Saturday, August 04, 2012

For a Few Dollars More

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/17/07 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed by Sergio Leone with a script by Leone, Fulvio Montella, and Luciano Vincenzoni, For a Few Dollars More is about two men on the hunt for a ruthless bandit who has been killing many with his gang. With Clint Eastwood returning as the Man with No Name, he is teamed up with character actor Lee Van Cleef as a fellow bounty hunter named Colonel Douglas Mortimer. The film is a more epic, stylistic that took Leone's visual style from his previous film to new heights with its iconic use of close-ups, editing, visual scope, and the duels that would define his westerns. Also starring Leone regulars Gian Maria Volonte, Joseph Egger, Aldo Sambrell, Mario Brega, and Benito Stefanelli along with Mara Krupp and legendary German actor Klaus Kinski. For a Few Dollars More is a solid, action-packed film from Sergio Leone and company.

Arriving into Tucumcari for a bounty, a man in black named Colonel Douglas Mortimer finds his target Guy Callaway (Jose Terron) and kills the man for $1000. While picking up his money, he asks about another killer targeted for a bounty in another part of town. Yet, a no-named man called Manco (Clint Eastwood) arrives into White Rocks where he finds and kills his bounty target Baby Cavanaugh (Jose Marco) along with his gang. Meanwhile, a ruthless killer named Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) has been freed by his gang while killing his cell mate (Dante Maggio), who turns out to be a carpenter who gave Indio information about the bank in El Paso, Texas. Indio's escape caught the attention of Mortimer and Manco as the two go to El Paso to find him and his gang. The two arrive at different times as Manco finds information through a young boy named Fernando (Antonio Ruiz) about the arrival of Mortimer as he charms a landlady named Mary (Mara Krupp) and gets a room.

After killing a man (Lorenzo Robledo) over his betrayal along with his family, Indio sends his group of men including Nino (Mario Brega) and the hunchback Wild (Klaus Kinski) to scout the bank. With Manco and Mortimer watching the men arrive, they also start to notice each other after Manco makes a confrontation with Wild. Both Manco and Mortimer watch what is going on as they realize they're after the same bounty. With Mortimer finding his information on Manco from the papers, Manco finds out about Mortimer through a prophet (Joseph Eggers). Realizing that they're both skilled and want the same thing, they decide to form a partnership as they plan for Manco to join up Indio's gang by freeing one of his notorious men named Sancho Perez (Panos Papadopulos). After freeing Sancho, Manco becomes part of Indio's gang as he and four other men are set to rob a bank for Santa Cruz as a diversion for Indio’s gang to rob the El Paso bank.

After killing a few of Indio's men, Manco makes diversions of his own while wanting to see what Indio and his men are doing. Realizing that they made a change of plans and not going for the expected safe, Manco and Mortimer try to figure out what is going on. Manco returns to Indio's hideout as they realize, they couldn't open the safe where Mortimer arrives wanting his own take. With the two men joining Indio, they ride into a town for a hideout as they finally got access to the money. Yet, Indio's intelligence that is supported by Groggy (Luigi Pistilli) reveals the identities of Manco and Mortimer as the two men are beaten up. Yet, Indio's wild plans to let them go while killing one of Indio's own men (Aldo Sambrell) for the blame. Groggy learns what Indio is up to as Manco and Mortimer have their own agendas with Mortimer revealing a far bigger motive to capture Indio that is worth more than any bounty.

Whereas Leone's previous film A Fistful of Dollars was a film that was reinventing the western genre with the story basis of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. For a Few Dollars More is a more ambitious picture in terms of visual scope, staging, locations, look, and violence. In many ways, this film is really a transitional film for Leone as he uses a lot of the elements he is known for. Extreme close-ups, wide compositions, duels, huge locations, set designs, rhythmic editing, opera musical cues, and flashbacks are key to Leone's style of cinema. It's in this film where Leone is starting to incorporate these styles into his direction that would be perfected in his upcoming westerns The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Still, despite all of these stylistic choices, Leone remains a storyteller.

While taking the same theme of playing double that was in his previous film, the film is really more about two men going after the same man for one thing, money. Yet, for Douglas Mortimer, it's about a lot more than that when it comes to Indio. Particularly in a flashback scene that involved the death of a man and the raping of a woman with a chiming stopwatch reveals not just Mortimer's motives but also Indio's hazy, paranoid behavior that is driven more by his use of drugs. This is in some ways, the first Western to feature the use of narcotics in a film, which was taboo at the time. It's only to convey Indio's state of mind where despite the fact that he's intelligent and ruthless, he is his own worst enemy as he is sometimes, more vicious than his own men than anyone else he kills including women and children.

The character of Indio is a very complex character as the role of the villain is given more depth as he isn't some caricature but a man with wits, intelligence and skill as he is a villain that people could fear yet his men seem to revere for the most part. Yet, he only has a few of his men that often questions his motives including Nino and Groggy, the latter is the one who knows what could go wrong. Then, you got the two men in the Man with No Name and Col. Mortimer. There's an uneasy relationship where you have the young, quick-witted Manco and the older, experienced, and inventive Mortimer who are both equals in skill and such. While Manco is the kind of guy who just wants to do things in a simple way, Mortimer is more of a strategist who plans his way and tries to see how he can outwit Indio.

