FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965 Italy)

dollars 1This would have to be in the Top Ten Coolest Movies ever and it contains the most spine – tingling musical score in cinema history. (Kudos to Ennio Morricone) Sergio Leone was a popcorn director – a visual stylist who always entertained first and maybe provoked a thought or two second. However, his films were never intellectual so when he added more depth the results became uneven. “For a Few Dollars More” is his best film.

At once the film is more complex and stylized than “A Fistful…” and more tight and efficient than “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly.” As Leone went along, his films got more daring and complex, exploring new ideas and raising not only the bar for Spaghetti Westerns but for Westerns in general. As a character, “The Man With No Name” (who in actuality has three: Joe, Manco and Blondie) isn’t very interesting and there always needs to be a counterpoint to play off of him. Lee Van Cleef, as Colonel Mortimer, steals this movie away from Clint Eastwood with his gritty depth of character.

Eli Wallach would also upstage Eastwood in The Good The Bad The Ugly, the following year. This isn’t to say the main lead is no good, he’s just difficult to identify with because he appears semi-human. Not a real flesh and blood man. Eastwood is a bounty killer who is in search of the feared bandit known as El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè). Colonel Douglas Mortimer is in a similar position, and the two cross paths many times in their pursuits of El Indio. But at the time, the various plot turns and twists were unique and revolutionary.

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The smart, capable Colonel Mortimer is the puppet-master of the film – the other characters seem to dance around him – and his cool, unblinking resolve is extraordinary. The scene where he strikes a match on hunchbacked Klaus Kinski’s hump, and they stare each other down is a definitive Leone moment, as crucial as Van Cleef’s pipe or his Buntline Special revolver. The pace is both a pro and con at the same time.

Unlike modern films, the usual western showdown scenes unfold very deliberately. Rather than simultaneously begin and end in a furious volley of bullets, the encounters are set up slowly. On the bright side, this gives both the characters and the viewers an opportunity to fully appreciate the choices made and the consequences that will follow. But some (not me) might say that the gunfights are plain slow, and the action is too sparse.

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While I enjoyed the change of pace, I also understand why some will say otherwise. This film is a riveting, action-filled, heart-in-the-mouth western adventure, packed with machismo and sly humour. Leone’s technicians helped him to create something completely unique and totally cinematic. Volontè’s astonishing turn as Indio is one of the most fascinating, vicious, complex, thoughtful bad men in all cinema.

Indio is an almost unique character-type; the burned-out villain. He’s done such dreadful things that almost nothing can satiate him, yet he keeps going. He doesn’t seem to care about himself or money, he dices with death, he’s haunted by the memory of Mortimer’s sister, he smokes marijuana to fend off his demons and keeps exclusively male company. Of course this could just be a typical Latin trait.

He’s almost child-like and yet deeply philosophical at the same time. It’s a wild piece of acting. Morricone’s brilliant, toe-tapping, lunatic score is one of the most memorable in any western, full of odd instruments (Jewish harps, whistles, timpani, recorders, bells) and incredible trills which act almost as quotation-marks around the action and characters. The last ten minutes are awash in extraordinarily beautiful music. Magic stuff.

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