23/04/2016

For A Few Dollars More - Death's Price

Thoughts On: For A Few Dollars More

We're past halfway now in the western series. I've looked at UnforgivenHigh Noon and A Fistful Of Dollars. We'll be finishing off Leone's Dollar Trilogy with The Good The Bad The Ugly next, before rounding off everything with Once Upon A Time In The West. So, make sure you've checked those out and also the sample to my new ebook/screenplay Apologetic? This series is enabling me to explore the films behind what inspired me to actually start writing it, so, the sample is here...


But, to read the whole thing--remembering it's free on Smashwords--here we go...



As always, thanks, and let's get on with it...

For A Few Dollars More follows two bounty hunters butting heads as they close in on a gang of criminals worth nearly $30,000.


To me, For A Few Dollars More is title that really doesn't do this film justice. The film is best surmised by it's opening text:

Where life had no value,
death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty killers appeared.

That is, in short, the crux of the film. But, before that, it has to be said that this film is the one to prove that Leone truly is a masterful story teller. The plotting of this film is immense--a true masterclass if ever you need one. In terms of technical plotting this film is probably Leone's best, and despite this For A Few Dollars usually falls to fourth place when Leone's filmography is ranked. The Good The Bad The Ugly comes first, Once Upon A Time In The West second, (usually) A Fistful Of Dollars third and For A Few Dollars more fourth. This comes down to The Good The Bad The Ugly being so iconic with its score and riveting (yet simple) narrative. Once Upon A Time In The West is the best directed of Leone's western pictures - in my opinion - but it hasn't the star power, loveable characters or iconic imagery The Good The Bad The Ugly has. A Fistful Of Dollars is what made him and Spaghetti Westerns famous. And so, that kind of explains why For A Few Dollars More comes fourth in ranking. However, I'd say that For A Few Dollars more needs to go up at least one place. It's a rare example of the sequel being better than the original. This is because it's not really a sequel. It's a film of its own. Leone had more money and a similar story to tell. Usually this leads to a relaxed director, just mailing it in - and is why sequels are rarely better than the original. But, Leone was holding out on us with A Fistful Of Dollars. For A Few Dollars more has more flare, spice, grit and bite. Leone took quite a few chances in this film. The most obvious will be the increase of violence especially that of a sexual nature. Marisol was probably raped in A Fistful Of Dollars, but this was never expressed in the same manner it was with Mortimer's sister - we even see the gun wound that ended her life. Also, women are shot down quite brutally in Fistful, but a woman and child--a baby--are murdered (off-screen) in For A Few Dollars More. Leone definitely grew braver with this film. But we can see this most clearly in his plotting and decision to make as pure of a narrative as possible. The first time I saw this picture (I was quite--probably too--young) it confused the hell out of me. I didn't know who was good, why who was doing what or even what was going on some of the time. This is because of Leone's refusal to explain anything with more than images. This is pure cinema, it's what makes the likes of The Godfather, Psycho, most things by Chaplin, Keaton, Murnau, great. Cinema is used as designed; stories are told frame by frame - not with dialogue. This is what makes Leone's cinema great.

There's one more thing to add about the plotting - this also comes back to the title of the film. It should have been called... drum roll... The God The Bad The Ugly. Why? The opening few scenes. First there's Mortimer, the hard-ass bounty hunter. He is the Good. Then comes the chilled Man With No Name. The Ugly. This is a beautiful opening. It sets up a key conflict of the film whilst perfectly demonstrating just who the two main characters are. There's the no bullshit, efficient and calculated colonel. Then there's the relaxed, talented, but sloppy kid. They're both after money, and so in comes the $10,000 - right above it - the face of El Indio. The Bad. This dynamic of the good guy, the bad guy and the questionable one (the ugly) isn't a mind blowing revelation though. It's obvious in both this, The Good The Bad The Ugly (duh) and Once Upon A Time In The West. This is because Leone is, in short, telling very similar stories. He does this to bridge away from the westerns that came beforehand--it's what let him revitalise the genre. Classic westerns have your good guy and your bad guy - the black hat and the white hat. Simple. Leone adds into the mix his iconic antihero - often The Man With No Name. (For more on antiheroes click here by the way). This is what allowed cinema as a whole to really open up. With antiheroes new themes and ideas can be explored that you can't with black and white story telling. Antiheroes obviously gave us A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas (all talked about in the link above). However, the opposite could also be argued here. Maybe antiheroes dumbed cinema down. As a blanket statement, obviously that's wrong. But, look at all the 'dumb, fun' movies that come out today--look at the majority of Seth Rogan's filmography. They all contain antiheroes of a sort, just look at The Interview, Superbad or Pineapple Express. This movement toward the stoner comedy (everything Seth Rogan) coincided with move into the 80s - Cheech and Chong, Up In Smoke anyone? By saying this I mean to make clear that antiheroes aren't just artistic and profound devices used to explore the depths of human nature in all its contradictions. Sometimes antiheroes just entertain (Ferris Bueller's Day Off). You can see this also in For A Few Dollars More. Some of the 'bad' or 'ugly' parts of the film are supposed to entertain with the camaraderie, almost playful deception and dark humor - just think of the act Indio almost gets away with after killing two of his own men. Comical, right?

