Dusty towns and hardened horseback riders are an integral staple of the spaghetti western. How directors adapt these surroundings to their stories of inevitable double-crosses, showdowns and gunfights varies tremendously. The highs and lows of the genre are obvious, and For a Few Dollars More may just be the pinnacle of them all. This midpoint of the Dollars trilogy, helmed by director Sergio Leone, is a masterwork that crashes tropes of the genre headfirst into some engaging performances. There’s a real desire to make something vastly grander and spectacular than that of A Fistful of Dollars. Success on that front is strikingly obvious from the opening moments.
Learning of a prison bust that jumped a ruthless bank robber from prison, bounty hunter Manco (Clint Eastwood) hunts him down to reap the reward for his capture. Dead or alive, it matters not to those that want justice served, and Eastwood’s hardened stare and entertainment value shine through with ease. Pairing extremely well with Lee Van Cleef’s sagely but wavering hero Colonel Douglas Mortimer, and For a Few Dollars More thrives exceptionally well. Its two leading men are effective counters to one another, sharing great chemistry and moments of dialogue-free tension. Leone’s trust in his performers is a resounding leap of faith, one that brings out exceptional shots, stellar direction from a man deep-rooted in this genre.
Compared with the other offerings of Leone, For a Few Dollars More is arguably the most welcoming piece in his repertoire. Commendable names and superb performances littered throughout a piece that’ll not sputter along on a lengthy running time, nor will it be any less than compelling, thanks to intense detail from Leone. A brief appearance of frequent western support Klaus Kinski gives the film that extra quality, one that can express experience and steady hands in the foundations. This gives Leone and his crew more to play with, they feel comfortable taking risks not just with their characters, but with their composition.
Leone’s work here relies on repetition and unnerving stare downs, a quintessential and effective showcase of what makes the spaghetti western so enjoyable. Key moments and phenomenal performances combine in what may be the benchmark of quality for the genre. For me, this one exceeds The Good, The Bad and The Ugly because it is both more accessible and offers up a simpler, but more effective storyline. There’s no denying the brilliance of the final piece of the Dollars trilogy, but it doesn’t get much better than Cleef and Eastwood, the two big names of the genre, teaming up to take on a villainous thief they’re both agonised by. An easy-going middle ground when compared to the third, and far more engaging than the first, For a Few Dollars More is the perfect middle ground, a testament to how great a second entry into a franchise can be.