March 16, 2017
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Grade: 77/100

Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté

What it's about. A de facto sequel to Sergio Leone's spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars. Clint Eastwood plays the same character, though he has a different name (Monco) and is now a bounty hunter. So is Lee Van Cleef, and both are so good at their vocation that they decide to pool resources to go after the big game.

Their target is Mexican bank robber Gian Maria Volonté and his gang of ruthless henchmen, which include Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Luis Rodríguez, Panos Papadopulos, Werner Abrolat, Frank Braña, José Canalejas, Eduardo García, Enrique Santiago, and last but not least, hunchback Klaus Kinski.

The older Van Cleef convinces Eastwood to join Volonté's gang, to be in a position to double cross him. They plan to ambush the gang while robbing an "impenetrable" bank in El Paso, Texas, but Volonté fools them by blasting through the back of the bank, and stealing only the safe, which he knows is concealed within a wooden cabinet.

This being a movie, both Eastwood and Van Cleef manage to catch up with the gang in the Mexican village of Hot Water. Eastwood rejoins the gang, while Van Cleef successfully poses as a safecracker. Volonté decides to hole out in the village for a month with the loot, until the heat is off. This gives him time to set the gang members and bounty hunters against each other; a plan that works well, at least for a while, and would ensure him the lion's share (and possibly all) of the loot.

How others will see it. Practically every male cinemaphile of a certain generation or two (born between 1940 and 1980) has seen For a Few Dollars More, a film only slightly less famous than its successor The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which returned Eastwood and Van Cleef as the first two of that trio.

Thus For a Few Dollars More has a whopping 168K user votes at, and a lofty user rating of 8.3 out of 10. Women over 45 unsurprisingly grade it lowest, 7.5 out of 10, perhaps put off by its steadily rising body count. Men under 30 grade it 8.5, and that figure drops only moderately to 8.0 among men over 45.

The few naysayers complain about the film's violence, of course, along with its slow pace (a Leone trademark), its sometimes confusing plot, its paucity of dialogue, and its unending balls-of-steel machismo. Whether such things are actually flaws, instead of characteristics, is difficult to debate successfully.

How I felt about it. The mythology of the Old West has faded since John Wayne hung up his saddle for the last time, and Michael Cimino nearly bankrupted United Artists with Heaven's Gate. The genre, as depicted on television and in film through the 1970s, is now regarded as politically incorrect. White men are always the heroes and often the villains. Women exist to provide motives for rape or revenge. Peasants and Indians are often depicted as submissive, or bandits, or savages.

Certainly, Sergio Leone didn't seek to change the stereotypes of the Old West. He sought to exaggerate them, because he knew it made for good cinema. Van Cleef and Eastwood are the machismo masters of nearly every situation, and are fearless and unflappable no matter how closely death approaches. It's as if they have read the script.

Leone made five "spaghetti westerns", and all five are at least good. There is a statistically correlation between quality and production cost, with A Fistful of Dollars lesser on both counts relative to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The joke is not lost on us that "good" and "bad" are relative instead of extremes. Eastwood won't rape and won't shoot somebody who isn't an outlaw or henchman. But his motivations are ultimately selfish (namely, financial gain). And he's not above binding and gagging a telegraph operator, which is both false imprisonment and a felony.

Of course, Van Cleef and Eastwood are unlike their real-life bounty hunter counterparts. They are much more cocky, and take on much greater risk. They would should die many times over by the end of the movie. Yet they show more class: no cursing, or chewing tobacco, or incessant gambling, or drinking, or lusting after women. It's not realistic, but Leone is more interesting in plumbing the mythology. Something he does unusually well.