“Where life had no value, death sometimes had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.”
If you had asked Clint Eastwood about the chances of Fistful Of Dollars being at all successful, he admits he hadn’t given it much of a chance. The film took a lot of chances with what was already a tired genre. Add to that the fact that it was a low-budget European effort and there really was no chance that the movie would be remembered a year later. But the film did pretty good money and made a ton of international noise. The men involved ended up with more than a fistful of dollars in their banking accounts. Who could blame them for wanting A Few Dollars More?
Calling For A Few Dollars More a sequel might be stretching things a bit. None of the story or characters from the first film return except for Clint Eastwood. He’s dressed the same and we’ pretty much expect that he’s the same man, but there is no assertion made here. If he is the same man, he’s since become a bounty hunter. Whether or not he’s the same character is still debated among film historians, I’m not even sure that Clint really knows for sure. But what isn’t open for debate is that “the man with no name” under any name or job description is back simply because Clint Eastwood is back. And he brought along a few of his friends. Sergio Leone is back in the director’s chair, and the sounds of Ennio Morricone are right there where they belong providing the atmosphere. A few of the actors from Fistful Of Dollars are also back, albeit in different roles. Gian Maria Volonte is back as the main bad guy. This time he plays a character named Indio who is far more ruthless and brutal than Ramón ever was. Volonte’s over-the-top theatrics return as well to counterbalance the steadfast minimalism of Clint. This time the theatrics got so out of hand that it led to tension on the set between the actor and Leone who would try tricks to tire the actor out to limit the huge displays. Mario Brega played a henchman in the first film and returns as Nino, Indio’s right-hand man. Joseph Egger, who played the wonderful coffin-maker in the first film returns as Old Prophet, a much more limited role.
It wasn’t just the returning cast and crew that make this such a compelling movie, but a few additions as well. Lee Van Cleef had made a modest career out of being a supporting bad guy in so many films, but his name wasn’t necessarily a household name. When Leone was looking for the “father” figure and partner to Clint’s character he once again sought out such big names as Henry Fonda. Again he was turned down. Van Cleef came so late to the film that he saw the script for the first time on the plane to Rome. He would work out so well that he would return as part of the titular trilogy in The Good The Bad And The Ugly. Klaus Kinski would add a ton of flavor in the small part of Wild, a somewhat hunchbacked henchman with a short temper.
The film opens with two prologues that introduce us first to Colonel Mortimer (Van Cleef), a bounty hunter about to retrieve yet another bounty. Next we are re-introduced to Clint’s character on a bounty hunt of his own. After both get their payoff we get to the actual story at hand. Indio (Volonte) is being broken out of jail. He’s quickly taking out his revenge on the man who turned him in. Indio is completely ruthless and not above killing women and children. Soon he rejoins his gang, and he has an elaborate plan to rob the most secure bank known. Naturally, there’s quite a few dollars worth of bounty in that gang, and both Mortimer and Clint are out to claim it. After an iconic scene where they show off their bravado by making each other’s hats dance with bullets, they decide to team up and split the reward.
But Mortimer is out for more than just money on this job. Indio carries a special watch that also works as a music box. It all has a special meaning for Mortimer, and it’s revenge he’s out for. Clint, once again pretends to join the bad guys to help set them up for the take-down. Things don’t go quite as planned, and the alliance among the bounty hunters gets thin at times. You really don’t know who to trust. What you do see coming from miles away is the inevitable showdown with Indio. It occurs in a wonderfully atmospheric stone circle where Mortimer and Indio play a deadly game of musical chairs.
Once again all of the elements and trademark touches are in place. This time the film had a much better budget. It cost $600,000 compared to the $200,000 of the first film and it shows. Fistful Of Dollars plays out in a very small environment, while this film has the kind of scope that allows Leone’s imagination to be truly freed. The result is an intimate film that still manages to have an epic feel to it. All of the symbolism and daring cinematography remains. If the first film was Leone, Eastwood and Morricone’s coming out party, than this film announces to the entire world that they’ve arrived. And like I’ve said before. Things would never be the same.
For A Few Dollars More is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. You get pretty much the same video found in the first film. While the budget was indeed higher, the process used was the same. There are more vistas, and they look pretty sweet here.
Again you’ll find: Those close-ups deliver the kind of sharpness that he never could have dreamed of at the time. You can see all of those feature imperfections, the hair stubble and the beads of sweat as they drip from the perspiring gunfighters. When a gunfighter bites the dust, you can almost taste the dust yourself. Black levels are only average, but you just can’t beat this high-definition image presentation by any of the versions of the film that have come before. I’ve owned the film on laserdisc and DVD before, but this is truly special.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is a little fuller but it still serves the same purpose. The limited dialog, of course. But it’s the exaggerated sound design and the score that shine again here.
There is another Audio Commentary with film historian Christopher Frayling. The guy has written definitive books on both Leone and the trilogy. He knows his stuff, and while he ventures a bit too much into the symbolic and philosophical, it’s worth a listen.
The Christopher Frayling Archives: (19:02) HD The historian gives us a peek at his extensive collection of posters and other memorabilia from the movie.
A New Standard: (20:14) SD It’s Frayling again pretty much offering us the bullet points from his commentary, once again.
Back For More: (7:08) SD More from the 2003 Eastwood interview.
Tre Voci: (11:05) Three more voices.
Original American Version: (5:18) SD This feature explores three cuts made to the film in its original American release. You get to see each scene in both forms.
Location Comparisons: (12:16) SD A look at some of the shooting locations then and in 2004.
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Leone’s critics often accuse his films of being merely style over substance. It shows a complete lack of understanding, not only of what he was doing here but the influence that is still being felt today. Ask Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez where they’d be if not for Leone. The style is the substance. These are films you merely enjoy. Now Blu-ray has made it possible to enjoy them like ever before. “It’s all for you. I think you deserve it.”