The Man with No Name returns in this oft-overlooked sequel to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western classic. Oscar tells us why it is just as worthy.
Who made it?: Sergio Leone (Director/Co-Writer), Luciano Vincenzoni (Co-Writer), Arturo González (Producer), Produzioni Europee Associate/Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas/Constantin Film.
Who’s in it?: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski.
Tagline: “It’s the second motion picture of its kind! It won’t be the last!”
IMDb rating: 8.3/10.
For A Few Dollars More is often overshadowed by its breakthrough predecessor and its legendary successor. However, this is far from a forgettable film, being just as stylistically rich and exciting as any instalment in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy, and in some ways, it manages to improve on A Fistful of Dollars. For such a straightforward plot, it the visual panache and poetry that Leone instills in each frame that make it so impactful and just as important a part in this trilogy as the other two.
Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and Manco (Clint Eastwood) are separately introduced as two bounty hunters who hunt down and kill wanted outlaws to collect the rewards issued for them. Meanwhile, a gang of outlaws breaks into a prison to free their leader — the ruthless and psychotic “El Indio” (Gian Maria Volontè) — killing the warden and most of the guards. When news of the escape is released, Mortimer and Manco are interested in the large reward announced.
Indio has a musical pocket watch that he plays before engaging in gun duels; flashbacks reveal that he took the watch from a young woman (Rosemary Dexter) whom he found in bed with her husband. He killed the husband and raped her, but she shot herself in the midst of it. Her photograph is inside the watch cover. Indio is haunted by the incident and smokes an addictive drug to cloud his memory. Indio plans to rob the Bank of El Paso which has a disguised safe containing almost a million dollars. Manco arrives in the town and, when he becomes aware of Mortimer, they confront each other and as neither will give way, they decide to work together. Mortimer persuades Manco to join Indio’s gang and “get him between two fires.”
Eastwood continues to play up the enigmatic allure and charisma of his role, and while Manco has plenty of similarities to the previous character of Joe, there is more of a cockiness and eagerness to fight that marks him as unique amidst the other protagonists Eastwood portrays. Van Cleef makes for a compelling and equally intriguing co-lead, conveying so much emotion with his eyes and providing an emotional dimension that the first movie lacked. Volontè is truly terrifying as El Indio, being cold and ruthless yet charismatic, alternating between unnerving dead-eyed stares to loud and theatrical ranting. While Dexter is not in the film for very long, her expressively silent performance helps provide a solid emotional hook, and you truly feel sympathetic for her as Indio has his way. Of the bandits in Indio’s gang, Mario Brega as Niño and Klaus Kinski as Wild the hunchback, stand out the most.
Ennio Morricone continues his streak of iconic compositions, with the new main theme having a percussive quality to it; it is rousing and fist-pumping like the first film’s theme, suiting this more dynamic iteration of Eastwood. Morricone adds a haunting music box melody, conjoined with an ominous organ to introduce Indio. It is used to form a connection between our villain and our secondary protagonist. This haunting and melancholic use of a music box would inspire Hans Zimmer and his theme for the supernatural villain Davy Jones.
As usual, the level of production detail and authenticity is done to a high standard, with the familiar wooden western town appearing in Leone’s fresh and atmospheric style, making full use of shadows and dimly-lit tavern interiors or gaudy hotels. We also return to a similar setting, the Mexican town in the first film, and once more it feels authentic and lived in. The variety of guns and gadgets in Mortimer’s keeping gives the film a bit of a James Bond vibe, and adds to the heightened character of the production.
The pace is somewhat more patient compared to the tighter first film. With comparatively less characters to focus on, it nevertheless allows us to enjoy the atmosphere and intense character moments from Manco, Mortimer and Indio. This allows for a lot more action to occur along the way, ranging from an explosive bank robbery to a thrilling wagon chase to multiple duels across the third act. It never feels frenetic and builds up to the climactic duel.
Returning director of photography Massimo Dallamano makes great use of minimal framework; the gunfights are staged with quick and precise cuts between closeups, watching the men’s eyes and expressions, watching their hands poised above their belts, and watching them internally prepare for the violence to come. The actual bloodshed is swift and over in a moment. There is better use of lighting, with harsh oranges and darker shadows, for the night scenes. Another truly disturbing flourish is the way the flashback scenes play more like a lucid nightmare, with the distorted music, extreme closeups and unsteady camerawork bring powerful in suggestion.
The dubbing is mostly very good, but there are a few exceptions where the overdubbed voices sound a tad too silly, even for the heightened setting the film provides. Some odd touches of humor like the reveal of the dwarf innkeeper are amusing but distracting at the same time. It’s very broad but also very burlesque as well.
