Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review – For a Few Dollars More

November 24, 2011

For a Few Dollars More – Italy, 1965

If a slight sense of cinematic déjà vu comes over you as you watch the second chapter in Sergio Leone’s the Man with No Name trilogy, there may be a reason for that. First, the actor who plays the antagonist in A Fistful of Dollars also plays the villain in For a Few Dollars More, the lead character wears the same clothing as the one in A Fistful of Dollars, and there’s the standard scene in which the lead character is caught and badly beaten, yet not killed as a result of the chief antagonist's being both psychotic and borderline bipolar. Perhaps only in movies could each of these conditions be appeased through the use of nicotine.

Before you say that the similarities are a result of the film being part of a series, there’s ample evidence that this was not Leone’s intention. If the film had been intended as a sequel, it would not be necessary to spend so much time re-establishing Clint Eastwood’s character. It is also highly unlikely that Leone would have cast the same actor in the role of the villain if the film had been intended as a sequel, seeing as how the villain in A Fistful of Dollars did not live to be able to swear revenge upon those that opposed him. In addition, the lead character would not have a different name. In For a Few Dollars More, he was referred to as “Joe.” Here, he’s called “Monco,” although to be fair that sentence was not included in the film when it was released in the U.S. in 1965, primarily so that the film could be advertised as the second part of an ongoing series. Yet there’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood is playing a character who at the very least has the same personality as Joe. Along with the similarities in clothing, he smokes the same kind of cigarette, uses the same gun, and seems to speak in the same tone of voice. And then there’s the title of the film itself, which surely sounds like a reference to the previous film.

So let’s call it an unintended sequel, and as such it has what can best be described as a problematic start. For a Few Dollars More finds the Man with No Name making a living as a bounty hunter, and from what we see in the film, he’s quite good at it. As with many sequels, For a Few Dollars More gives its main character a partner. This character comes in the form of Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), a more venerable bounty hunter who dresses like a gentleman and smokes a rather dignified-looking pipe. He’s a man who says, “Pardon me, ma’am” after he breaks down her door and chases away her customer. I can’t imagine Eastwood’s character being that polite. The film first establishes these two characters’ individual marksmanship skills and then, in typical film fashion, makes them adversaries. In an entertaining but somewhat superfluous scene, the two men square off in one of those gun duels that can only exist on the silver screen. In this one, they impress each other by making their hats dance across dusty, western roads and through the dark, starless sky. When two characters can do things like this, their moment of bonding can’t be far off.

The first half of For a Few Dollars More has a rather slow pace, perhaps too slow. It spends too much time establishing characters that have already been established, and it foreshadows the second half in a way that is far too obvious. Whenever a villain has an object as noticeable as a locket with an eerie ring tone, it’s not hard to predict that the object has an even greater importance to someone else or that it will play an important role later in the film. I’ll leave it for someone else to explain just why someone would choose a keepsake with such a creepy musical arrangement. The first half of the film also suffers from a lack of suspense. In one scene, the film’s villain, El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte), faces off against the man whose testimony put him in jail. As the creepy tune plays in the background, loud organ music blares in the foreground, and no one moves. We see Indio standing calmly, while the other man sweats profusely. The camera spins around, allowing viewers to see the faces of each member of Indio’s crew. The music rises in intensity and then dies suddenly, and only the sound of the locket pierces the silence. It’s a great scene, and it might have worked very well later in the film. Using it so early though robs it of most of its suspense, for it’s far too early in the film for a character like Indio to die.

The second half of the film greatly picks up the pace, as Monco and Mortimer team up to try to catch Indio and his gang. This involves one of them infiltrating Indio’s gang because as Mortimer explains it, they need one man on the inside and one on the outside. The bank heist is quite thrilling, and there are a number of double crosses that few will see coming. The film ends with an arresting confrontation that resembles a much more famous one in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Unfortunately, the second half continues Indio’s erratic behavior and overreacting, which often culminates in him laughing both maniacally and unrealistically. For it to be realistic, it has to inspire fear, not loyalty, yet no one in Indio’s group seems to fear that he’ll snap at any moment, even though he changes his mind several times, often to the convenience of our two heroes.

For a Few Dollars More is a good film that wants to be a great film. It tries hard to be about more than simply two bounty hunters trying to collect the rewards offered on wanted posters. Perhaps it tries too hard. The film is well directed, as all of Leone’s films that I’ve seen have been, and Eastwood and Van Cleef play off each other well. There are inconsistencies in time, and on at least one occasion, a character speaks without his mouth moving. This can happen when a film’s dialogue is dubbed, but it usually makes the film fodder for mockery, not praise. I enjoyed elements of the first half and most of the second half, yet to me, the film lacked both the quiet nobility and the suspense of A Fistful of Dollars, and it elects to make Van Cleef’s character somewhat more important at the end of the film, while reducing Eastwood’s to being an observer. An odd choice to say the least. But give it credit. It went contrary to the audience’s expectations. Many other films would simple have given the audience what they wanted to see. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

3 stars

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