Even those with little familiarity (or interest) in the Western genre have some basic knowledge of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The iconic Western epic from Sergio Leone doesn’t just stand as one of the greatest Westerns ever, but one of the best movies of all-time. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly effectively launched Clint Eastwood as an international star, established the “Spaghetti Western” subgenre as a permanent fixation within world cinema, and breezed through its nearly three-hour running time. It’s a great encapsulation of everything that a Western can do right. However, the endless acclaim for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly means that there isn’t as much attention paid to the film’s two predecessors in Leone’s “The Man With No Name Trilogy.” Both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are Spaghetti Western classics in their own right, and the second installment in the series features one of the all-time greatest saloon battles in any Western.
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‘For a Few Dollars More’ Is an Underrated Western
Unlike trilogies such as The Lord of the Rings or the original Star Wars franchise, “The Man With No Name Trilogy” doesn’t require that viewers have seen any of the previous installments. While there are a few scant references to the mysterious gunslinger’s past adventures peppered throughout For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, they aren’t essential to his story arc in each adventure. This makes A Fistful of Dollars a great initiation point for new fans. It doesn’t boast the epic runtime of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but features more confident direction from Leone and a more compelling story than A Fistful of Dollars. Even though each of the stories is largely similar, For a Few Dollars More forced Eastwood to share the screen with the same actor who would become his nemesis in the third film.
For a Few Dollars More picks up with the mysterious “Man With No Name” (who is given the moniker “Manco”) as he forms a risky partnership with the former military official Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef in his first collaboration with Leone). While Manco is cagey about joining forces with Mortimer and has suspicions about the former serviceman’s real ambitions, the pair are forced to work together in order to track down the ruthless bank robber “El Indio” (Gian Maria Volonté), who has a massive bounty on his head. In this Western, Leone proves that the awkward alliance between Manco and Mortimer is more than a gimmick early on, as it’s evident that Indio presents a danger that is more critical than any of Manco’s misgivings about Mortimer. In an early sequence, Indio’s backstory is detailed in a gnarly flashback sequence in which he mercilessly executes the family of his intended jailer. Given that Indio has now reunited with a gang that is completely loyal to him, it will take the combined efforts of Manco and Mortimer to take him out.
However, that doesn’t mean that the notion of Manco and Mortimer being forced to work together isn’t inherently entertaining. The two have such clashing personalities and methods of justice that they’re often drawn into conflict with each other. Mortimer forces Manco to join him and go undercover within Indio’s gang in order to stop his planned El Paso bank robbery before it begins. While Mortimer’s strategic justification, it’s obviously something that Manco is uncomfortable about, as he prefers not to spend his time in the company of criminals. However, Mortimer has his reasons for forcing Manco into an uncomfortable situation. Manco had already collected the bounty on the dangerous gambler Red “Baby” Cavanagh (José Marco). This is detailed early on in one of the coolest introductory sequences in the series.
‘For a Few Dollars More’ Saloon Is the Best in Any Western
Manco’s toughness had been established in a prior scene where he casually walks into a crowded saloon packed with gamblers, outlaws, and clearly corrupt members of law enforcement. Manco doesn’t necessarily stand out when he enters the room and draws as little attention to himself as possible. It was evident that tracking down a dangerous target was something that he had done before. He didn’t immediately start drawing his weapon and declaring his mission in a way that would initiate chaos. It’s this subtly that Eastwood brings to his performance that made him such a beloved recurring star in Western films.
Manco’s method of drawing out Red is one of the most unexpectedly hilarious. After Manco beats Red at a game of cards, thus embarrassing him in front of his cronies, the crooked gambler angrily asks the mysterious stranger what his bet was. Manco’s sharp response of “your life” sends Red into an angry spell, but he’s unable to reach his weapon in time. Manco easily sends Red to an early grave. When another batch of assassins attempts to corner him, he fearlessly whirls around and takes them out with a blaze of gunfire. It’s stylized with sharp notes of violence consistent with the Spaghetti Western subgenre.
Saloons are a common setting in Western films. For a Few Dollars More was preceded by many films in which John Wayne or Gary Cooper walked into a crowded bar and blasted away their enemies in a short, yet graphic bout of violence. However, Leone understood that this was exactly what the audience was expecting. Extenuating the tension for a prolonged period of time changed the dynamic of a traditional saloon brawl, and kept the viewer on the edge of their seats. It’s clear that Manco is expecting to face off against a crowd of enemies, but Eastwood acts as if he’s simply having a normal conversation. This aura of normalcy in a situation that is bound to escalate is why For a Few Dollars More‘s saloon sequence rises about others.
The events happen in such rapid succession that it’s evident Manco had planned this scenario out well in advance. Beyond being a cool introductory sequence, the scene conveys something important about Manco as a character; he’s morally opposed to the lifestyle that men like Red lead, and even takes a moment to scold the local sheriff for not bringing him to justice sooner. While Manco is ruthless, he has personal ethics that remain consistent throughout all of his adventures. This explains the tension between him and Mortimer, as the former colonel was also intending to bring in Red. Leone epitomized Clint Eastwood’s Hollywood star power within an impressive sequence that showed why the mysterious “Man With No Name” has become such an iconic screen hero. His ethics, charisma, and ruthlessness are all on display. Anyone skipping through the first two installments in “The Man With No Name Trilogy” is seriously missing out, because scenes like the saloon battle show why For a Few Dollars More is a classic in its own right.