Leone's take on characters and their development is heightened more through his fluid, eye-wielding direction. Taking a more epic approach for its scope and story, Leone decides to slow things a bit for a sense of tension and momentum. Notably the third and final act that involves a big shootout and most of all, a duel. Leone's use of the widescreen lenses and his knowledge for depth of field, definitely captures the sense of aura and location in that final duel where the two men are at the edge of the screen. There, Leone uses those compositions for a sense of excitement of what is to come. Leone's knowledge of the western with all of its momentum while bringing a sense of attitude with explosions, gunfights, and such as this film he was just getting better at his craft.

Cinematographer Massimo Dallamano does a wonderful job with many of the film's exterior look where the film has a gritty look yet looks gorgeous at the same due to its locations of Almeria, Spain while the interiors are also shot with style, notably the interiors of Indio's hideouts. Editors Eugenio Alabiso, Adriana Novelli, and Giorgio Serrallonga do great work in maintaining the film's epic feel while using fast-cuts to convey the film's sense of action and tension, notably the extreme close-up faces cut to another that would become iconic and later, perfected by Nino Baragli in the upcoming film, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly.

Longtime art director Carlos Simi does exquisite work with the film's set design from the look of the towns to the decayed church hideout of Indio where it has an old-school Western feel but with a European look with its stoned villages, churches, and the bank itself as Simi's set design is brilliant in every way. Simi's work on the costumes is also great, whether it's the green shirt that Wild wears to the black suit of Col. Mortimer as the film's look is stylized yet cool. Sound designers Oscar De Arcangelis and Guido Ortenzi do amazing work with the film's sound whether it's the gunshots, the horses, or any moments of violence to emphasize the style of the West. Special effects supervisor Giovanni Corridori does some fantastic work with some of the film's action, notably the explosion of the bank that gives the film more bombast to complement Leone's ambitions.

Then there's the film's amazing music by the Maestro, Ennio Morricone. Morricone's intense, operatic score that features a galloping theme with Fender guitars to serve as the theme for Manco with uses of whistles and doomy music to convey the other themes of characters. Some of the intensity of Morricone's music features the use of piano and striking arrangements to convey the suspense while the chiming music in the clocks is used for Indio's hazy state of mind in the flashback sequences. Then, there's the music of the final duel that is purely in Morricone's operatic style with huge arrangements, lots of momentum, and a sweeping voice that is just jaw-dropping. It's another sign that when it comes to Leone’s music, it doesn't feel right without the contributions of Ennio Morricone.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled to emphasize Leone's quirky yet unique visual style with performances from Rosemary Dexter as the woman Indio raped and Peter Lee Lawrence as her husband, Kurt Zips as Mary's husband at the hotel, and Carlos Simi as the El Paso bank manager. Other small roles like Antonio Ruiz as the boy informant, Jose Terron and Jose Marco as the opening targets early in the film, Diana Rabito as a girl in a tub, Dante Maggio as Indio's cell mate, Joseph Egger as a train-complaining prophet, and Leone's baby daughter Francesca as a crying baby. In the various roles of Indio's gang, Aldo Sambrell, Benito Stefanelli, are Panos Papadopulos excellent while Mario Brega is a notable standout as the big Nino and Luigi Pistilli as the intelligent Groggy.

Another notable standout as a member of Indio's gang is the late yet legendary Klaus Kinski as the blue-eyed hunchback Wild. Kinski brings an eerie presence to the film where if you mess with him, there is surely bound to be a whole lot of trouble. Though it's a small role, Kinski's performance is still memorable as it's a great early role before his landmark work with Werner Herzog. Gian Maria Volonte is brilliant as the crazed, ruthless Indio, a pot-smoking, intelligent killer who has huge ambitions but is also flawed when it comes to his drug use. Volonte's performance is intense as it is eerie as he gives the villain an edge that hadn't seen before. It's a great performance from the late, Italian actor.

Lee Van Cleef, who was known prior to this film as a character actor, is magnificent in his role as Colonel Douglas Mortimer. Van Cleef's performance is brilliant for his subtle, witty, and cool presence where his eyes is the most distinctive feature of his performance. A role, originally supposed to go to Henry Fonda, Van Cleef definitely brings that sense of experience and inventiveness that is a joy to watch as the late actor makes a mark into the genre. Finally, there's Clint Eastwood in another kick-ass performance as the Man with No Name. Eastwood's laconic, deadpan performance filled with witty one-liners is great to watch as the actor seems more comfortable with the iconic character he plays. Eastwood is a total badass as he throws punches and shoots without hesitation while being a stoic, charming man who can woo the ladies and such. It's a great performance from the iconic legend.

