For a Few Dollars More: Sergio Leone’s second Western with Clint Eastwood is bigger and better than the first one, and gave Lee Van Cleef his breakout role

For a Few Dollars More(1965) is the second film in the so called “Dollars” trilogy of Euro-Westerns directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as “The Man with no Name”. This is a bigger, better and more successful film than their first film, A Fistful of Dollars, and it provided veteran character actor, Lee Van Cleef, with a breakout role.

“Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.”

For a Few Dollars More: What a honest title for a movie sequel?. Leave it to the ultimate postmodern master, Sergio Leone, to come up with such a title for the sequel to his most successful film: the 1964 spaghetti western The Fistful of Dollars, which was the first in the “Dollars” trilogy; a film that not only launched the careers of Leone, star Clint Eastwood and Music composer Ennio Morricone, but also revived the Italian film industry; by inventing a new sub-genre of Euro-Westerns: Westerns made in Europe , primarily in Spain and Italy, and with a European cast and crew and probably an obscure American actor in the lead role. Sequels to movies have been made since 1920’s and always, the main objective for making a sequel is to make a little bit more money. It’s like producing a new bottle of Coco cola: you get the consumer addicted to something and then keep giving them more of it; the recipe is the same , the bottle is the same; maybe you increase the intoxication quotient of it. With movies, you repeat the same concept, stars, characters and milieu, only for the next installment in the franchise, you make it bigger and louder. It’s never more obvious than in today’s age, when all films are franchises. But the “Dollars” films are very different in that regard. Sure, Leone is repeating a certain kind of character in a certain kind of world, but, each film in the trilogy is a step up the ladder, artistically, in terms of ambition and execution. Through these three films, we see the evolution of a major film artist, a major movie star and a widely popular movie (sub)genre. This is officially Leone’s fourth movie- Last Days of Pompeii, Colossus of Rhodes and The Fistful of Dollars being the earlier three – , but i like to look at it as his second film, because we don’t see Leone’s signature style in his first two films at all, it’s only with The Fistful of Dollars that we get all the Leone tics, even if it’s in its nascent form. If “A Fistful of Dollars” was a trailer to the Leone style, then “For a Few Dollars More” is the full picture. It’s bigger, it’s better, it’s expansive, it’s more operatic, it has more actors & characters, but above all,  it’s more weird, crazy and eccentric than, not just the first film, but anything made in the mainstream up until that time. Gian maria volonté who played the ruthless villain Ramon in the first film returns here as a totally bonkers bandido El Indio, who is ten times more crazy than Ramon. The film was made for thrice the budget of the first; hence Leone could afford more locations, sets and extras, as opposed to the one-town western that “A Fistful of Dollars was”; above all there are two protagonists in the film; joining Clint Eastwood’s iconic ‘Man with no name‘ (here named Manco) in his adventures is Lee Van Cleef’s Colonel Douglas Mortimer, making this more of a “buddy” western.

Like all of Leone films, this one too is an ‘Adult fairy tale’: we have two heroes going on a “treasure hunt”; both are bounty hunters, rivals at first, then partners. The prize at stake is the psychotic bandit El Indio, who has escaped from jail, and is now carrying a hefty price $10 thousand on his head. The prize becomes much larger when Indio robs the  Bank of El Paso and the loot also adds up to the bounty. While Clint’s Manco, is as usual, purely driven by financial interests in pursuing Indio, for Mortimer, the elder of the two, the pursuit of Indio is more personal. As it is typical of Leone, he drops bread crumbs throughout the film in the way of intermittent flashbacks and holds back the big reveal till the operatic climax. Obviously, Manco is less a name, more a sobriquet (Like “Blondie” in The Good The Bad and the Ugly) which means  “Monk” in Italian- giving the requisite religious allegory that’s present in all Leone films, and  “the one-handed man” in Spanish- Manco keeps his right hand shielded by his serape so that, at first, one wonders as if he is paralyzed on the right side. But when he draws and shoots his gun, he uses his right hand to deadly effect. Manco only uses his right hand to draw and shoot; all his less deadly business is conducted with his left hand. Mortimer, on the other hand, is the wise sage; about twenty years older than Manco and is a thinker;  though Manco is the presumed hero, it turns out that Mortimer is smarter, more thoughtful, better equipped with weapons, and a better shot. He is superior to Manco in every way, though Van Cleef was only 6 years older than Eastwood at the time, he embodies this character with extraordinary amount of depth and dignity.

