Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte
Plot: Dangerous bank robber (Volonte) has a major bounty on his head, causing two bounty killers (Eastwood, Van Cleef) to come after him, one for money, the other for revenge.
There seems to be a bit of confusion whether For A Few Dollars More is a sequel to A Fistful of Dollars or a stand-alone Western. Researching the matter offers solid points for both arguments. The stories themselves are largely separate, typical drifter tales of stoic cowboys wandering into a situation, causing mayhem and sauntering out again. The repetition of the word Dollars in this title though suggests a form of chronology however, as does Clint Eastwood seemingly playing the same silent character. Is it a coincidence that both of Eastwood’s lead heroes wear that same poncho and have the same smouldering persona? Or simply Sergio Leone lazily copying and pasting a lead hero, because what isn’t broke shouldn’t be fixed? There are other problems with referring to this movie as a sequel mainly the casting of Gian Maria Volonte once again as the villain. This frustrates movie historians trying to make sense of the viability of the Sergio Leone trilogy as an actual trilogy or simply the name of the collection of Leone’s three iconic spaghetti westerns, yet it is hard to dislike too much, simply because in both films Volonte has brought an outstanding Western baddie to the table. The closest we can get to an answer is that Leone saw this as a stand-alone story, simply using an almost identical lead hero, yet the producers (and perhaps Eastwood as the hero is performed so identically), tried to tie it together into a three part story behind the scenes, so the story was easier to market.
However, when boiled down to it, does it really matter? Because what For A Few Dollars More truly is is a bloody good Western. Leone continues to prove that his outsider perspective of the genre was the boost that the dying Wild West movie needed to prolong its life in cinema. The story sees a particularly nasty bandit, El Indio, try to rob the most secure bank in Texas. Volonte was one of the best things about Fistful of Dollars and here he continues to impress as a solid Western villain. Some have suggested that here Volonte portrays one of the greatest bad guys in Western cinema, a genre that usually saves its best characterisation for its lead hero, but here Volonte is given reams of dialogue and depth, whereas the likes of Eastwood are kept brooding and largely silent. While Volonte’s bad guy was more dangerous in Fistful, with A Few Dollars More, his villain is bursting with twice the personality. He is a strange blend of dangerously cunning and impulsively bonkers, able to meticulously plan out a daring bank robbery, while giving into indulgent spur-of-the-moment slaughtering of his own crew. Even before the script has begun developing him, it is suggested there is more to the character as he sits in silence over a cigarette or stares lovingly at a pocket-watch that plays a musical tune. As he rounds up his dangerous crew, the story shows us two bounty killers who see the Wanted poster and decide that they might try their luck at taking down this notorious fugitive. Clint Eastwood plays the Man With No Name (who may or may not be the same mysterious figure from A Fistful of Dollars), who sees El Indio as just another body to hand into the sheriff. More interesting is the character of Lee Van Cleef, an older man who is just as sharp-minded as Eastwood, but armed with a more impressive arsenal, including a revolver with a modified handle to improve accuracy. While Eastwood is in it for the cash, Van Cleef has a more personal motive, hinted to us by his reaction to the very name of El Indio and flashbacks from the criminal himself that shows the murder of a young man and the rape of a young woman. This creates the strange sensation of Eastwood’s hero giving way to Van Cleef as the main hero of the story. There is almost a sense that The Man With No Name is interrupting someone else’s movie, which gives the story an unique standing. As a reluctant partnership is brokered between the two bounty killers, Eastwood watches with passive amusement at the revenge story he has found himself caught up in. The plot is far more intricate than Fistful yet hardly too frantic to keep up with. While Fistful centred around Eastwood playing two gangs off against each other, a slow-, burning means of tension, this movie is able to throw a more immediate sense of satisfaction at us, but still keeping an overall story.
And this is where Leone gets to strut his stuff. The pairing of Eastwood to Leone remains the best Western team-up of all time (perhaps only beaten by Eastwood directing himself decades later), both players able to get the most out of the Western genre, knowing it like the back of their hand. Leone directs A Few Dollars More like a series of Western vignettes, the opening hour of the film almost a series of short stories that wonderfully knit together into a gripping whole. We are introduced to Eastwood and Van Cleef, separately as they tackle their own bounty killer mission before starting to track El Indio. Westerns have never quite lent themselves to the action genre, the gun fights brutal and violent, yet ever so brief. Therefore, Leone works more on the psychological thrills rather than the visual ones. As Eastwood walks into a situation that quickly looks threatening, the suspense fills the atmosphere in a heartbeat. We are transfixed, watching Eastwood calmly survey the room full of murderous bandits, wondering how he is going to get out of this one. The actual action is condensed into a sudden explosion of violence that is over before it is begun, but in having the slow build-up, it feels like a worthy pay-off to a cracking scene. There is a brilliant sequence that works as a solid example to this trend. Eastwood and Van Cleef meet for the first time. At this point in time, they are rivals, both going after the same target. By Wild West rules, one of them leaves this scene face down, bullet holes in their back. However, we have both seen evidence that each character is not someone messed with lightly. The scene is Leone at his best, as each character pushes buttons, the swelling of tension almost unbearable. It is visually iconic too, Eastwood shooting Van Cleef’s hat into the distance every time he tries to pick it up off of the floor. There is no need for flashy shoot-outs; everything is in the absence of violence here. The movie is a series of events like this that keep For A Few Dollars More a pulse-pounding experience. I might have spoken too soon when I said A Fistful of Dollars was the perfect Western. This movie is so much more.
Final Verdict: Leone takes the success of his last Western and improves it tenfold with great suspense and thrilling narrative.