Thursday, May 6, 2010

The 25: Part 8: For A Few Dollars More

(The twenty five is an examination of the twenty five films that made me a cinephile. These aren’t necessarily what I consider best movies, nor are they necessarily my favorite. Though in some cases they are both. Instead these are the films that made the biggest most indenialable impression on me. Films that if they hadn’t hit a certain way at a certain time I would not be the same film goer that I am today. They’re the twenty five.)

I can’t think of another foreign filmmaker I knew before Sergio Leone. Despite the presence of Eastwood, Leone’s films remain so distinctly alien from their American counterparts, that they make the transition for the budding film fan easier. Familiar genre, sure, familiar stars yes, but the tone and style is so different, that they might as well be transmissions from Mars.

My Father loved the old Westerns, the works of Hawks, Ford, and Hathaway. It wasn’t until later in my film going life that I was able to appreciate those films for the poetic masterpieces that they were. Despite the fact that as a kid I had an unusually high tolerance for older film, at the time I was merely bored, and wondering why we weren’t watching a Sean Connery Bond instead.

The Leone movies though, those were different. Savage, stylistically, grimy, and funny. Wild in the way the other films weren’t.

I don’t know if there’s an opening shot to a movie I like better then For A Few Dollars More. Unconnected to the main narrative of the film, an unknown man rides on the plain, an unseen rifleman draws a bead on him, and blows him off his horse. Which run’s neighing across the plain before exploding into a stark Red and White animation as Ennio Morricone’s score comes in.

You now have my attention.

While it might not have anything to do with the film’s story it sells the tone plenty. Leone’s world is harsh and unforgiving and death is cheap and undignified. John Wayne never rode here.

For A Few Dollars More is often seen as the least of Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy. But its my favorite of the three. Operatic where The Good The Bad And The Ugly is mythical. Expansive where Fistful Of Dollars is Claustrophobic, For A Few Dollars More strikes the perfect balance in the series. While making room for a great performance as Lee Van Cleef, as the hard vengeance seeking hero Colonel Mortimer. Van Cleef controls every scene he’s in with an unfakeable hardness, and competence. Introduced stopping a train for his own convenience before hunting down a bounty with his wonderfully preposterous, borderline fetishtic rifles, in a fantastic scene.

All around this has to be one of the best cast Westerns ever made. Even Klaus Kinski shows up for the fun, in a performance that impressed me before I knew I should be impressed. It’s a small role but he steals every shot he’s in as a walking twitch of a man with a hunch back, who seems .2 seconds from going off at any given moment. The moment where Van Cleef casually strikes a match off his face, daring him to break rank and do something about it, is one of the tensest in the film.

Indio, played by Gian Volonte, returned from Fistful and playing a much more effective bad guy then the dandyish Ramon in same, is still one of my favorite villains. Savage and brutal, but elegant and thoughtful as well. A self reflective monster with just the right touch of sadness to him to make him scary.

But really it all comes down to Clint. Far from the clean cut heroes of the American Western’s The Man With No Name is a harsh, sneering, badass with a fully developed anti authoritarian streak. Watching him bust down a corrupt sheriff after doing his job for him, is a rare joy. He inhabits every scene with a swagger, dominates every conversation and gun fight with confidence and ease, and yet seems strangely vulnerable before Leone’s lens. For all his iconic glory there always seems that possibility that The Man With No Name will meet his match. He never knows all the angles he just thinks he does.

Its not just the actors in top form. Morricone’s score, sparse and haunting is one of his greatest. Particularly the central pocket watch theme which ends up at the core of most of the films major sequences.

Leone’s in top form as well. The film contains many of his best sequences. The eerie early morning prison raid set to Morricone’s tolling bell. Indio delivering his parable from the pulpet of the abandoned church, gives a normal “master plan” sequence a delightful satirical edge. The final showdown with Indio’s gang, both the town clearing shoot out which is some of the greatest action Leone ever shot, and the final showdown between Mortimer and Indio which is right up their with the climax of The Good The Bad And The Ugly for sheer tension. Clint in the aftermath piling his bounty of bodies on his mule cart adding up his winnings with ghastly good humor.

Its no secret that Leone’s greatness comes from his oft parodied ability to stretch a sequence far beyond its natural limits. But its not just his famous shoot outs that employ the technique. Take for example the scene in which Indio’s troops scope out the bank, counting how long it takes for the guard’s to make their circuit. A normal director would have left it at that, having delivered the exposition that the gang have cased the bank. Leone stretches out the scene as long as it can go. Cutting to each gang member (and our heroes) as they count off the guards steps. In the process he makes the scene unforgettable.

Despite the number of films I’ve seen since For A Few Dollars More, its wonderful odd foreignness still exists. It has a structure and a tone nearly unrecognizable to when compared to the Robert McKee school of act driven screenplay. Take the comic interlude involving a lusty properties of a hotel and her nebbish dwarf of a husband, which Leone lets play out beyond all reason. The effects charming, like watching a small comic interlude between the plays at a Vaudeville house.

Despite the effect on me, I can’t pretend that For A Few Dollars More made me run out into the street demanding fast helpings of world cinema. But it was a start. Others would come and build on that start, which we will come in their own time.

At the time For A Few Dollars More is what it remains for me today. A Ferociously entertaining film directed by a master and starring one.


Unknown said...

Well said! I would have to say that THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is my fave of the Dollars trilogy and probably my fave Leone film but FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is definitely a keeper.

I have fond memories of watching Leone's westerns with my grandfather who was a big fan of Eastwood's and loved these films. There is specific look and feel to these films that is quite unlike anything else and is one of the things that draws me to them.

Gideon Strumpet said...

Once again it appears that my opinions align quite well with J.D.

Bryce, I must say, Darjeeling, and now FAFDM? Do I detect an underdog streak here?

Bryce Wilson said...

@JD: I hear you. No matter how ubiqutous Leone becomes I still think his influence is underrated.

@ Gideon: Hmmm... you know I didn't of it that way but perhaps.

I don't think I like movies just because they're underrated. But I do acknowledge that I go to the mat for underrated movies.

Then again I've written three lengthy defenses of The Box. So perhaps I do just like underrated movies. lol.

dave said...

Is it really considered the least of the three? It is absolutely my favorite! It also has the best Morricone theme, as far as I'm concerned (tho' nothing in it musically touches Ecstasy of Gold, that's just transcendent).

If you're into Spaghetti Westerns, you should check out my Spaghetti Western Concept Rap album, called "Showdown at the BK Corral." It's basically an epic Spaghetti Western over 9 tracks - very influenced by Leone and Morricone. I'd love to hear what you think of it! You can download it for free at

Gideon Strumpet said...

In my humble estimation it is probably considered the least of the three because it is book-ended by A Fistful of Dollars which broke the mold for westerns, and by The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which is indubitably one of the greatest westerns of all time.

Unknown said...

You said it yourself ---- BORING AND STRETCHED OUT! And hour move, stretched into 2 hrs and 12 minutes. Not to mention enough whistling and flue to last a lifetime.

BAD MOVIE. Boring and cheesy.