The beginning of the film gives a good indication to its craziness. We get the typical ‘Leone style’ wide shot of the Spanish desert with a rider, a speck in the distance, slowly coming into focus; we hear whistling sounds on the soundtrack. In the first film, we have seen Clint Eastwood ride in from a distance into the town of “San Miguel”; so we expect that it’s the same case here as well; and as we wait for Clint’s full profile to come into focus, something surprising happens: the rider is shot down by someone from behind the camera, we only here the gunshots – and in the distance the lone rider falling off the horse dead – and then we see cigar smoke being emitted into the frame which morphs into the film’s title credits, with Ennio Morricone’s catchy, electronic score playing in the background. The titles sequence is very different from the ‘Rotoscope‘ images shown in A Fistful of Dollars. Thus, right from the beginning of the film itself,  Leone is turning the tables on the audience; the unseen person shooting down the rider is actually the hero of the film. Next: we get the introduction of Col. Mortimer: he is travelling by train and has the appearance of a preacher; he is intently reading the Bible. He says he has to get down at Tucumcari, but the train does not stop at Tucumcari; Never mind, Mortimer pulls the chain and get down at the Tucumcari station. We realize that he is a bounty hunter pursuing a wanted outlaw in the town. Soon, he manages to ambush the outlaw and kill him in cold blood; in course of this scene, we realize that Mortimer is an expert with weapons –  a sort of James Bond in the West – and he carries a wide variety of guns and instruments in his saddle bags. We then move on to the introduction of Clint Eastwood’s Manco, who, also a bounty hunter, is in another town pursuing another bandit with a price on his head. The introduction of Eastwood is more theatrical  than Mortimer’s; there is wind and rain on the screen, with sounds of thunder in the background. The scene is again packed with Leone’s surprises; with misdirection aplenty and strange behavior and appearance of the actors – one guy appears with a half shaven face. Once the heroes are introduced, it’s time to introduce the villain, El Indio, who is currently lodged in prison. We see his men breaking him out of jail, and his first act after escaping is to find the person responsible for his capture, and kill him and his whole family. The manner in which he kills him is as operatic as in any Leone Western; Indio holds a chiming pocket watch, and gives his opponent the opportunity to “draw” the moment chiming stops. Needless to say Indio is fast enough to triumph his opponent. As Indio gets high on Marijuana, an old memory comes back to haunt him.  We get the first of the flashbacks- which shows how Indio got that chiming pocket-watch: he had taken it from a young woman, who had shot herself as he was raping her; Indio had already murdered her husband. Later, we will come to know that the women was Col. Mortimer’s sister. 

