This year marks the 60th anniversary of the second installment of the Man With No Name trilogy, also known as the Dollars Trilogy. Clint Eastwood starred alongside legendary Western actors Lee van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte in For a Few Dollars More, directed by the now renowned spaghetti western director Sergio Leone. Their collaboration, accompanied by the score courtesy of Ennio Morricone, produced one of the greatest Westerns to date and influenced filmmakers and actors for the next several decades.
Upon re-watching this film for the first time in years, what is most immediately recognizable is the stark contrast between it and modern blockbusters. The slow pace of the film, replete with suspenseful, pregnant pauses and quiet dialogue is far a flung from the noisy, busy blockbusters of today. The plot is advanced through quiet dialogue that must be carefully followed lest some key line be missed, making active viewing necessary. There are some movies one can casually watch while cooking or cleaning; this is not one of them. The film has a definitive Tarantino-esque feel to it, perhaps because Tarantino has named its sequel The Good, The Bad and The Ugly his favorite film of all time.
Additionally, the primitive special effects and lack of lazy CGI make For a Few Dollars More a welcome viewing change from today’s action movies. While being very violent, blood and gore is kept to a minimum and deaths are portrayed in the classic dramatic Western style. Large swathes of the film are completely devoid of shooting, with violent gunfights taking place in condensed sequences and the indefatigable Clint Eastwood and Lee van Cleef easily dispatching their bandito opponents.
The film tells the story of two bounty hunters (Eastwood and van Cleef) who form an uneasy alliance in an effort to track down and kill a murderous gang led by El Indio (Volonte) who plans to rob the most secure bank in the American West. During the film they are faced with betrayal and greed as the true motives of all gunslingers involved become clear. The lightning-fast quick draw of the two bounty hunters is put to the test as they take on the gang of banditos.
One thing I will always enjoy about this movie is the portrayal of the characters. There is a moral grey area that is uncommon in today’s black-and-white blockbuster plots. The heroes in For A Few Dollars More are not entirely good or honest, and the villain’s backstory is addressed to explain how someone could become so callous and evil. The movie portrays gunslingers in the American West living and working along the shady limits of the law, in some cases outright breaking it. While the audience may root for the “good guys”, it is made quite clear that they are far from chivalrous or above corruption.
Perhaps one of the strongest elements of Sergio Leone’s films has been the soundtrack, produced by the incomparable Ennio Morricone. Due to budget constraints preventing the use of a full orchestra, the resourceful composer used gunshots, whistling, cracking whips and an electric guitar for much of the soundtrack, creating a unique sound that makes the score instantly recognizable. His work in the Dollars trilogy is often mimicked but never equaled.
I returned to this movie because this year marks the 60th anniversary of its release. However, what is clear from my latest viewing is that older movies are just as important to watch, if not more so, than modern films to cultivate a well-rounded film perspective. The movies of this time period in particular continue to influence directors today and will continue to into the future. The entire movie is available on YouTube, and if anyone has two hours to kill I highly recommend watching or re-watching one of the greatest westerns ever made.