After Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name sauntered into town at the beginning of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars and super charged the Western by giving the genre an edge like never before, the filmmakers simply rolled up their sleeves and did it again. But in a time when sequels were something of an anomaly, how does someone approach a follow up without screwing up the purity of the original adventure – simple, you take the character from his place as a painfully cool anti-hero into the realms of the deliriously mythic.
Now, I say it’s simple… but to just take the near-flawless execution of the first film and mearly “do it better” is a laughably impossible task that Leone, Eastwood and composer Ennio Morricone make look stunningly easy with their glorious follow up, For A Few Dollars More; a movie that has the ballsy concept of making their hero even more iconic despite not actually making him the real focus of the plot.
We are reintroduced to our nameless protagonist – now nicknamed Manco (or “lefty”) – as he goes about his hard-edged business of bringing in criminals for a bounty by outwitting them and shooting them dead. However, after his latest endeavor leaves him flush with cash, his coolly strong work ethic directs him to collect the sizable reward attached to crazed bandit El Indio, a criminal who is responsible for such violent crimes he smokes copious amounts of dope to dull the gnawing guilt. However, Manco isn’t the only one eyeing up El Indio’s bounty as the sharp shooting, dapper, Colonel Douglas Mortimer also has his finely tuned sights aimed at the maniacal do-badder for much more personal reasons than that of mere money.
However, it becomes obvious that taking down El Indio isn’t going to be simple as just drawing him out and putting a bullet between his eyes as he has surrounded himself with trusted men who are almost a lethal as he is, so after a spot of macho foreplay involving the two bounty hunters showing off their prowess as marksman by shooting the living shit out of each other’s hats while barely a single recognizable emotion passes between them, Manco and Mortimer hatch a complex plan to infiltrate the gang and destroy them from within.
Their timing proves to be fortuitous as El Indio is planning an audacious robbery which he and his lieutenant plan to hoodwink out from under his own gang (I said they were loyal, I didn’t say he was), but even with all the backstabbing waiting in the wings, can the two bounty hunters get on the same page and take advantage of the situation – and even if they do, can Manco and Mortimer decide who gets what share of the bounty, especially seeing as this all seems more than a little personal to the vengeful Colonal?
Less a sequel, more of an equal to A Fistfull Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More does impressive work by telling a completely new story but keeping it within a certain kind of framework. Once again the main plot concerns Eastwood’s character working his way into the good graces of a band of criminals and picking them apart from the inside, but the main switch here is while there were two groups of villainous houses and one hero, now we have one gang and two heroes. The main benefit of this is that Leone is now able to play around with the nature of Eastwood’s lead and actually fascinatingly makes him something more of a massively over qualified sidekick to Van Cleef’s vengeful bounty hunter despite carrying the main focus of the movie. Manco has no real horse in this race and only wants to bring down El Indio and his gang for the Benjamins and it’s Mortimer who’s the one who actually has the reason to be there. In fact, compared to Mortimer (played marvelously by Lee Van Cleef – he of the narrowed eyes and and the flared nostrils) and the villainous El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté returning from Fistful but playing a different character), Manco is by far the least interesting of the three leads, generally speaking, but he acts as a handy entry point to a complicated plot much in the way Max Rockatansky technically side-steps protagonist duties in Mad Max: Fury Road. It works bloody well, however, as willfully wandering into other peoples business and shooting the place up means we get an outsiders view of matters which aids the story telling greatly.
You can instantly tell that Eastwood, Leone and Morricone has hit the ground running as the enhanced confidence of the piece virtually radiates off it like heat off a hot plate, but Van Cleef deserves full props for keeping up as he and Eastwood spark up an uneasy relationship that stands directly on that line between barbarism and benevolence. The legendary actor – like our Clint – is a master at doing a lot with the bare minimum and can speak volumes by simply standing still and fixing us with a glare so harsh, it could peel paint; watch Clint and Cleef show off to one another by using their weapons of death to shoot apples out of a tree for a hungry child in an act that’s kind, egotistical and threatening (they’re essentially shooting in the child’s general direction) all at the same time.
However, we shouldn’t take anything away from Gian Maria Volonté’s truly twisted villain who, while certainly shares similar traits with his wrong ‘un from A Fistful Of Dollars, the lavish runtime means he’s a far more complex bad guy this time around and greatly benefits from Leone’s more operatic stylings. Addled with drugs thanks to trying to quash the guilt caused by a lifetime of fiendish acts, one particular inhuman act haunts him in more ways than one – although that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to inflict cruelty on the people around him; after all his first act after being busted out of jail is to order the deaths of the wife and infant child of the man who originally caught him. The most memorable part of El Indio, however, is his proclivity towards the grandiose that veers into the psychotic that can go from subtly narcissistic (he delivers his plan to rob a bank to his gang from the pulpit of an abandoned church) to full blown grand guignol thanks to his unnerving habit of timing his duels to the death by the lullaby playing from a locket he took from a particularly important victim.
As For A Few Dollars More is sort of an “progression” of A Fistful Of Dollars, thus For A Few Dollars More is the blueprint for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, which takes the basic idea of a trifecta of leads and amplifies the mythic tone to a dizzying degree. But as a stand alone film, this second entry in the adventures of the genre’s most legendary nameless man (who actually has names) is just as quick on the draw as it’s similarly gritty hombres.