With "For a Few Dollars More," Sergio Leone demonstrated how thoroughly he understood the relationship between music, action, and long takes. The right combination creates a tension every bit as effective as we saw with psychological Westerns like "High Noon" (1952) and the original "3:10 to Yuma" (1957). It's Leone's mastery of tension and his tightly cropped verticals on a horizontal, Techniscope field (which adds to the tension by reinforcing a sense of discomfort or constriction) that make "For a Few Dollars More" one of the most effective Spaghetti Westerns. It's certainly my favorite of the so-called Man with No Name Trilogy, starring Clint Eastwood.
"For a Few Dollars More" (1965) pairs Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef in a tale of two bounty killers (not "hunters," mind you) who first compete and then team up to tackle a 14-member gang led by the ruthless El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte), who himself has a $10,000 price tag on his head. Indio is a madman who needs marijuana to calm him down (don't we all). But the fun in this film comes from watching two professionals go about their business, gain each other's respect, and play cat-and-mouse with each other as they try to figure out how to best capture this gang . . . with, or without double-crossing each other. It involves much research, but when their plan goes awry and the Indio gang hits the biggest bank in the territory, their best chance lies with one of them trying to infiltrate the gang so when the shooting starts they have one of them on the inside and one on the outside.
That's the premise, and there's a nice, sustained tension throughout the film, with Eastwood and Van Cleef a delight to watch. Same with Volonte, who played a villain in "A Fistful of Dollars" and does so with even more relish this time around. There are a lot of nice details that make "For a Few Dollars More" a stand-out Western, like the way Volonte's character has a habit of opening his musical pocketwatch to listen to it before a duel. "When the chimes finish, begin." And what makes the film more than a standard bounty-hunter outing is a plot involving bad-guy Indio, who has designs on a bank in El Paso. The only thing that snapped me out of the illusion of being right there in the middle of things was a night scene in which the two bounty hunters square off, and I could swear I saw the glint of a helicopter in the top part of the screen. Oops.
Well, it was low-budget (reportedly $600,000), but the film grossed $15 million in the U.S. alone, solidifying Eastwood's status as a Hollywood tough guy and ensuring him a place in the history of cinematic Westerns.
Leone is helped considerably in his revisionist take on the Old West by Ennio Morricone's original music and Massimo Dallamano's cinematography, which offered angles and long takes that American audiences were unaccustomed to seeing.
"For a Few Dollars More" is presented in 2.35:1 Techniscope widescreen in Technicolor, and the film has a nice amount of detail, especially in two-shots and close-ups. However, long shots and panoramic views of the landscape in particular are subject to atmospheric noise, and there are some flaws in the film stock that weren't cleaned up in the remastering process--flickers of dirt and such. Some of those exterior scenes can look a little soft. That said, "For a Few Dollars More" looks better than "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," with consistently good color saturation and edge delineation. In case you're wondering, this disc is the exact same one that was included in "The Man with No Name Trilogy" Blu-ray collection.
Like the other two films, this one was transferred to a 50-gig disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology (at 29.6 MBPS) and features an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio. "For a Few Dollars More" also features English and Spanish Mono, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles. My only quarrel with the sound is in the channeling. In the attempt to make the soundtrack more immersive and dynamic, the 5.1 mix sometimes goes a little overboard in dealing with conversations. When you have two people talking in a two-shot the sound is at one level, but when the camera cuts to a close-up of one of those people during the conversation, the other person's voice is muffled and shunted to a side speaker. It can be a little annoying at first, until you get the feel for the way the soundtrack has been mixed.
Bonus features are the same as on the disc that was included in "The Man with No Name" Trilogy:
--The Christopher Frayling Archives: "For A Few Dollars More"
--Commentary by Film Historian Christopher Frayling
--A New Standard: Frayling on "For A Few Dollars More"
--Back for More: Clint Eastwood Remembers "For A Few Dollars More"
--Tre Voci: "For A Few Dollars More"
--"For A Few Dollars More": The Original American Release Version
--12 Radio Spots
--2 Theatrical Trailers
All of the features are in standard definition except for the Frayling Archives extra, which find the historian talking about the film while showing us objects from his collection. All are worth watching and Frayling's commentary is above-average, as film historians' tend to be. You can tell he's done his homework, unlike stars who sit and watch a film and say whatever comes to mind.
Westerns were never the same after Sergio Leone. Suddenly anti-heroes were "in," and the gritty realism that Leone sought was quickly adopted by other filmmakers. "For a Few Dollars More" is an excellent Blu-ray, and a real delight to watch. Most fans pick "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" as the stand-out, but I really like this one best.