In 1965, following the spur-burning European success of his second film as director, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone returned to the genre he had unwittingly created with 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS – the “spaghetti western” – again working with a young actor named Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was yet to become an international star and was still working on the hit US TV show, RAWHIDE, as cattle wrangler Rowdy Yeates. But outside of America, FISTFUL had been a huge box office hit, and Eastwood as “the man with no name” was already becoming a cinematic icon – so much so, Leone was immediately given the green light to make the second of what would become known as his “Dollars” trilogy (The Plaza will screen a restored print of the ne plus ultra of the sequence of films, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY on August 13).
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS can be considered the template all further spaghetti westerns would follow: mysterious, amoral, cynical stranger either arrives in a small town and upsets the status quo, playing the various sides against each other, or said amoral, ethically-questionable stranger is after the money…the only item of value in an emotionally and politically corrupt landscape where a fistful of dollars (or more) are the only things worth fighting for…and death is always lurking outside a saloon swing doorway. The first film in Leone’s trilogy can also be considered as an experiment; with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the director escaped the typical curse of a lame sophomore effort to transcend his groundbreaking western debut and set the stage for the cinematic shake-out which he would deliver in 1966’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The three films were finally unleashed on an unsuspecting American public in 1967, and Eastwood finally escaped his career doldrums and became a full-fledged movie star.
The plot of DOLLARS MORE is as simple as that of A FISTFUL, but in this case, the film delves into a psychological/motivational grounding the former film lacked. It is the work of a filmmaker finding his footing as he reinvents a genre as old as American movie-making itself. The movie sets up a potential conflict between bounty hunters – Eastwood’s squinting, cheroot-smoking nameless stranger and Lee Van Cleef’s steely-eyed Colonel Mortimer. After conflicts, the two loners team up to go after the psychopathic killer bandit, Indio (perfectly played by Gian Maria Volonte). The final scenes are killer – literally. But whereas Eastwood’s stranger is just after the money, Mortimer has a personal score to settle with scumbag Indio. No spoilers on ATLRetro – go do yourself a favor and support the Plaza and enjoy a classic movie, even if you’re not a fan of westerns or Clint.
ATLretro Movie Trivia: Eastwood, who is highly anti-smoking, is on record as stating that if Leone wanted him to turn up his bad-ass volume, all the director had to do was get him to stick one of those stinky cigarillos in his mouth and light up. No wonder Clint had no problem shooting so many sleazy outlaws…
Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the cinematic podcast The Night Crew, and for the past few months has discussed “The Wild, Wild West,” his eclectic, personal primer on cowboys movies every film lover should watch. His current verbal essay is on the other Sergio – Sergio Corbucci – director of MINNESOTA CLAY, THE HELLBENDERS…and one of the other greatest spaghetti westerns, 1968’s THE GRAND SILENCE (Here’s wishing the Plaza would screen that!)