The Region 1 2-Disc DVD Collector's Edition that's also part of the Sergio Leone Anthology Box Set that included the Special Editions of A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, and Duck, You Sucker! features the film as it is presented in the 2:35:1 aspect ratio for the widescreen format. Restored and remastered in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound for English as well as Mono sound for English and Spanish with the French in Stereo. Included in the first disc of the DVD along with English and Spanish subtitles is a feature-length commentary track from film historian Sir Christopher Frayling.

Frayling's feature-length commentary is very informative about the film's history as well as what went on during production. The film, made for $600,000, gave Leone more confidence as he and his crew worked with a bigger budget, had more time, and for the most part was fun except for the later part of filming that involved problems with Gian Maria Volonte who had enough of Leone's multiple takes. Leone originally wanted Lee Marvin or Henry Fonda to play the role of Col. Mortimer but couldn't do it at the time because of budget concerns. Instead, he chose Lee Van Cleef based on the Westerns he had seen and loved where Frayling revealed that after this film and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Van Cleef became a superstar in Europe making loads of Westerns. Frayling said it was For a Few Dollars More that really broke the door down for European-produced Westerns that became big in Europe for years to come.

Frayling's commentary is extremely informative and insightful to hear while he does reveal a brief tidbit on Klaus Kinski who was hired by David Lean to be in Doctor Zhivago based on his appearance in this film. Frayling also does extensive profile on two of Leone's long-standing collaborators in production designer Carlos Simi and Ennio Morricone who would eventually become big names after this film.

The second disc of the DVD features similar special feature contents that appeared in the special edition DVD for A Fistful of Dollars. The first featurette entitled A New Standard is a 20-minute segment featuring an interview with Sir Christopher Frayling on the film. Discussing a lot of the similar details he mentioned in the audio commentary, Frayling emphasized more on what Leone wanted. With help from producer Alberto Grimaldi, Leone wanted to create film that was very different from his previous film and making it into a fairytale of sorts for grownups. Frayling also goes into the relationship of the Manco and Col. Mortimer characters that was different in some respects to previous westerns though there were a few references about a possible gay thing from a viewpoint of the gay community. The violence is also discussed because Leone didn't like the way Hollywood films approached violence by deciding to have men shot and then fall off dead in the same short or see a bullet hole of sorts to add a new edge. The interview is very brilliant overall.

The 13-minute featurette Back for More is an interview with Clint Eastwood recorded in August 2003 originally for the special edition DVD for The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. Eastwood discusses Leone's approach to casting minor characters as well as his directing style that has been an influence in Eastwood's own directing style. He decided to do For a Few Dollars More immediately thanks to the success of the previous film and he also talked briefly about Lee Van Cleef whom he knew as a character actor and had a lot of fun with him on set. Eastwood's interview is enjoyable to watch as the actor-director talks in a very laid-back style. Tre Voci is a 10-minute interview with producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and translator Mickey Knox about Leone and the film. Grimaldi talked about backing Leone after the rough experience in making Fistful that often had numerous producers fighting. Donati reveals his contributions to the film's script while Knox talked about Lee Van Cleef. They each talk about Leone's ambitions for the film and his emphasis to maintain a vision for the film.

The six-minute featurette about the film's original release and the American version reveals the subtle cuts made by American producers for the release of For a Few Dollars More. Three notable scenes in the film were trimmed for the American release, first is the introduction of Manco where in the American version, he's known as Mano to emphasize the promotional ad for the Man with No Name character. The second scene edited is the laugh of Indio with the poster following his escape from prison. The third scene is a shorter version of a beating scene with Eastwood and Van Cleef that is followed by longer dialogue from Indio and his gang. The fifth and final featurette is location comparisons scene to the exterior settings in Almeria, Spain then and now, notably the El Paso set which is now a tourist attraction. Looking at the locations then and some of the now, a few of those buildings are either in ruins or no longer exist with the exception of the El Paso set and the interior of Indio's church which is now a real church.

Also in the DVD are 12 radio spots promoting the film and trailers for this film plus a double-bill trailer with A Fistful of Dollars, the special edition of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, The Great Escape, and the special edition DVDs of Hoosiers, Raging Bull, and the anthology box set for Rocky. Accompanying the DVD is a booklet discussing the film's influence and impact for the Spaghetti Western genre that would follow for years to come. The booklet also revealed its influence on other film directors, notably Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino who are both big fans. More recently, the third Pirates of the Caribbean film had a reference to the film in relation to stopwatches.

For a Few Dollars More is an overall thrilling, exciting, and epic film from Sergio Leone and company helmed by the brilliant performances of Clint Eastwood & Lee Van Cleef. Leone fans will no doubt consider this one of his essential films while fans of the westerns will also enjoy Leone's take on the genre as well as its humor. With Leone fans now getting a chance to own the special edition DVD, it's a good time for Leone completists as the late yet legendary director is still gaining some respect. In the end, for a film that is epic, stylish, and loads of fun, For a Few Dollars More is the film to see.

(C) thevoid99 2012

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