Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For A Few Dollars More (1965)

I've recently acquired an affinity for Westerns. Or at least, I've acquired an affinity for acquiring an affinity for Westerns; I've wanted to start liking them for a while now. However, the Western isn't exactly the most burgeoning genre nowadays, and I haven't had a whole lot of incentives to drag myself to Hastings' Westerns shelf and try to decide which of the myriad movies would be a good place to start.

A couple months ago I was reminded about "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," and so I decided to start from there. "The Good," however, is the third in a trilogy of spaghetti westerns from Sergio Leone, so that meant I had to go through two movies before I could make my "official" start. If this seems anal, you should ask me about my "24" viewing habits sometime.
Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name

I started on "Fistful Of Dollars" a couple weeks later, but I wasn't terribly impressed. Granted, the movie had a certain grit that I hadn't always associated with the genre (my mind always jumps to shows like "Gunsmoke" or movies like "Blazing Saddles") and those wide-open vistas sure were pretty, but (and I blame this on my starting the movie at like 11:30pm) I found the movie to be a trifle slow for my taste. I thought the plot didn't evolve much over the course of the movie, and the character development was either very shallow or too subtle for me to notice.

Now comes "A Few Dollars More," the sequel that improves on its predecessor in almost every way. This one I started at three in the afternoon, and even though I was more awake this time around, I still feel that "Few Dollars More" is a more enjoyable movie than "Fistful."

The plot is almost as barren as the first one: two very professional and very deadly bounty hunters (Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef) partner up to track down an claim the reward for a notorious bandit who has escaped from prison, El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè). While the story is fairly pedestrian for the most part, the real draw of the movie is watching what happens to the characters and how they react to it, particularly Van Cleef.
Lee Van Cleef as Colonel Mortemer -- This guy puts the "bad" in "badass."

Van Cleef adds so much to this movie, it's not even funny. First and foremost, he gives Eastwood someone who act with and create character interaction. During "Fisful," Eastwood certainly did a fine job of screwing with the bandits by himself, but after a while I grew weary of exclusively spending time with a guy who didn't say much anyway. Van Cleef's character adds a wisdom and world-weariness to his character that contrasts with Eastwoods brash, stoic manner. Consider the scene in which they first confront each other involving their hats... ah, but I won't spoil it here.

"Few Dollars More" also benefits from a much more compelling villain that "Fistful" had. El Indio is a total scumbag almost from the get-go; he kills guy who helps him escape from prison, and then kills the man who helped put him behind bars, but not before murdering his wife and small child in from of him. This is a guy you just love to hate. Or just plain hate.

El Indio also does a curious thing before killing his victims: he gets out a pocketwatch that plays an eerie, haunting, theme, telling them to draw when the music stops. The music, while not seeming important at first, gradually gains significance through the film, until by the end we have become intimately familiar with El Indio and everything that watch means to him. A repeat viewing would enhance these early scenes tremendously.
Gian Maria Volontè as El Indio. He's a twisted son of a crap.

Like "Fistful" before it, "Few Dollars More" was shot in Almería, Spain. Leone uses his backdrops well, with many wide-open shots of blue skies and unforgiving landscapes; the scenery is practically a second character in the cast. Also returning with much fanfare (literally) is Ennio Morricone, who composes the music for the picture. In addition to the already-mentioned watch, Morricone fills the speakers with iconic whistled melodies and dramatic punches, making the film a treat to listen to as well as watch.

I still have a couple issues with this movie, though. The plot is a bit thin for a movie almost two and a half hours long, and the movie loses a bit of momentum in bits of the middle (the beginning and ending are rock-solid, though). Also, the pace of the movie, while faster than "Fistful," is still fairly slow; this is a movie that is meant to be sauntered through.

My minor kvetches aside, I found this movie to be fairly entertaining, and a good primer for "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." At this rate, I may get into the Western genre yet.

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