A vision in blazing Technicolor, a Pop Art cinematic approximation of a comic strip come to life, and a work of early postmodern silver-screen decadence, Sergio Leone's beloved 1965 spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More--the second film in his Clint Eastwood-starring "Man With No Name" trilogy, following A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and preceding The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)--ups the ante on Fistful's already freshly inspired, over-the-top take on the Western, which turned it into a surprise hit and launched Eastwood's and Leone's careers. This time, Leone ratchets up the quasi-Western iconography to new heights of desert-bound heat-stroke hallucination, and MGM's new Blu-ray release of the film lets us experience its always-remarkable overheatedness even more vividly than we always have.
The story told in For a Few Dollars More is almost ridiculously simple: The bounty hunter--the "man with no name"-- from A Fistful of Dollars (Eastwood) finds a sort-of father figure/mentor in an older colleague (B-movie and Western character actor Lee Van Cleef making a comeback as a leading man), with whom he tentatively partners up to neutralize the outrageously insane outlaw/bank robber Indio (Gian Maria Volonte, Le Cercle rouge), and who harbors his own private, less amorally mercenary motivations for wanting Indio eliminated. It is on this very basic wire that Leone hangs his series of sharp-tongued confrontations, lurid flashbacks, and elongated, ultra-choreographed shootouts milked for every drop of suspense and excitement, all of which make up the bulk of the film and are its real (and very worthy) raison d'Ítre.
It all flows together with a perfectly nonsensical grace that is gladly exempted from any requirements regarding being in proportion or clearly motivated, because Leone is high on the pleasure of spinning out his completely unrealistic, self-consciously cartoonish, escapist riffs on the conventions of the Hollywood Westerns he was devoted to and infatuated with, and his genuine, deep-seated glee is contagious. He loves framing his characters (who are really less individuals with their own characteristics or development than they are movie equivalents of Jungian archetypes) against gorgeous, panoramic Spanish-desert backdrops, and almost every shot has the feel of some sort of religious adoration, as if Leone is genuflecting with his camera before the iconic, truly larger-than-life images of Eastwood and Van Cleef that he is creating. (The film is set in a specific idea of the American West, and Southern Spain works excellently for Leone's ultra-heightened, practically ahistorical conception of the place.)
Leone, as is his trademark, shows himself to be possessed of an obsessive, extravagant skill for stretching out narratively straightforward conflicts into luxuriously shot and edited tableaux of mysteriously expanded space and time that could only be possible in the movies. Enhancing the film's lush, more-is-more quality is, of course, Ennio Morricone's twanging, utterly trenchant score, without which the film would be inconceivable. Everything about For a Few Dollars More is excessive and over-the-top, but so evidently done with so much personal passion and such a clear, specific vision that its decadence becomes not a fault, but a defining virtue. The performances, for example, would uniformly seem much too much in most other films (not for nothing does psycho-eyed Klaus Kinski, playing a minor but obviously unforgettable villain, fit right in), but here, they take on the apt, very forthrightly artificial aura of timeless ritual. Like Douglas Sirk's equally "over-the-top" and "unrealistic" films, For a Few Dollars More (and most of Leone's best-known and most-admired work) is a melodrama in the more literal, musical sense of the term; it uses the worn-out conventions of movie Westerns as a mere jumping-off point from which to take flight and soar into the stratosphere of pop opera.
The film is presented anamorphically in its original Techniscope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer at 1080p. The transfer is more than acceptable, with most of the film's Technicolor coming through crisp, clean, and full, with nary a glitch in sight. There are, however, a few brief but noticeable moments that reveal some print wear, flickering, pops, and other minor flaws that, while they do not really mar the experience, could probably have had a bit more restorative attention paid to them in preparation for the transfer onto Blu-ray.Sound:
I personally prefer the wonderfully well-restored, crystal-clear, distortion-free Dolby Digital 2.0 original mono soundtrack option, which most closely approximates the theater experience the filmmakers would have had in mind. However, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio option does offer all that plus noticeably more widely-dispersed surround-sound dimensionality in larger-scale scenes involving trains or a multiplicity of gunfire. There is also a Spanish-dubbed 5.1 soundtrack, which will work just as well for Spanish-speakers as the English track with Spanish subtitles, as it was common practice for all Italian films before the mid to late '70s not to use direct sound but instead to have all dialogue dubbed in postproduction, even when it was in Italian.Extras:
--Sir Christopher Frayling, Sergio Leone's biographer and a leading expert on his films, is the ringmaster for the three main extras on the Blu-ray, which originally appeared on MGM's 2007 two-disc collector's-edition DVD. His full-length audio commentary is packed with often witty observations, knowledgeable behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and analytical descriptions that are more often than not insightful. A New Standard - Frayling on For a Few Dollars More is Frayling's 20-minute summation of the film, with a thumbnail description of its conception, casting, and production, and an intriguing rundown of its themes and distinctive textures, including its religious, homosocial (as compared/contrasted to homoerotic), and cinematic-history sensibilities. The Christopher Frayling Archives: For a Few Dollars More is a fun tour with Frayling through his massive gallery of Leone paraphernilia. He has examples of, and the stories behind, every version of every For a Few Dollars More poster from every nation, all the Ennio Moriccone singles and EP's, etc.; and it is actually highly enjoyable and illuminating to watch this perhaps slightly dotty but very articulate and appealing old Englishman get so naturally effusive about a subject that inspires and is important to him.
--Back for More: Clint Eastwood on For a Few Dollars More is a 10-minute interview with Eastwood from 2003 in which he recounts some of his personal memories of working with Leone on the sequel to their big surprise hit.
--Tre Voci (Three Voices): For a Few Dollars More, alternating snippets from retrospective interviews with then-neophyte Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi (who would go on to produce Italian-shot projects as diverse as Pasolini's Salo and Scorsese's Gangs of New York, co-screenwriter Sergio Donati, and actor/post-production dubbing producer Mickey Knox, all of whom share their recollections of Leone and their experiences of working with him.
The extras are rounded out with a revealing compare-and-contrast look at and explanation of several minor snippets cut from United Artists' initial 1967 U.S. release of the film; a 12-minute piece comparing clips from the film with the Spanish locations as they appear now; the film's two theatrical trailers (the first elegantly and stylishly cut for the college crowd, the other hawking its wares for the drive-in and grindhouse circuit); and 12 radio spots created to promote the film, all of which contain more or less the same copy read by an emphatic voice actor ("It's the second movie of its kind...and it won't be the last!"), with introductory and background selections from the Morricone score varying from spot to spot.FINAL THOUGHTS:
For a Few Dollars More, the midway point in Sergio Leone's progressively more operatic "Man With No Name" trilogy, has finally received the Blu-ray treatment, which affords us the perfect opportunity to indulge once again in its cinematic delirium (or, if not that, a glorious way to experience it for the first time). What Leone was doing for genre-bound filmmaking feels like what The Ramones would do 10 years later for the tired old rock-and-roll tune: He just takes the best, catchiest bits and pumps them up until they comprise the whole damn thing. It's a trick that cannot always work; you have to come along at just the right time and give it just the right approach and attitude to make it come off. That is what Leone was fortunate and able enough to do, and the results of his defiant but loving cinemania still come across as some of the most transporting, inventive, brilliant escapism that ever made its way onto the silver screen. Highly Recommended.