Movie Project #43: For a Few Dollars More [1965]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

For a Few Dollars More [1967]

For a Few Dollars More [1967]
Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté
Running Time: 132 minutes

I didn’t hear what the bet was.
Your life.

For a Few Dollars More is the second film in Sergio Leone’s famous Dollars trilogy. I wrote about the first in the series, A Fistful of Dollars, earlier this year, and my initial plan was to watch both films back-to-back. This didn’t happen, but no matter — it was great to come back to the trilogy with a few months perspective.

For a Few Dollars More [1965]

Clint Eastwood once again stars as the “Man with No Name”, though he is referred to by others as Manco (meaning “one-handed/one-armed”). Manco is a bounty hunter who is pursuing El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté), a ruthless bastard who is also one of the most wanted fugitives in the west. After running into Colonel Douglas Mortimer (aka “The Man in Black” played by Lee Van Cleef), another bounty hunter who is chasing El Indio, the two men decide they have a better chance to take down the fugitive and his goons by working together. Their partnership is shaky at best, as evidenced by their introduction in which they shoot each other’s hats (an amusing and effective scene), but they have a mutual respect for each other.

While A Fistful of Dollars relied solely on Eastwood, For a Few Dollars More focuses on this unlikely partnership. Eastwood is at his best here, as the poncho-wearing, cigar-chomping Manco, but Van Cleef is just as good, if not better. It’s a lot of fun watching these two legends play off each other, each one slyly trying to one-up the other. Volonté makes a formidable villain, brilliantly playing a nasty shell of a man, one who we learn more about thanks to a couple of flashback scenes. By the end, you will undoubtedly want to see him get his comeuppance.

For a Few Dollars More [1965]

All of the familiar traits from Sergio Leone are on display here — wide, panoramic landscapes, extreme close-ups, and an unforgettable score from Ennio Morricone. On the flip side, the poor voice dubbing is again noticeable and even distracting at times. No matter how many films of this manner I have seen, the dubbing takes some time to get used to.

In many ways, For a Few Dollars More builds upon what its predecessor set out to do. Seeing “The Man with No Name” team up with another bounty hunter adds an intriguing element to Leone’s Spaghetti Western, and the sheer star power of Eastwood, Van Cleef and Volonté is a sight to behold. It’s undeniably a great film, but perhaps its strongest asset is that it set the groundwork for the biggest and best entry in the trilogy: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

8.5/10

 

Movie Project #27: A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]
Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonté and Marianne Koch
Runtime: 99 minutes

Let’s get this out of the way first: A Fistful of Dollars is an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s legendary Yojimbo. The similarities are undeniable — essentially the swords are swapped for guns, and the setting is moved from Feudal Japan to the Old West. If you can get over that bit of information, you will find a badass western with Clint Eastwood at the top of his game.

A Fistful of Dollars jumpstarted the popularity of the Spaghetti Western genre, and it began the classic Dollars Trilogy (which also includes For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Eastwood is the lead in all three films, playing a character commonly known as “The Man With No Name”.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

In Fistful, he is also known as “Joe”, a gunfighter who enters a small border town and begins to play two feuding families against each other. On one side are the Rojo brothers led by the crazy Ramon (Gian Maria Volonté); the other, the Baxters, led by town sheriff John (Wolfgang Lukschy). Seeing their rivalry as a way to get rich, Joe sets up shop at the local saloon. The saloonkeeper, Silvanito (Jose Calvo), reaffirms his thoughts by remarking that everyone here either ends up very rich or very dead.

Watching Joe manipulate the two factions is a thing of beauty. Eastwood makes this character a total badass, a man who is in control of every situation, even in towns unknown to him. The lead character is now iconic — who can forget his poncho, the cigar chomping or constant squinting? The rest of the cast do well in their roles, but their audio is dubbed over since the actors were all speaking their lines in different languages. This disconnection is a bit jarring at first, but I was so entranced by the action on screen that it didn’t bother me as much as it might for others.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

A Fistful of Dollars could perhaps best be described as “bite size” Leone. The film has many of the same techniques that he would perfect in his later westerns (i.e. wide screen camera angles and extreme closeups), but it is significantly shorter than the three hour epics of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West. Thus, it would be much easier to take in one sitting.

Fistful holds up remarkably well today, and Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is just as fantastic as ever. I had a lot of fun watching this film, and I will happily give this one a high recommendation.

9/10

Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]
Once Upon a Time in the West [1968, Sergio Leone]
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale.

My experience with Sergio Leone is limited. Out of his filmography, I have only seen The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, which I should probably watch again at some point. Once Upon a Time in the West bares a number of striking similarities to that epic — particularly its extended running time, masterful soundtrack and extraordinary cinematography. The opening scene alone, which has very little dialogue, captivated me from the start. Not much happened during this sequence, yet I was absolutely intrigued. The stunning shots of the wild west combined with extreme closeups of the characters’ faces were truly a thing of beauty.

It was also a lot of fun to see Henry Fonda play the villain, which is something I hadn’t seen him do before. Charles Bronson was excellent as his harmonica-playing adversary, and it was a real treat watching Claudia Cardinale as the dame caught up in the whole mess. While there was certainly a lot that I loved about the film, I was still a little turned off by the sheer longevity of it all. Leone sure loved to milk every scene as long as possible, and his attention to detail is extraordinary. I felt a little burned out by the end of the movie, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me. 8.5/10

The Thin Red Line [1998]
The Thin Red Line [1998, Terrence Malick]
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte.

Terrence Malick, seemingly a favorite director amongst movie bloggers, is someone I know I should become more familiar with. The Thin Red Line is the first film I have seen from him, and I figured this would be a great place to start, given my interest in World War II. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Mount Austen. We are introduced to a large ensemble cast of soldiers, including the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte and more. This is a really impressive group of guys, but the fact that so many were introduced made it considerably more difficult to get to know them. Outside of a few major characters, including a fantastic turn by Nolte, we learn little about most of these soldiers. In a way, however, this is just the way war is. Men are sent to perform their duties, and new faces are brought in to replace those who have fallen.

The Thin Red Line moves along at a very methodical pace, and I can see how this would deter some viewers. I didn’t mind this at all, as it gave us a chance to see Malick’s stunning shots of Guadalcanal, a beautiful island now interrupted with violent warfare. One thing that did bother me, at least somewhat, was an over-reliance on philosphophical voiceovers. I don’t have a problem with these in general, but they happened too often for my liking. Still, there’s no question that TTRL is a visually astonishing film that offers a completely different (and refreshing) take on WWII compared to 1998’s other big film, Saving Private Ryan. 8/10