Sunday, 28 June 2015

For a Few Dollars More (4½ Stars)

This was Clint Eastwood's second spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone, after "A Fistful of Dollars". In America it was marketed as the return of the man with no name. First of all, despite the identical clothing and mannerisms, Clint Eastwood seems to be playing a different character in this film. Secondly, his name was actually Manco. His name was used twice in the film, and both parts were cut out when it was shown in American cinemas. That's silly. The Blu-ray disc I have in my hand now is a restored version containing the deleted scenes, and I can verify he does have a name. He's called Manco, not Joe as in the first film.

In this film Clint Eastwood plays a bounty hunter. While hunting for a bandit called El Indio his path crosses that of another bounty hunter, Douglas Mortimer, played by Lee Van Cleef. They meet as enemies, but they make an uneasy truce with one another, splitting the reward money of $10,000. Instead of killing him straight away they decide to wait until he attempts his next bank robbery, because his whole gang will be together, meaning more reward money. As it turns out, the other 14 gang members are worth $17,000 between them. Their plan fails and they are unable to prevent El Indio's next bank robbery, but that means there's a reward of $40,000 for the return of the money, so the "few dollars more" is actually $67,000. That's a whole lot of money, even today. How much was it worth in the 19th century? The sheriff in one of the early scenes says that he needs three years to earn $2000. According to online information a sheriff today earns an average of $45,000 per year, so I calculate that the total reward money was worth about $4.5 million. Not bad for a few days work.

When the film was made in 1965 Lee Van Cleef was a highly successful actor, well known in American westerns as a villain, while Clint Eastwood was relatively unknown, so they received equal credits in the film posters. The film even opens with a scene establishing Douglas Mortimer as a character, and Manco isn't seen until 15 minutes into the film. It's interesting to see the way the two actors continued with their respective careers. For Clint Eastwood it was the second of only three spaghetti westerns, after which he returned to making films in America. This was Lee Van Cleef's first film in Italy, but it was the beginning of a new segment of his life. Over the next 20 years, almost up to his death, he made another 20 spaghetti westerns. In America he had been predominantly a villain in his westerns, but in Italian films he was usually a hero. Maybe all that he wanted was to be known as the good guy.

It's worth mentioning the appearance of Klaus Kinski in this film, despite his relatively small role as a member of El Indio's gang. He speaks very few lines, but the variations in his facial expressions from one moment to the next are fascinating. The more I see him, the more convinced I become that he's the best actor who has ever lived.

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