What this all feeds into is the narrative purpose of the film. Whilst this is a fun, popcorn movie, it does say something quite bold about the dynamic between the questionable and the good. In short, this film is a perfect example of both the use of an antihero to entertain and explore. All the way throughout this film there are blatant religious images that are almost desecrated. One of the opening shots is the Bible and then Mortimer as priest bounty hunter. Huh? And then there's shooting at church bells, the constant cross image (especially when shot into the stolen safe), also Indio posing as a kind of Jesus preaching to his men, surrounded by, what I assume to be, religious statues. Again, this is bold, but, it also cites a loss of religion - with that, a loss moral guidance. From Leone to 21 Jump Street and Korean Jesus, we can also see the 'evolution' of the antihero in respect to disrespect - even if it is for the sake of comedy. Not that I criticise anything here--I have very little stake in the way of religion. Anyhow, what Leone is trying to demonstrate is a progression in time. Westerns are always about change whether it be with the image of war or the train. It's change that cowboys often fight against, but in For A Few Dollars More, they embrace it. The cowboys essentially become criminals and bounty hunters/killers. This is where the good and ugly come back in. Mortimer represents the good mainly because he's from a time before The Man With No Name. He's a bounty killer for similar reason as 'Manco', but with one key difference--the watch on his hip. The Man With No Name is, in spirit, ugly because he does what he does 'for a few dollars more'. With that idea we can see the double meaning in the opening lines of the film (at the top of the essay). Death having a price sounds ominous and dark. It implies anyone can be killed - just for the right amount of money. And whilst this is true in the film, it's not the only price willing to be paid. Mortimer is willing to pay for the death of Indio with not only his own life, but his own half of the bounty. This is why the title isn't entirely apt, and brings the film above the rank of 'dumb and fun'.

For A Few Dollars More centers around a question of bounty hunting. Is it good? Is it bad? Who is right? The question of course isn't asked explicitly, but comes with a question of character. How can we root for Manco and Mortimer if we don't first assume Indio is worth killing? That bounty hunting is right? How can Leone create tension without us too wanting The Man With No Name to get away with thousands of dollars for killing someone? What this reveals in the audience is our intangible, ineffectual, but present nonetheless, acceptance of this idea of murder for personal gain. Of course the posters say dead or alive, but we're all thinking 'just shoot him'. This period of cinema is reflected on by Eastwood himself with Unforgiven. His character, Will, is The Man With No Name, but old and constantly tortured by what he used to do. What this cites is the self-destruction in destruction. That killing someone else can haunt you. I know we're going off on quite a tangent here, but the point I'm trying to make centers on this idea of right and wrong. We assume that the ending is happy because Manco gets away with tens of thousands of dollars which will let him lead a comfortable and quiet life. But is that the end all and be all? Is the end supposed to be of consequence? You could argue here that I'm thinking too much into things, but GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!! I don't know exactly what that meant--but it's true. Anyway, what the horizon Manco trots toward has to do with is the horizon Mortimer travels for. This is why thinking of beyond the film is a relevant point and also comes back to the price of a death. Mortimer killed Indio to avenge his sister - he was willing to risk his life for peace, but only because his life maybe had no value. The implied undertones of this movie as given by the opening text are very existential. Essentially, we have two suicidal characters. They don't see their lives as having any worth and neither those of the people around them. Their lives are worthless, yet death can have a price because, through death, these two characters can almost start living again. Mortimer, once avenging his sister's forced suicide can go on with his life. Manco, with money in his back pocket can begin living. This is why bounty killers exists and it also hits a lot closer to home than we probably realise.

What this film is essentially about is risking one's life for material gain. It's about putting everything on the line in hope of some return. What this film talks to is an idea of capitalism, of getting rich or dying whilst you try. This idea is encompassed by The Man With No Name--comfort at any cost. He is nameless for the same reason we use zombies to comment on consumerism. There's a contradiction in risking life and death now for what could be comfort later on down the line when you live in the old, slow west. Instead of being almost mindless like a zombie though, The Man With No Name is entirely emotionally disconnected. But, what Mortimer represents is the heart of a capitalist. He wants it all not 'just because', but for someone, some purpose. He wants to almost take back what he's lost. This idea is deeply engrained into Leone's westerns. They aren't just about the old west, the wild west, simpler times. They aren't even about refusing change, or at least not wanting to accept it - as most westerns are. Leone's Spaghetti Westerns embrace change - as do his characters. The Man With No Name doesn't care about the train, he's got his mind on his money and... you fill the rest. Overall, bounty hunting is tantamount to capitalism in For A Few Dollars More - in a western - so the individualist rise in cinema and culture could be perfectly exemplified. This isn't to say that all westerns previous to this were communists--John Wayne would probably turn in his grave if I dared say that. But, what I mean to say is that knights of the desert primarily cared for communities, morals, respect... not so much money. Look at High Noon, Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach. All prime westerns and none really about making money or dying to get it. You can even look at The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. All about gold and how it can destroy people. Juxtapose this with Leone's Dollar Trilogy and then take a look at yourself. What does Trilogy say about us?

I'm going to leave you in suspense here, but only with the promise for conclusion in The Good The Bad The Ugly. Before I go and to wrap up For A Few Dollars More, what we have here is a preemptive to The Good The Bad The Ugly. It pushes the bar on what audiences will sympathise with or will root for. All in all, with For A Few Dollars More I see stunning technical craft in the way of story telling, Leone's style strengthening and, most importantly, a commentary on the audience brewing.

To end, just a reminder of my new ebook. Check it out.







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A Fistful Of Dollars - The Orchestrated Canvas

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The Good The Bad And The Ugly - The Moral Trichotomy

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