“For A Few Dollars More” followed hard on the heels of its predecessor and is a more mature, satisfying film. Mike Sutton takes a look at MGM’s new Special Edition disc.
For A Few Dollars More seems, in retrospect, like a foregone conclusion considering the success of A Fistful Of Dollars. But in 1964, there was nothing inevitable about it. Sergio Leone had received nothing from the considerable domestic success of his first Western and wished to make a project which was small-scale and partially autobiographical, about growing up in Trastevere during the 1930s. However, he was under pressure to repeat his Western success and the more he thought about it, he gradually realised that this might be a chance to gain some financial reward for his efforts. A new deal, with Italian lawyer Alberto Grimaldi, offered Leone 50% of the profits plus expenses and this was clearly an offer that a man with a wife and children to support couldn’t refuse. So he set out on the development of For A Few Dollars More, obviously wishing to top his earlier film. This shows in the finished product. For A Few Dollars More is a more ambitious film than its predecessor in terms of narrative, character and style and it’s the film which really shows Leone developing the epic side of his filmmaking which would come to full flower in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. If it’s not his best film, I think it may be his most purely enjoyable; an exercise in narrative filmmaking which brims with style and confidence.
Leone brings back the Man With No Name – this time briefly given the name Manco – in the shape of Clint Eastwood and explicitly makes him a bounty hunter with no other motivation than money. This gives the film a specific historical context during the late 19th Century when law and order in the West was maintained in a decidedly fragile state by a haphazard system of local Sheriffs and travelling Judges. Bounty hunters were not only tolerated, they were encouraged as an efficient way of finding and dealing with fugitives, the ‘Wanted’ posters acting as a kind of “Crimewatch” with monetary rewards. Much of the film takes place in El Paso where Eastwood’s familiar character is joined by a new figure; Colonel Douglas Mortimer played by the great Lee Van Cleef. Mortimer is also a bounty hunter but one haunted both by his past as a soldier and a tragic family history. After a brief, witty confrontation , the two men team up with the common goal of bringing to justice El Indio (Volonte), a deranged, dope-addled bandit who is inextricably linked to Mortimer’s family tragedy.
The sweeping confidence of the film reflects a filmmaker who is finally able to do what he wants in the way he wants. Leone had been forced to adopt the pseudonym Bob Robertson on A Fistful of Dollars but was finally able to use his own name. The same goes for Gian Maria Volonte who was credited on the earlier film as ‘Johnny Wels’ but is here credited with his own name and Ennio Morricone, who used to be know as ‘Dan Savio’. This new-found identity communicates itself in the film. Leone’s work is immensely stylish, packed with increasingly exotic use of close-ups and long-shots and pacing which, while never slow, is a little stately in a manner which often recalls Luchino Visconti. There is a lot more intentional humour in this film than in its predecessor with whole sequences built up for the sake of a humourous pay-off, such as the scene with the apples towards the end. There’s a lushness to the film, both in its stunning visuals which make full use of the landscape in a way which Leone would intensify in his next two films, and in its emotional richness, largely supplied by the character of Colonel Mortimer. In Fistful, there’s not a great deal of motivation or even characterisation. In For A Few Dollars More, Mortimer’s character is virtually all motivation and, partly due to Lee Van Cleef’s sympathetic and witty portrayal, he comes across as the main target for our sympathy. Virtually every Spaghetti Western which followed the huge success of this movie in Italy would feature a flashback to explain the motivations of a particular character but I don’t think there are many which are either as simple or as effective as the one here. Leone keeps this in the background at first, with unexplained memory ‘flashes’ from El Indio that are later revealed as his connection with Mortimer. The symbol of the musical watch, with the initially unexplained portrait of a lady, is well used too, providing another angle of narrative suspense as we wonder what connection this is going to have to the story.
Everything in For A Few Dollars More seems a little bit ‘bigger’ than in its predecessor. The violence is a little more graphic and sadistic, Carlo Simi’s production design of El Paso – Leone’s first great bustling period location – is on a larger scale and the psychopathic and, indeed, sociopathic behaviour of El Indio is rather more melodramatic and theatrical. Gian Maria Volonte takes the opportunity to go over the top with both hands, consuming the scenery with relish as one of the nastiest, most irredeemable bad guys in cinema history. His essential badness is established early on when he kills a woman and child for no good reason (albeit off-screen) and is compounded when we discover that even his dope-induced hallucinations are seriously warped. In contrast to this slightly garish conception, Clint Eastwood’s performance seems all the more restrained and funny. He gets comic effects simply by doing very little and allowing all around him to emote their way into the stratosphere. His character is made even less heroic than in Fistful, counting as a hero mostly because he’s so good with a gun and finally being slightly redeemed through his friendship with Mortimer. This friendship adds a more human dimension to the whole film, bringing in complex emotions which the first movie isn’t interested in. Lee Van Cleef’s warm, likeable performance – it’s hard to condemn him even when he shoots a horse – is a masterstroke; mature, if cynical, reflection contrasted with Eastwood’s youthful arrogance. As has been pointed out, simply casting Lee Van Cleef adds a great deal to the film. His familiarity from scores of Hollywood Westerns brings a whole new level of reference to the film, something which reached its natural conclusion in the endless referencing of other films in Once Upon A Time In The West.