In the visual language of Leone’s spaghetti westerns, a lot can be gleaned from a man’s bearing, such as how they carry themselves in a fight, over a drink, or even how they smoke. The opening scene establishes how Manco and Mortimer operate on their bounty-hunting missions, showing that the former is more brutal and spontaneous, whilst the latter is calmer, more calculating and steady-handed. Mortimer is often referred to as “old man” by the younger Manco, but he owns the more sophisticated weaponry and consults modern media such as newspapers for information about his rival, while Manco still relies on floating rumours and hearsay, brought to him by an eccentric old timer nicknamed “The Prophet.” This distinctiveness adds to their characters, but also disguises Mortimer’s more personal, vengeful motivations. While he never appears to lose his temper when Manco first confronts him, the cold fury in his eyes seldom abates. The new angle of Eastwood’s character infiltrating El Indio’s group amps up the suspense as you see him deal with members of the gang and having to actively take part in breaking the law, something earlier westerns would have frowned upon, even if the driving cause was a good one.
The introduction of Indio is steeped in intrigue as he’s sprung from jail, and builds up to his first heinous and genuinely shocking murder. Leone emphasises the strange way Indio smokes, the cigarette held between his middle and ring fingers, and his whole hand placed across his mouth to smoke. Eastwood, meanwhile, lights his smokes with the match elegantly cupped inside his hand. When Eastwood describes the way another bounty hunter wears his gun, Mortimer instantly knows who he’s talking about, as such things are signifiers of identity in this world. The villain’s use of dope adds to a strangely punk rock quirk to him, providing a surreal quality as if to suggest that he’s not entirely of the world. This lends credence to the theme that manhood is defined not only by brute strength but by how you carry yourself in a world as cruel and dangerous as this one.
The themes of loyalty and disloyalty are most prevalent in the film. Manco and Mortimer are loyal only to themselves, but form a tight alliance over a shared desire to see Indio dead, albeit for their own reasons. Mortimer owes a higher loyalty to his quest for vengeance upon Indio, which sees him through to his confrontation with the bandit, something that Manco ultimately lacks, but he needs no motivation to put an end end to the murderer. Meanwhile, the members of the Indio gang all share the same goal: wealth, and yet they are easily manipulated and broken apart by Manco and Mortimer’s plans, and by their own diabolical leadership. The theme of friendship is more pronounced here, and Manco and Mortimer come to a mutual respect and understanding in spite of their tough-edged natures.
The satire of religious iconography is consistent throughout the film. The first shot after the opening credits is a closeup of a gold-embossed Bible being read by none other than Mortimer, assumed at first by the passengers to be a reverend. However, his hardened face and fierce eyes quickly dissuade that suggestion. This continues with the church becoming a gathering point for the bandits, and the pulpit being the platform for Indio to address his men, highlighting the sheer futility and emptiness of religion when there is no apparent divine justice, as the bandits desecrate the church with impunity.
Ultimately, For A Few Dollars More manages to be a more substance-driven film than its predecessor, and has more than enough merits to stand on its own apart from the first and third in the Dollars Trilogy. At its heart, it is as familiar a revenge plot as you might find, but the level of skill with which it is told – through Leone’s trademark direction, those rich themes and subtexts – makes it more than worth recommending.
“When the chimes end, pick up your gun. Try and shoot me, Colonel. Just try…”
- Sergio Leone broke many 1960s Hollywood rules with this film, although he did not know any of them at the time. Among them: showing the shooter and the victim in the same shot, a horse being gunned down, marijuana use, and a rape scene.
- Clint Eastwood was not ready to commit to the film when he had not even seen A Fistful of Dollars. Quickly, the filmmakers rushed an Italian-language print (a US version did not yet exist) to him. The star then gathered a group of friends for a debut screening at CBS Production Center and, not knowing what to expect, tried to keep expectations low by downplaying the film. As the reels unspooled, however, Eastwood’s concerns proved to be unfounded. The audience may not have understood Italian, but in terms of style and action, the film spoke volumes. “Everybody enjoyed it just as much as if it had been in English,” Eastwood recalled. Soon, he was on the phone with the filmmakers’ representative: “Yeah, I’ll work for that director again,” he said.
- The town of El Paso, designed by Carlo Simi in Almeria, was the biggest set that Leone was responsible for at the time. It would be re-used the following year for several scenes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) in which it stood in as several different towns. It’s still standing to this day and is called Mini Hollywood.
- Lee Van Cleef claimed to be faster on the draw than Clint Eastwood. He took three frames of film (one eighth of a second) to draw, cock and fire.