MGM // 1965 // 132 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 8th, 2011
Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
Badasses being badass. To me, that pretty much sums up the central theme of the Spaghetti Western genre. Regardless of plot or overall quality, the leathery toughness of the characters it what makes them so much fun to watch. While A Fistful of Dollars is the film that started the trend, it was the sequel, For a Few Dollars More, that cemented it into the minds of moviegoers. Just as important, though, is the fact that the movie is plain awesome, which we see more clearly than ever on MGM's excellent Blu-ray release.
The cruel, marijuana-crazed Indio (Gian Maria Volonte, Sacco & Vanzetti) and his gang of baddies have run roughshod over the southwest, robbing banks, killing children, and terrorizing anyone in the path. The price on their heads has grown massive and two bounty hunters separately set out to collect. The sharpshooting former colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef, Death Rides a Horse) and grizzled wanderer Monco (Clint Eastwood, High Plains Drifter) converge on El Paso and strike a deal to bring Indio's gang to justice, dead or alive, but preferably dead.
With the "Dollars" trilogy, director Sergio Leone (Once upon a Time in the West) fundamentally changed the way we view westerns. Gone was the easy morality of the black hat/white hat dichotomy, replaced by amoral killers and rogues, and gone was the reverence of sheriffs and war veterans. Heroes became those who could shoot fastest and straightest, not who was the most virtuous. John Wayne would not live long in this world, he'd be shot in the face before he finished saying "pilgrim." The gritty, filthy streets were populated by whores and urchins and the so-called authority figures were corrupted cowards. Few of the films in the genre could be considered great (how could they, when nearly seventy of the films were produced yearly at the genre's height), but they all shared a nasty mean streak that I appreciate. Of them all, For a Few Dollars More is my favorite.
Leone expands his cinematic scope in the second film of the trilogy, with a much broader, more epic story than the one-horse tale of A Fistful of Dollars and with more operatic, stylish direction. He doesn't go as far with this as he would with The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but this is a better film for that moderation. The story makes a fair amount of sense, at least in its own world, and the characters are all bizarre. Indio is a ridiculous villain, both deliriously evil and hilarious, while the dual heroes are wonderfully complimentary to each other. Mortimer's patient sharpshooting and arsenal of weapons is has a James Bond type vibe to him, and works well with the quick drawing Monco, who is technically not the same as Joe from A Fistful of Dollars, but is a definite extension of the character. The trio is fantastic together and Leone directs them with a ton of tension and a modicum of humor as they fight and pose and fight some more.
The characters and performances are good, but For a Few Dollars More is made by its stylistic elements that all work in concert to make the film feel whole. Leone relays the story very slowly, occasionally hinting at motivations, but not revealing anything until the closing moments. This leads to a bunch of abstract flashbacks that seem to make no sense, but really work in their over-the-top excess. The gunfights last forever and build the suspense extremely well. Part of that comes in Leone's direction, intercutting wide landscapes with his signature ultra-tight closeups, but much of it comes from Ennio Morricone's incredible score, especially his legendary pocket watch theme, which mounts the pressure until the second it stops and, then, bang, somebody's dead. Westerns have never been better than they are right here and there are few movies more fun to watch than For a Few Dollars More.
MGM's Blu-ray of For a Few Dollars More is slightly problematic, but never in such a way that mars the great experience of the film. The 2.35:1 transfer has a few pops and glitches, with one notable instance of bad print damage about a third of the way through that has persisted throughout the history of this film on disc. It surprises me that this couldn't be corrected, but there it is. Otherwise, the image looks great, especially in the closeups, which nicely show of the excellent grain structure. Clarity is superb the coloring is absolutely gorgeous, making this edition the definitive transfer of the film and a big upgrade over the Special Edition from 2005. The sound design doesn't represent such a big upgrade, but all the tracks are very good. The Dolby 2.0 mono mix is clear and bright, definitely the preferred track, as it's the closest to the original theater experience. The 5.1 mix features some pretty good separation and is a very good surround representation of the sound. Both sound great, with the dialog always clear, the audio effects always strong, and Morricone's wonderful score always coming through brilliantly.
Nearly all the extras are ported over from the Special Edition DVD, but they're still mostly informative and enjoyable. Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling takes the reins for most of the supplements, starting with a very good audio commentary. He's very knowledgeable on his subject, giving a ton of great information on the production itself and the people involved. My only gripe is a personal issue. In discussing the differences in locations talked about in the story, he is confused that Tucumcari, where the film begins, is a Mexican town, when New Mexico had been a US territory for over half a century. It's a pet peeve, but having gone to college in New Mexico and seeing so many people aghast that I would leave the country for school, I became sensitive to it and the geographic ignorance bothers me. Moving on, Frayling gives a more concise version of the commentary in a featurette called "A New Standard," that is a great twenty minute briefing on the film, and shows us his collection of Leone paraphernalia in another called "The Christopher Frayling Archives" that is a lot of fun. A ten minute interview with Clint Eastwood gives his recollections on the film and a group of interviews under the heading of "Tre Voci" that brings us the thoughts of producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati, and dubbing producer Mickey Knox that gives a broader perspective. A scene comparison of the Italian to US versions shows brief cuts made for the American release for various purposes, including perpetuating the "Man with No Name" character that doesn't actually exist in any of the "Dollars" films. It's interesting, but inessential. A weak location comparison, some radio spots, and trailers round out the disc.
Beautiful, action-packed, and totally epic, For a Few Dollars More is my favorite Spaghetti Western. Leone was a genius filmmaker and, even if this isn't his most accomplished film, it is his most sheer fun to watch. The Blu-ray is excellent all the way around and, even if you have the Special Edition DVD, meaning you have all the extra features, the image upgrade and low price tag make the disc an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Radio Spots