For a Few Dollars More is a prime example of always giving a movie a second chance. For years this was my least favorite of the Dollars Trilogy. My last viewing really opened my eyes and now it sits high upon my personal western canon.
The big story of For a Few Dollars More is confidence. Sergio Leone grows more confident with his directorial style. Clint Eastwood is more confident in his performance, adding some humor to the Man with No Name. Ennio Morricone is more confident with his scoring. The production design has grown, there are more settings than the prior film A Fistful of Dollars. I think the biggest reason for this growth is due to Leone now being free from Akira Kurosawa. As we know, A Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. However, Leone did not get the rights to adapt the film so that of course hangs a bit of cloud over the Italian director’s film, despite its quality and influence in the genre. Here Leone has an original script, an original take and now he can continue his building of the new mythology of the western.
Leone continues to peel back the shine that was a part of the traditional western film experience. One such scene in For A Few Dollars More takes place in a church where the villain Indio is with his gang. There after a double murder, Indio challenges a man to duel within the church. Catholic iconography made its appearance in A Fistful of Dollars, but it plays a different role in this scene. In a classical American western the film would not have messed with the sanctity of a place of worship, yet Leone upends that with violence being committed there. He creates new storytelling rules but not adhering to old ones. Speaking of duels, he also evolves that element. For Leone it’s not so much about the actual duel, but the ritual of the duel. The Morricone score swelling to operatic and orchestral highs. The extreme close ups of eyes, faces and hands on hips. Then the shooting begins when the music ends, punctuated by loud gunfire.
In addition to these stylistic changes, we also see the start of the Leone way of flashbacks. Throughout the film, Indio has memories of past events. Yet Leone does not play these as a way of presenting facts to the story, but rather he presents them fluid. Just as when any of us remember something that occurred during our lives. We’re just there, in the moment again. We will see more of this with Once Upon A Time in the West, Duck You Sucker and to perhaps its greatest effect in Once Upon a Time in America.
Leone also improved upon his character archetypes. Normally, the bounty hunter character is a person who is almost disparaged by both heroes and villains. They are portrayed as one who needs to fixed so that by the end of the film, they can be seen as truly heroic. With Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as Mortimer, they are bounty hunters because it is there profession. It is how they earn a living. Again Leone trying to do away with the overly staunch and almost manufactured morality of the western and brining more shades of gray to the picture.
Now the Leone is on his own with his own material, he takes a major leap forward with For A Few Dollars More. The confidence in his ideas is on full display and what’s amazing is that he hasn’t hit his zenith yet. Once that happens, the western will never be the same again.