In the year of COVID and quarantine and election anxiety, it is nice to escape into the purely visceral pseudo-reality of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. The Dollars trilogy, and its second installment, For a Few Dollars More, in particular, is unadulterated narrative simplicity, as uncomplicated as stories can be. Watching them is almost entirely devoid of mental investment: man rides horse, man shoots gun, kickass musical cue chimes in and then another man riding a horse shoots his gun. Westerns in general, and spaghetti Westerns especially, are a fantasy genre of clarity and directness without any of the fussy trappings of modern life. They are the ideal movie to watch on the eve of a presidential election.

For a Few Dollars More stars Clint Eastwood as the bounty killer Manco, filling his pockets while bringing law to the wild frontier. His foil and eventual partner is a rival bounty killer — there are only so many wanted men hanging about, after all — is Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), an old hand at the bounty hunting game. Together, they decide to take down the notorious outlaw leader El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté) and his gang of bandit with a half-baked scheme that is bound to backfire (and it does, too).

From here, the movie plays out the string. There are gorgeous “Texas” vistas—the film was shot in Spain—of rough men on horseback, bloody shootouts, bar fights, steam-powered trains and old Spanish missions. The usual genre plot trappings. Manco and Mortimer chafe about being partners, but come to depend on one another. El Indio demonstrates enormous quantities of both ruthlessness and tactical savvy. The heroes look like they just might come up short…but because Westerns are fantasy films, Manco and Mortimer eventually get their man. That final gunfight reveals a few twists, but nothing to really muddy up the story or complicate things too much. After all, the script was supposedly written in nine days.

Leone did not need a stylish script to make a stylish film. What makes the Dollars trilogy shine—and again, as the simplest and most straightforward of the three, For a Few Dollars More really stands out here—is the visuals. The way the camera whirls about as the bullets are flying, the way it captures Manco’s silent swagger and deliberate head movements and the tit-for-tat cutting between Manco and Mortimer as they both stalk El Indio in the film’s first act have inspired many future filmmakers (most famously, of course, Quentin Tarantino). The music is as well regarded as the cinematography. For a Few Dollars More features one of Ennio Morricone’s more celebrated scores, as it blends non-diegetic music with the diegetic music played by the watches carried by Mortimer and El Indio.

Many critics of the Dollars trilogy point out that the films are full of archetypical characters, clichéd situations and vacuous dialogue. Those critiques are all correct, especially regarding For a Few Dollars More, but they miss the point: this is heavy-handed, hyper-masculine escapist fare for those who want to plunge into an alternate reality for a couple of hours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Future of Fallout, And Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making: by Joseph Masco

An immensely crucial—and immensely interesting—look at the myopic, avaricious heart of the…