Play it Again, Morricone: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)

ffdm1FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) airs on TCM tonight, March 6th,
and again on March 31st.

After the troubled release of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) director Sergio Leone wasn’t particularly interested in revisiting the western genre again. He had survived a bitter court battle after his film was accused of borrowing heavily from Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (a claim the director reportedly denied citing that both films were based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 crime novel Red Harvest) but afterward Leone was emotionally as well as financially spent. He had lost a great deal of money during the legal proceedings and his mind was on other projects. But the public loved his film and the success of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS meant there was money to be made with a sequel. When he was eventually offered a budget of $600,000 to make a follow-up (nearly 3x the cost of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), Leone agreed and reunited with his star Clint Eastwood along with composer Ennio Morricone to co-write and direct FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965). The title was somewhat of a play on words to mock his past producers who he had parted ways with on less than amiable terms and indicated that Leone’s new film would have a much bigger budget than its predecessor. It was also a cheeky statement about why the director was returning to the genre. Like the protagonists in his film, Leone was hoping to make “a few dollars more” to help compensate for his previous losses and the title would prove prophetic. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE would go on to be one of Leone’s most profitable films grossing some $5 million dollars in Italy and $15 million dollars in America . It would also be an important turning point in the careers of Leone, maestro Morricone and the films two stars, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS may have been Leone’s first western and the film that launched the “Dollars Trilogy” but the director really began to shape his own distinct vision during the making of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The films opens with a lengthy shot of a singing cowboy, a traditional figure in Hollywood westerns, who is brutally gunned down signaling that Leone is abandoning more traditional character tropes and introducing audiences to a darker and more unforgiving view of the Wild West. And the film is undoubtedly a dustier, dirtier and edgier picture than its predecessor but it unfolds in a more gingerly fashion and the visual flourishes are much more prevalent. The lengthy long shots and extreme close-ups that eventually became the director’s signatures are more confident in A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the film contains more gallows humor, which allowed Leone the chance to flex his comedic muscles further. The creative use of flashbacks would become one of Leone’s most popular narrative devices along with his unique use of provocative musical cues and prolonged silences arranged skillfully by composer Ennio Morricone.

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Leone and Morricone had been boyhood school chums but they cultivated a lifelong friendship and working relationship during the making of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS that flourished into something truly remarkable during the making of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. They worked closely together to incorporate music more liberally into the film’s soundtrack, which allowed Morricone to unleash the full range of his creativity. Besides the film’s recurring theme, Morricone was asked to compose separate themes for individual characters, including the two main protagonists, Manco aka “The Man with No Name” (Clint Eastwood) and Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) as well as the film’s main villain El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté). Other characters, such as El Indio’s unhinged sidekick Wild aka The Hunchback (Klaus Kinski) are also introduced with unique sounds or instruments. Using the marranzanu or “Jew Harp” along with flutes, horns, twelve-string guitars, church bells, an organ, choirs and a distinct whistle (provided by Alessandro Alessandroni) occasionally accompanied by a full orchestra, Morricone was able to build a richer and more complex soundtrack using layer upon layer of sound. One of the film’s most distinct elements is the use of a music box melody that accompanies the matching watches carried by Colonel Douglas Mortimer and El Indio. This haunting tune drifts in and out of the film, triggering the memories of both men and setting a melancholy pall over the entire film. But FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE also uses music and sound effects in a more lighthearted way, such as when Clint Eastwood confronts Lee Van Cleef for the first time and the two men engage in a “hat shoot-off” that assigns a characteristic sound to each of their hats. In fact many of the character’s actions are conveyed through subtle musical clues that help define their personalities.

Both Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone seemed to gain a firmer grasp on their filmmaking and composing talents during the making of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and clearly developed a more complementary working relationship that would benefit them both in the years to come. While Leone’s camera lovingly lingers on dust covered streets, decaying buildings, weather worn leather boots, gleaming gun barrels and the expressive faces of the actors that make up his cast, Morricone breathes life into them through his music and sound design. Together they’re one of cinemas most extraordinary and ingenious duos and it’s become impossible to think of one man without acknowledging the talents of the other.

