands on the mythology of Eastwood's character, a scene-stealing Van Cleef in his element and Volontè's blistering performance as the evil outlaw. Coupled with Morricone's typically masterful score and Leone's pioneering direction, this film is not just one of the best spaghetti westerns but possibly one of the best westerns of all time. Gripping, tense and with more shootouts than an afternoon in Compton, this film deserves some serious recognition.
Great For: casual western fans, reviving Van Cleef's career, cowboys
Not So Great For: snowflakes, traditional western fans
What else should I watch?
While A Fistful Of Dollars might have beaten this film to introduce spaghetti westerns to US audiences, it is still an interesting watch today. Essentially a remake of the classic Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo, the film turned Eastwood from an actor into an icon as the Man With No Name and demonstrated that Hollywood didn't have the monopoly on producing westerns of real class. Despite critical reaction at the time being largely dismissive of these Italian films (hence the disparaging term 'spaghetti western', which still sticks today), they have since become to be acknowledged as genuine classic examples of the genre - none more so than the hugely popular and influential The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Eastwood's long association with westerns finally paid dividends in 1992 with his final western, Unforgiven. Winning four Oscars including Best Director for Eastwood and Best Picture (only the third western to ever do so), the film is a tight and gripping tale of revenge, redemption and reputation and serves as a fitting eulogy to a genre that has all but disappeared for cinemas in recent years. While not produced in the numbers they once were, modern westerns seem to be simple remakes of earlier classics like The Magnificent Seven, True Grit and 3:10 To Yuma. Either that or witless comedies like A Million Ways To Die In The West and I'd rather have a shot of rut-gut whiskey than watch that.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox