For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Per qualche dollaro in più

At this point, it's a good guess that if you're reading this review, you're already quite familiar with this film, which is considered by many to be one of the best Italian westerns of all time. Writing about a Sergio Leone film is no easy task, and there are many out there who have given it a better analysis than I ever could hope to. As it turns out, I'm teaching a class right now about the historical American west, and we watch a few films, in addition to this one - Stagecoach and Unforgiven. It's forced me to dig a bit deeper on the film, especially in regard to the role of mythmaking that films and other forms of popular culture have played in the way that people view the American old west. So, while this film and my research are still fresh in my mind, coupled with the fact that it's been a bit too long without a review here, now is as good as a time as any to take another look at this film. Since almost of you are undoubtedly familiar with the film, I'll keep the plot summary to a minimum and focus on my thoughts on this film.

This film is the second film as the lead character of Hollywood acting legend, Clint Eastwood, and is also the second film in what is known as director Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy, with the first film being A Fistful of Dollars(1964) and the third being The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly(1966), the latter film in many critical "top films of all time" lists. It's not really a trilogy - even though the studios called Eastwood's character, "The Man With No Name," he had a name, and a different one in each film. The films are not really related to one another, and can be viewed independently. They are interesting to watch in sequence, to see Leone's evolution as a director, as well as Eastwood's progression as an actor. This is the film where Clint Eastwood started to develop the quiet, almost whispery persona that we now know well.

Our story involves two bounty hunters (men who seek wanted criminals for reward money). Eastwood plays the young bounty hunter, Manco, and Lee Van Cleef (veteran of many westerns in the 1950's, such as the legendary High Noon) plays the older bounty hunter, Colonel Douglas Mortimer. The are both seeking the bandit Indio, played by Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte. Indio has just busted out of jail, and is planning a big bank robbery. Manco wants him for the large price on his head, and Colonel Mortimer's reasons seem much more personal, as we shall soon find out...

I remember a few years ago, when I had first realized that there was a whole genre outside of Leone's films. I hadn't seen the Dollars trilogy for quite some time, and so I went back and watched them in order, three nights in a row. I remember being blown away - the films were so much better than I had remembered, with each one being an improvement over the last. Of course, seeing quite a few mediocre spaghettis had made this seem that much better, but independent of that fact, it's still a masterpiece. It is in this film that I notice a vast improvement over the first, incredible Dollars film. Leone had a bigger budget, of course, but everyone involved had taken their craft to a much higher level, whether it be Simi's set design, Eastwood's acting, and most importantly, Leone's vision. As sometime FFoP contributor Scherpschutter noted over in his excellent and thorough review of this film over at the SWDB, "it has more or less become the archetype of a spaghetti western, the one film that is all what the genre is about, and even more."

Truer words were never spoken. The camera angles, the score, the amorality of most of the characters, the integrated musical score, and of course, the archetype of the mysterious stranger, although on display in A Fistful of Dollars, are brought forth in greater depth and detail, and it's not a stretch for me to proclaim that a good deal of what came afterwards was influenced, when not blatantly ripped off, from this film. The revenge motive, central to this film, also became one of the conventions of the genre, as did the concept of the amoral bounty hunter..

Like the American westerns, the Italian westerns addressed the mythical west - whereas some American directors saw the west as a boundary between savagery and a new civilization as historian Frederick Jackson Turner put forth in his famous thesis, Leone saw it as hell on earth. In this particular film, he magnifies the myth of the west as a violent, lawless place, as well as elevated the myth of the gunfighter to new heights. We don't see the promise of a new life or the optimism that we sometimes saw in a film like John Ford's Stagecoach. Leone's west was one where life was cheap, where only the strong survive. There is nothing that convinces us that, other than Mortimer having the satisfaction of avenging his sister and Manco being richer, there will be a better life for any of them in terms of something different.

Of course, I can't just give this film a simple recommendation. It is absolutely vital that it is seen, whether one is a fan of Eurowesterns, westerns, or of great artistic films in general.

 

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