Soon enough, “Wanted Indio” posters appear everywhere and we see both Mortimer and Manco looking at these posters in two different towns. This is where the film’s main story really begins. So Sergio Leone takes about 40 minutes of this 132 minute movie simply to introduce the two heroes and the villain. This really shows his growing confidence as a filmmaker and his attempt to move ahead from the first “Dollars” film. We can already see that his vision is more grandiose than the first one, and also more operatic and outlandish. The border towns depicted in the film are more richly textured and detailed than the previous film. Also, we get the first glimpse of the railroad in a Leone film – the railroads would go on to occupy a major theme in his future films. These initial scenes also has the  filmmaker’s two main (and contradictory) virtues on full display—his gift for satire and his dark fatalism. It goes without saying that Leone is a director of contradictions: he loves (equally) the extreme wide long shots of vistas and extreme tight close-ups of faces; his films are fairy-tales, but are populated by amoral anti-heroes, and most of all, his films straddles the thin line between mischievous parody and heartfelt homage to the classical Hollywood westerns he has grown up watching; all this contradictory impulses lead to his bizarre brilliance, and it is fully realized in this film; this is one film that can be considered as the paradigmatic Leone film, and can be used as a vehicle for initiating someone (who has never tasted Leone’s spaghetti)  to the filmography of Leone. The casting of Lee Van Cleef is also part of this parody-homage conceit; for this film, he is mainly referencing Robert Aldrich’s  1954 film “Vera Cruz”: starring Burt Lancaster and Gary Coper as American adventurers in Mexico who are constantly at loggerheads with each other, even as they join hands to complete a common mission. Another film referenced is “The Bravados”, starring Gregory Peck as a rancher hunting down the outlaws who killed his wife; other inspirations include John Sturges’ “Gunfight at the OK Corral” and Fred Zinneman’s “High Noon”; the last 3 films had Lee Van Cleef in small roles. The casting of Cleef gives us a peek into Leone’s astute observational powers regarding these classical westerns.  Col. Mortimer is actually the central figure, even a bit of a father figure, to Manco in the film. For that reason Leone had approached actors like Henry Fonda, Jack Palance and Lee Marvin for the role. but for one or the other reason, it did not work out. It was only then that he recalled, or someone suggested, Van Cleef, whose career was rescued by this role, which led to larger, stronger parts in the years ahead. Cleef was a Hollywood character actor with a once bright future who had fallen on hard times. He had made his debut in “High Noon” as one of Frank Miller’s gang out to kill Will Kane. Van Cleef was originally cast in the far better role of Kane’s deputy, but when he refused to get his big and hooked nose “fixed,” the part went instead to Lloyd Bridges, and it made him a star. Van Cleef, relegated to playing one of the Miller gang, was not given a single line of dialogue. Still, his debut was so powerful, he managed to get steady work as a bad guy throughout the 1950s,His career had been in decline, partly because of a drinking problem he had only lately overcome, partly because of a near-crippling knee injury, from which he had also just recovered. Cleef proved a welcome contrast to Clint; he had very narrow eyes that projected cruelty, while his hawk-like nose gave him a sense of nobility. He had a deep, powerful voice, and in the film, he smokes a pipe with an authoritarian relish; all this to say that Cleef put across Mortimer as a guy who is to be both feared and admired, he projects the quality of someone hiding a painful past, as opposed to Manco, who is a man without a past. Mortimer, literally meaning death, is portrayed as a sort of great artist when it comes to killing people; before killing the outlaw in his introduction scene, Mortimer pulls down a canvas fixed to his saddle, as if he is a painter; only thing is that ,in the canvas, instead of brush and color there are separate guns. Mortimer carefully picks and chooses his “paint brushes” for the occasions, when his rival is near or far, and completes his “work of art.”; he is a very thoughtful and methodical hunter, weathered by years of experience (he is an ex-confederate soldier, known to be the best shot in the Carolinas), while Manco, on the other hand, is all youth, blood and guts; he is cocky, flashy and impulsive, who just barges in and improvises his “shots”. This contrast between the characters is maintained throughout the film in everything they do. Take the “High Noon” reference here, which comes in Manco’s introduction section of the film; After he has shot down the outlaws and collected his bounty, Manco turns to mock the town-sheriff, who has stood by impotently during the carnage. “Isn’t a sheriff supposed to be courageous, loyal and above all honest?” Monco inquires. “That he is” comes the reply. At which point the Manco removes the badge from the lawman’s vest, takes it outside and tells the gawking townsfolk, “I think you people need a new sheriff.” Then he tosses the badge into the street; a sly parody of the ending in High Noon, where Gary Cooper throw down his badge after killing the outlaws. The scene also prefigures the famous conclusion of “Dirty Harry”, where Clint takes of his badge and throws it into the water after killing “Scorpio.”

The depiction of El Indio as a “mad genius” bandido shows why this film had to have two heroes instead of one. In “A Fistful of Dollars” Clint’s one-man army was enough to take down Ramon and his gang, but here Indio is so “big” a villain that Clint’s youthful blood and guts is not enough to win the battle, he needs the unflappable experience of Colonel Mortimer (the vice versa is also true). The full extend of Indio’s craziness see him playing god in a church, where he and his cohorts have taken refuge after jailbreak, and where they are planning the big robbery of the El Paso bank. The scene is so bonkers that one feels that Leone himself was smoking Marijuana while conceiving and shooting this scene. This scene also showcases the religious aspect that is prominent in all Leone films; true to his roots, it’s always Latin catholic. Don’t know if it’s because Cinema is religion for Leone, but he gives the same parody-homage treatment to religion as well. In this church scene, we see Indio presiding over a parody of the “Last Supper” and Jesus Christ’s “sermon on the Mount”, all at once; we see his twelve disciples gathered around him in a ruined church eating and drinking, while he gives a long sermon walking around them; he is narrating a parable about a carpenter who built the safe to El Paso bank, and how he ran into him in prison; in other words he is just cooking up a plan to rob the biggest bank around, in which there is money worth one million dollars; the scene ends with Indio at the pulpit, laughing out madly at the genius of his plan. The important thing to be deduced about El Indio from all this is that he is a man haunted by his past, and his obsession with this bank robbery stems from some desire to create something so criminally spectacular that would wipe out the memory of the terrible deed that keeps haunting him. This is what makes him such a fascinating character; Leone will not be bothered with creating any psychology or history for the iconic lead character of “Man with no Name”, but he surrounds him with really twisted people like Indio and also Mortimer, who is also running from a painful past. In other words, the characters (and actors) around Manco (Clint Eastwood) are also doing their bit to makes him more cool and iconic. There is nothing more sexier than seeing this cool, detached guy who observes everything from an ironic distance, and who has made it his career to violently dispatch these psychically-troubled dregs of the society. This a formula that Clint will adapt even more successfully in his “Dirty Harry” films: the cool, unflappable heroic cop who remains calm at all times when confronted by the most vicious psychotic killers, even as the bureaucrats around him are running around like headless chickens. In that regard, we can trace the beginning of the very iconic “Eastwood persona” to this film, and it will be much more clearer at the end of this film.

