Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
In the opening sequence of For A Few Dollars More, a man rides a horse along a canyon in long shot, while we hear musical whistling. A shot rings out, and the ant-sized man drops off his horse, dead. During the entire opening the man lays there, dead-on centre screen, while the credits roll.
The movie doesn’t get very much more sentimental about life, death and morality. There are very bad men, and then there are worse men. They are alive until they are killed by men who can shoot better. The heroes (if you can call them that) are two bounty hunters who are very very good with a gun. The bad guy is a completely psychopathic, drug-addled, grandiose monster, which makes our heroes seem like good guys in comparison, although they are undoubtedly ruthless killers. The plot has double-crosses and triple-crosses and quadruple-crosses, but the plot is not the point. For a Few Dollars More is a direct remake (or rip-off, depending on your perspective) of Kurosawa’s Yoyimbo (1961) and even if it was not, we should be familiar enough with its glorious procession of clichés. As film critic Roger Ebert observes, the film is composed of situations, not plots.
As we would expect from a Leone film, we have the extreme long shots, such as in the opening, and the extreme blood, sweat and tears close-ups. A man gets shot early in the film and then falls nearly into the camera, showing his bloodied chest wound, but not his head, which is cut off by the camera. In another gloriously up-close-and-personal scene, Klaus Kinski’s twitching, sweating villain has an epic stare-off with Van Cleef’s flinty eyed, black-clad protagonist. Eyes on screen were never this shiny, not even in rom-coms. And these little moments do not hold a candle to the scene in which Van Cleef and Eastwood have a proper manly showdown by shooting eachother’s hats. Character is not communicated through dialogue, but through action. And that scene tells you all about these characters that you need to know.
Like Mege – whose previous Rear-View Mirror article on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly you should check out – I grew up on spaghetti westerns. They were my entry into the genre. Only much later, when I had actually witnessed several of the antiquated films in the genre Leone sought to revitalise, did I realise why they were both strange and strangely revolutionary. And also, what makes them so good. Granted, they may not have been appropriate material for a very young girl, but their operatic quality stayed with me, and I still love them despite, or maybe even because, of their weirdness. “Operas in which the arias are not sung but stared,” as critic Richard Jameson famously describes them.
For a Few Dollars More is, for my money, (and I refuse to apologise for the pun) the most watchable movie in the trilogy (sorry, Mege!). It has the confidence and style that is lacking in For a Fistful of Dollars and is more taut and rather less languid than The Good the Bad and the Ugly. It also seems to be largely overshadowed by the latter, which is a shame.
If you are a little bit like Mege and myself, pick up the MGM Blu-ray of the entire trilogy, but be sure to watch Kurosawa’s masterful Yoyimbo as well.
The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.