Leone’s style is becoming developed in this movie and it contains most of the stylistic elements which we consider part of his filmmaking. Along with the harshly cynical view of the world – good men have to turn to violence because of the greed and corruption around them – and extreme stylisation of close-up shots, we get more and more religious iconography creeping in – the church in which El Indio delivers his speech about robbing the bank being a particularly blatant example – and some scenes which keep recurring in his work such as the circular ‘dance of death’ during the final gunfight. His lack of interest in women characters, which is evident to some extent in Fistful is very evident here with the female characters either being grotesques – the hotel owner’s wife – or whores – the woman in the bathtub. The exceptions are marginal – the poor wife who gets killed – or very specifically required to serve a narrative function – the saintly women victim in the flashback. With the exception of Jill in Once Upon A Time In The West, this trend would be a defining factor of Leone’s work, reaching its nadir in Once Upon A Time In America . One should say, however, that this isn’t particularly unusual in the genre with women either marginalised or idealised in films as varied as High Noon and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. The directors who supplied strong women characters in their Westerns were either iconoclasts like Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller or those such as Howard Hawks who habitually gave women better roles than they usually got in the genre because that’s what they did in most of their other films. But it’s useless to try and project a post-feminist sociological view onto Leone – he was what he was and no amount of liberal hand-wringing is going to change that. In every other aspect, his films remain strangely timeless and not at all unlike the ‘fairy tales’ that Leone always wanted them to be.
My views on this disc are largely identical to the ones I expressed in my Fistful of Dollars review.
In my review of Fistful I wrote:
The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. In a word, it looks stunning. That’s not only in comparison to the earlier MGM release but in comparison with releases of many more recent films. The film has been extensively restored and there is little print damage present. It looks crisp and sharp with plenty of detail. The colours look natural and are full and rich. Little artifacting is present – mostly its noticeable in the darker scenes – and there’s enough grain to give a filmic appearance without being excessive.
I can’t add much to this here. For A Few Dollars More is similarly impressive, representing a vast improvement on the picture quality of the first release. The main difference is that there is rather more print damage than I would have expected with blue speckling in places and a few noticeable scratches here and there. However, this represents a considerable effort on the part of the film restorers and should delight fans of the film.
My comments on the soundtrack are also virtually the same as for the Fistful disc:
There are two soundtracks provided, both in English. Sadly, neither of these is the original Mono track. The director of MGM’s technical operations has explained how damaged the English composite track had become and he enthuses on the disc about how good the film now sounds.. Up to a point, he’s sort of right. The music has never sounded as crisp as it does here and fans of surround sound will be pleased to find some moments in the film which have been ‘enhanced’ to utilise the surround channels and the rears. The gunshots have been fiddled with to make them boom a bit more impressively in the .1 LFE. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS 5.1 Surround tracks, although the latter seems to be a bit louder overall. This is also the case on the other new Leone releases I’ll be reviewing. But, and it’s a big but, this isn’t the soundtrack for the film that Leone designed and, considering how assiduous he was about the sound for his films, we really should be given the original restored Mono track as well as this remix. As the original track isn’t included, I haven’t given a mark for the audio. If you like surround remixes then this will suit you very nicely. If you don’t, there doesn’t seem to be an option I’m afraid since the intended R1 releases for these films seem to have vanished from the radar.
I should add, this time, that I didn’t feel the dialogue was always properly balanced in the mix. However, once again, if you like remixes then this one will be fine. Fans of the original soundtrack will be gnashing their teeth in frustration that similar time and effort couldn’t have been put into restoring the Mono. Also on the disc this time are French DD 5.1 and DTS tracks.
The extras are also very similar. Christopher Frayling’s commentary track is, once again, a model of the form being analytical, intelligently critical and often funny. He also appears on the first featurette, “A New Standard”, to give a twenty minute introduction to the film. Again, a ten minute interview with Clint Eastwood is present under the title “Back For More” and there are more interviews with Alberto Grimaldi, Mickey Knox and Sergio Donati, .which focus quite closely on For A Few Dollars More. “The American Release Version” looks at the scenes which were trimmed for the US release but which have now been restored to the film and there’s also another location comparison.
We also get 12 American radio spots, the original theatrical trailer – amusing in its reference to Leone being “better known as Bob Robertson” – and the double bill trailer. Once again, the Collector’s Gallery is a series of monochrome stills, mostly taken from the film but with one or two behind the scenes shots.
The film is divided into 32 chapter stops. Once again, both the film and the extra features have optional English subtitles.
For A Few Dollars More is a more considered and thoughtful film than A Fistful Of Dollars and the introduction of Lee Van Cleef to give Eastwood someone to play off is a brilliant notion. It’s still got plenty of action but there’s also time for humour and pathos and Leone’s style is clearly developing very nicely. The DVD looks good and contains worthwhile extras but the lack of the Mono track is, as I said in my earlier review, disappointing. However, given the delay in the appearance of the R1 versions and suspicions that these might not contain the original soundtracks either, this disappointment isn’t enough to stop me recommending these releases.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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