Now if you think that Indio’s church scene was the most bonkers the film will get, wait till you see the confrontation scene between Manco and Mortimer; it’s the weirdest scene in all of Leone filmography, which could automatically make it the weirdest in movie history. It’s the most elaborate and theatrical “mating ritual” between men; the rite of passage sequence where foes turn friends & allies; In this part of the story, everybody, including the bandits and bounty hunters are now gathered in El Paso; El Indio’s men are casing the bank, and the two bounty hunters watch them—and watch each other watching them. Soon, it dawns on Manco that if he has to get his hands on Indio’s bounty, he will have to get Mortimer out of the way. So he decide to confront him directly, intimidate him and chase him out of town. The scene is again one big allegory; Leone places some children in the corner of the frame to emphasize this point that the feuds and friendships between adults are no different from children: Manco and Mortimer stand close to each other face to face, comically invading one another’s space. Then each steps on the other’s boots. Manco pushes Mortimer, he pushes back, Manco next push is much stronger, and the older man is thrown by some distance, his hat falls off. Next, Manco starts shooting at Mortimer’s hat, and every time Mortimer walks some distance and reaches to pick up his hat, Manco shoots it, sending it even further away, this goes on for some time. We feel that Manco has the upper hand in this “childish fight”, but Mortimer is just being true to his character (and so is Manco); Manco is impulsively shooting away, cockily not realizing that as Mortimer moves further away from him, he’s going to have the advantage of distance , and Mortimer knows this, hence he is patiently waiting for his turn. As expected, first, Manco runs out of bullets, and second, even when he reloads and shoots, Mortimer is now out of his pistol range. Mortimer picks up his hat, puts it on his head and with a devilish smile, whips out his “super-gun”- the one with an extended handle, and shoots out Manco’s hat, and he continues shooting the hat, while its still in the air, and the hat stays there for an eternity before it hits the ground. Manco is blown out of his mind by this sheer display of gunmanship, while Mortimer continues to laugh mockingly. Manco has fully understood who he’s dealing with here, this is the moment they become buddies and partners (so it seems). This scene looks inspired by a scene in “Vera Cruz”, where both Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper showcase their gunmanship for Emperor Maximillian in his palace by shooting out the pole-lights. The relationship that Clint and Cleef shares in this film is also similar to the one between Lancaster and Cooper, except, there Lancaster turns out to be an out and out bad guy at the end, while his surrogate in this film, Manco, is the hero. The whole scene is a terrific deadpan-comedy sequence that only Leone could conjure up.

