Friday, January 29, 2010

Underrated Movie #26: For a Few Dollars More


Title: For A Few Dollars More
Year: 1965
Director: Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America)
Writers: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, and Luciano Vincenzoni
Stars: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Lee Van Cleef (High Noon), Gian Maria Volante (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion)

The Story: In a nightmarish version of the Old West, two tough bounty hunters gradually converge on the same target. They agree to work together, but keep a wary eye on each other as well.

How it Came to be Underrated: The first and last movies in Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, are both household names, even to people who have never seen a western. This middle film is far less famous, but it’s even better than Fistful and almost as great as GBU.

Why It’s Great:

  1. The marketing people called Eastwood the “man with no name”, but he actually has a different name in each film ("Joe", "Manco", and "Blondie", respectively), so they can’t be the same character. Furthermore, the final film, set during the Civil War, clearly takes place before the other two. But there is a nevertheless a thematic progression, as we follow Eastwood’s reluctant growth from animal to man. The heart of that transition takes place in this film, where Eastwood is quietly transformed by his exposure to Van Cleef’s tragic hero, the only justified man in the entire trilogy.
  2. Fistful was a low-budget lark, with a story lifted from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. This movie, on other hand, is the first in which Leone is in control of every thought, every frame, every expression, establishing a total mastery of his art. Fistful had gleefully toyed with audience’s idea of the Western in a satirical way. This film is less interested in destroying our genre expectations and more interested in creating and then subverting its own system of iconography.
  3. Nowhere was that more evident than in the casting. Dollars had proven that Eastwood would be a star, but he was nice enough to come back overseas and shoot another, only to discover that this time his brutal character would be unfavorably contrasted with another hero. And who would play this hero? A cruel-eyed character actor who had previously played nothing but villains, Lee Van Cleef. Luckily, Eastwood thought this was a great idea. It was a risky decision that paid off for everybody, putting Leone, Eastwood and Van Cleef all on the path to true greatness.
  4. My first week at film school, we were all supposed to bring in an example of a great scene. The school favored oblique, austere filmmaking and most of the examples were along those lines. I brought in the scene where Eastwood meets Van Cleef, which couldn’t possibly have more vim, vigor or virulence. I came to suspect that I wouldn’t fit in. It’s a simple, nearly silent sequence of two men shooting the hell out of each other’s hats, and it’s pretty much my definition of pure cinema.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite, a.k.a. Duck, You Sucker is also underrated. He followed up this trilogy with the great stand-alone epic Once Upon a Time in the West.

How Available Is It?: It’s on dvd in bare bones and deluxe editions.

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