By Paul J. Bradley
The 1965 western classic For a Few Dollars More (Original Italian Title: Per Qualche Dollaro in Più) is the second film of Sergio Leone’s influential Italian-made Dollars trilogy. His first film, A Fistful of Dollars, is a re make of the 1961 Akira Kurosawa samurai classic Yojimbo from 1961.
Filmed in Almería, Spain and with the interiors completed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, For a Few Dollars More stars Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as bounty hunters who reluctantly join forces to take on the vicious bandit El Indio (memorably played by acclaimed Milanese actor Gian Maria Volonté) and his gang.
Like in all of Leone’s famous westerns, For a Few Dollars More brought a new level of violence to cinema. The villains are psychotic killers and the anti-hero is also ruthlessly violent.
Born in Rome in 1929, Sergio Leone began to build his reputation as an assistant to the legendary Italian film director Vittorio DeSica and as an assistant director for films shot at the famous Italian Cinecitta studios, such as Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959). It was not until the 1960s when Leone became a leading talent in the development of the Spaghetti Western, Italian films styled on the American western.
Like all his films, For a Few Dollars More is extraordinarily stylish. Filmed in Techniscope, an Italian invention that retains both foreground and background, Leone uses extreme close-ups and long shots to create a unique visual style, which is enhanced by Italian musician Ennio Morricone’s incredible score to create a sense of western opera.
Sergio Leone himself was influenced by many American directors, especially John Ford. Leone’s westerns were different because he did not care about the heroic qualities given to shootists in American westerns. Leone believed that all such shootists, hired or not, would have been ruthless killers. Leone’s vision of the American West is shown as more violent and morally complex than what was shown in the traditional American Western.
Television westerns were very popular in the 1960s, especially in Italy, and having Eastwood play the lead meant that Leone had a recognised face of an American TV cowboy. Eastwood was not his first choice. Leone had Henry Fonda in mind, who would later play against type as the psychotic villain in Leone’s acclaimed Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968.
For a Few Dollars More contains another memorable score from the legendary Ennio Morricone, who often worked with Leone. It is the first Leone film to contains a musical theme embodied within the film itself, where the music is often diegetic and non-diegetic especially in those scenes when the pocket watch is used. The overall effect is original, haunting and memorable.
After his great films of the sixties, Sergio Leone made only a few interesting films of note, such as A Fistful of Dynamite in 1971, as well as apparently turning down the chance to direct The Godfather. However, the director’s cut re-release of his 1984 gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America is now recognised as a masterpiece.
Reception and legacy
Many of the original critics did not embrace Leone’s westerns, accusing them of being extremely immoral and violent, but critical opinion has since changed. Leone’s western classics from the sixties are now considered as some of the most influential films ever made. Celebrated film maker Quentin Tarantino adopts so much of Leone’s style in all his work and regularly cites him as an inspiration.
But For a Few Dollars More is more unique than its predecessor because it is not an adaptation and contains an original screenplay by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone (with Sergio Donati). Lauded Japanese director Akira Kurosawa had won a lawsuit against Leone for breach of copyright for A Fistful of Dollars, so this sequel shows a development of Leone’s cinematic style without standing on the shoulders of any other classic.
For a Few Dollars More is also more elegant and entertaining than its predecessor, and genuinely exciting. It is arguably the definite Spaghetti western and quite possibly Sergio Leone’s greatest triumph.