The second of the Dollars trilogy is easily my favourite. I never really saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly until an older age and it seemed to just wash over me (and to be honest I get a bit bored watching it). A Fistful of Dollars I had only seen a couple of times when I was young and aside from the end confrontation and the “My mistake, four coffins” I don’t put much value in that film either. But For A Few Dollars More (Which probably has the weakest title) I watched a countless amount of times when I was young. Back in the days of VHS and Betamax when I would watch a large, yet selective set of films at home time and time again until what happened on screen became second nature (whether I understood what all the adults were talking about or not). I had no conception of drugs or sexual abuse – so the scenes in the film which refer to both had little “traumatic” impact on me. They were merely the first stepping stone into understanding what these things were. So to that end I owe a debt of gratitude to the world of film for educating me, and a swift middle finger to the censor’s board for trying to withhold valuable information from the general public due to their age range. If the censor’s board were in charge of viruses we would all be dead from the fact that they prevented our immune systems from developing against harmful bugs.
Back to this wonderful film: I spent most of my time enjoying the soundtrack (Oh my there are some truly great and grand themes in this picture alone); the gritty look; Clint Eastwood’s countless posture shots (in close up or wide) and counting just how many bad guys he picked off from the gang. It’s all about mathematics for me when you have a lone (or a couple) of good guys going up against a group of baddies. I did this with Die Hard – I had to make sure that all bad guys were accounted for, even if they didn’t have any dialogue.
Essentially a large portion of the film gets devoted to the “Buddy” movie. True, the opening third find both our head hunters working alone on separate jobs – both are shown to be good at what they do – using their own methods. Gotta love Van Cleef’s saddle full of guns! He’s a no nonsense type of guy, whereas Clint likes to toy with his prey.
Once they are on the trail of the same job their first order of business is to confront each other. It culminates in a great scene where Eastwood pretty much gets a hotel porter to evict Van Cleef’s Colonel Douglas. Hilariously this advances to stepping on each other’s feet, punching and then shooting at each other. It’s a great “Who has the biggest dick” scene where Eastwood first gets to shoot Van Cleef’s hat further and further away (I wonder how long they spent getting the shots of the hat landing in each lit part of the street?), and then ends with Van Cleef shooting Eastwood’s hat into the air and hitting it several times while it is still up there. This is how you find an uneasy partnership and bond. Well they do say humiliation is the fastest way to a man’s heart. Which I guess is true if it’s not done too publicly.
Then it’s back to business, infiltrating El Indio’s gang in the second half of the film. This is done with a great comedy scene where Eastwood breaks one of Indio’s gang members out of the slammer with a stick of dynamite. After he is accepted into the gang it’s a case of following them on the bank job and eventually ending up in a remote town where it all comes to a head. Allegiances are broken, betrayal among many is revealed and everyone ends up shooting at each other in a heavy body count climax.
I should make a nod to Gian Maria Volonte for his wonderfully manic role of El Indio (almost a western version of the joker when you look at it). He is given a lot of time to chew the scenery and prove himself as a worthy bad guy and he doesn’t fail: In one scene he has the family members of one of his foes murdered right before shooting the guy in a duel. Another sees him laughing wildly from the sidelines as men are beaten up in front of him. It’s a bad guy that we seem to forget about when compiling those lists of greatest villains ever. He was good in A Fistful of Dollars; but he is great here and passes the baton to Van Cleef to take over bad guy duties in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
On to the Score – well we are all familiar with Ennio Morricone’s work. It’s amazing that he kept each of the Dollars film soudning so distinctive. The style is the same, but each has their own anthems, and all are just about as memorable as each other. My favourite cue comes right at the end when the three-way duel is taking place. It’s another prolonged music cue that seems to go on forever and build and build before finally you get to the action. It’s a great lesson in building tension as well as making your film all the more epic and Morricone and Leone really did their work on this scene. It’s purely driven by visuals and sound. Leone would replicate this with the climax of the The Good, The Bad and The Ugly which has an even longer music cue. Tarantino wishes he was this good. And he tried to replicate it – for example in Kill Bill Vol 1 there are constant breaks in the action at the end so that characters can give each other deep stares as Tarantino basterdises music cues from other films. He went too far though as he had already released our tension with the slaughter of the crazy 88. You can’t just keep starting and stopping without it annoying the hell out of your audience. Leone has it mastered, and it works genuinely as a great pay off.
The incorporation of the dreamlike tune coming from the twin pendants, the guitar, orchestra and choral singing make for what I believe to be Morricone’s best music cue ever written. Sure the opening whistle themed tune is a cult classic, and even a couple of the main cues from the first and third films are cult or just plain cool. But I think this piece of work is just beautiful and sets my imagination ablaze.
Some may wish to see Eastwood take out the bad guy as he is essentially our main hero. But it’s the Van Cleef character who has the embittered past against Indio and it’s a surprise of sorts to learn that it is to avenge his sister. Eastwood is there for the big pay day, so he merely get’s to play ringmaster – keeping the fight fair. Van Cleef gets to come off even classier though as once the job is done he decides to let Eastwood’s stranger keep all the cash.
But whilst Van Cleef’s Colonel is a noble man; Eastwood’s Stranger gets the last laugh though when counting his bounty. Realising the tally for all of the bodies doesn’t quite add up he spins on his heels and quickly takes out one last survivor from the gang lurking behind him. Van Cleef turns back and asks if he is having in trouble?
“No old man, Thought I was having trouble with my adding.” Love it! Now that is a star!