It’s only in the last hour of the film that Leone loses a bit of control, the final portions comes across as too labored and self-conscious. Maybe the filmmaking is mimicking Indio’s mental state, which by this time has totally gone over the edge. The situation is something like this: Working to Mortimer’s idea, “one from the outside, one from the inside”, Manco infiltrates Indio’s gang and tries to sabotage their plan, but Indio is smarter, and he and his gang successfully robs the El Paso bank and flees with the loot. The robbers, including Manco, lie low in Agua Caliente, a New Mexican pueblo, where Mortimer also joins the gang – as an expert on breaking safes – and carefully opens the safe without destroying the cash. The bounty killers steal the money and hide it, before being caught and viciously beaten by Indio and his thugs. But then, Indio devises a plan to grab all the loot for himself, and to this end, he releases Manco and Mortimer- whom he has already identified as bounty hunters – and sets them against his gang in a gun battle, until it appears that Indio is the only one left. Thinking he and Manco have dispatched all of his gang, Mortimer calls the bandit out, taking his stand in a circular plaza, its boundaries marked by stones. But El Indio has one last ally, Gorgy, whom he sends out ahead of him. In the confusion Gorgy is shot, and Mortimer’s gun is shot from his hand. It lies on the ground, just out of reach as El Indio, a pistol in his holster, and thus holding one of the classic gunfight’s familiar advantages, sneeringly challenges him to go for it. By this time we know something of the event that haunts both Mortimer and El Indio. They carry identical locket watches that, when opened, chime a wistful little Morricone tune. In the cover of Mortimer’s timepiece there is the portrait of a beautiful young woman, which we identify as the women whom killed herself after being raped by Indio.. El Indio uses his watch to time shoot-outs; when the tune stops it is the signal for him and his opponent to draw. So as the chiming of his watch is about to stop and Indio is about to draw and shoot Mortimer, suddenly there appears another watch in the frame playing the same tune. It is Manco holding Mortimer’s watch, which he has, unknown to the colonel, appropriated earlier. He now appears to referee the duel: He tosses his gun belt to Mortimer, who straps it on. Using El Indio’s ploy, he tells them to draw when the tune stops playing, and opens the watch again. Now, we have arrived at yet another of Leone’s signature moments, and the staging of this gun-duel is masterful. This visual strategy of executing a triangular shootout in a circular plaza is again one of those Leone contradictions that gives his visuals such vitality. It goes without saying that Mortimer shoots down Indio at the end of the duel, and extracts his revenge. This is a very solemn, and almost a spiritual moment, and Morricone’s score signifies that, as Manco piece together Mortimer’s reasons for hunting down Indio, and Mortimer laconically accepts his theory. Mortimer also unties their partnership by renouncing the bounty; Manco can have all the money, the colonel is not going to sully his revenge and his sister’s memory by taking the money.

But soon after this , the movie reverts to its absurd tone: Manco starts loading corpses into a wagon to take them to some lawman and collect the rewards on them. Packing them in, he counts the prize on each head, but he falls short of the expected sum, which means that one of them is still alive[ and it’s Gorgy, who draws on him, and is, of course, killed. “Any trouble, boy?” Mortimer inquires from afar. “No,” comes the reply, “thought I was having trouble with my adding …” This moment could be the beginning of the darkly comical and soon-to-be superstar Clint Eastwood, who will soon spout similar ironic punchlines like “Do you feel lucky” and “Go ahead make my day.” “For a few Dollars More” is, obviously, first foremost a Sergio Leone film, where he proves that “A Fistful of Dollars” was no flash in the pan, but the first steps of a major film artist with a unique voice. Here he completely steps away from the footsteps of Akira Kurosawa – whose “Yojimbo” had a lot to do with the success of “Fistful” – and charts his own path. But his “voice” is not perfected yet, there are still some flaws that has to be ironed out; which he will, most spectacularly in his next Western, undoubtedly his masterpiece, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Clint also made his own gains from this film. His price doubled to $50 thousand and post the success of this film, he will get quarter of a million dollars for The Good the Bad and the Ugly. “For a Few Dollars More” was released in Italy as “Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu” in December 1965 to massive success; the film is the most successful Spaghetti Western ever released in Italy, by the end of its run it would gross close to $4.6 million, and when it was later released in United States in 1966, four months after the release of “Fistful” it will gross an additional $5 million. Apart form Leone and Clint, the other member of the team who will once gain assert his stamp will be the great music maestro, Ennio Morricone, who provides a distinctive score, employing his favorite instruments like Jew’s harp, flute, whistling, chorus and electric guitars. Under Leone’s explicit direction, Morricone began writing the score before production had started, as Leone often shot to the music on set, He created several themes in his inimitable style that blends into Leone’s aesthetic seamlessly, to the point that it’s impossible to imagine Leone’s visuals without Morricone’s music. The music was an important part of Leone’s films , and he even edited his scenes to follow the unique musical patterns of Morricone. As for Morricone, though he has written scores for more than 400 films in his lengthy career – and that too for some truly great and popular non-Leone classics like The Untouchables, The Mission, 1900, etc., his name will forever be linked with the haunting whistles, chiming pocket-watches and gloriously foreboding orchestral sweeps that he provided for these Leone Westerns.