We can also thank FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE for reigniting the career of Lee Van Cleef. Cleef had retired from acting when Leone saw a picture of the actor and demanded “that face” for his film after Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan supposedly turned the director down. Cleef took the job because he wanted the money and assumed he’d just be playing another heavy who ended up dead. Much to his surprise Cleef would costar alongside Eastwood and both men got equal time in front of Leone’s camera. Cleef was also allowed to ride off into the sunset before the credits rolled bringing an element of the old-fashioned cowboy hero into Leone’s hostile interpretation of the West. Afterward Lee Van Cleef built an impressive career for himself as the star of many popular Spaghetti Westerns.

ffd15It’s also worth noting that Clint Eastwood has acknowledged that it was on the set of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE that he really began to find his footing as “The Man with No Name.” The character’s ruthlessness and independence became more apparent in his performance and after being impressed with the Italian actor who had dubbed his voice in the previous film, Eastwood reportedly became intent on adopting a similar halting manner and timbre in his own voice. When the “Dollars Trilogy” (made up of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) was finally released in the U.S. in 1967 the films received almost universally bad reviews from American critics but the public didn’t listen. Audiences flocked to the films in droves propelling Clint Eastwood into super stardom and turning Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks into chart topping records.

FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) will air twice on TCM this month. You can catch it tonight (March 6th) as part of TCM’s special line-up devoted to composer Ennio Morricone’s Western Scores. It will also air again on March 31st along with VERA CRUZ (1954), one of the films that influenced Sergio Leone, and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), the first western that Clint Eastwood both starred in & directed.

Further Reading:
- For a Few Dollars More by Bret Wood
- Sergio Leone: Something to Do with Death by Christopher Frayling
- Once Upon A Time in the Italian West by Howard Hughes

8 Responses Play it Again, Morricone: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965)
Posted By LD : March 6, 2014 11:44 pm

This post brings back memories. The music written for THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY is fantastic. I did not own Morricone’s soundtrack for the film but I did own Hugo Montenegro’s version (on vinyl), which included the themes from A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The record vanished long ago but I have the DVD and therefore Morricone’s music. “The Ecstasy of Gold” is hauntingly beautiful and one of my favorites.

Posted By Doug : March 7, 2014 3:21 am

I made a mistake-having all three films in a set, I watched the first one and was blown away. I should have waited to watch the others; I’m sorry, but they just seemed to be weak retreads of the original. I’ll try again someday, and the first will be last.

Posted By HoustonRufus : March 7, 2014 3:41 am

Great piece. I love Morricone’s contributions to film, and I try to catch Leone’s movies whenever they are televised. Thanks for the background information on their relationship and collaborations.

Posted By Gamera2000 : March 7, 2014 4:44 am

For me the colloboration of Morricone and Leone is one of the great examples of two artists who worked in such perfect unison, that you can’t imagine one without the other. All of their scores and films were memorable, but by the time of Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America they were creating masterpieces.

On a similar note, I can’t think of a composer as prolific as Morricone, who has produced so many great scores over a period of 50 years in just about every genre. From art films, to exploitation films, to Giallos, to spaghetti westerns, to thrillers he has created a host of memorable scores. The list of major directors he was worked with looks like a who’s who of post war European filmmakers.

Posted By James : March 7, 2014 12:38 pm

I watched Vera Cruz (with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper) a couple of years ago, for the first time. Knowing nothing about it, I was pleasantly surprised at how many elements of the film clearly influenced Leone’s westerns. There’s a plot involving stolen gold shipments, and a Mexican civil war between rebels and imperialists (two plot points not at all common in Hollywood westerns of the time, I think).

Robert Aldrich provides scenes of surprising violence and amorality throughout the film – even Cooper, of all actors, works with this, to an extent. Lancaster’s character is a type that I don’t think had really been seen in Hollywood westerns before – not just a killer, but one whose willingness to commit all kinds of harm (even against children) for money is depicted right on screen, without any redeeming qualities. And the major story of two gunslingers manouvering around each other to claim the gold is set against the backdrop of a civil war (Mexican rebels fighting a French imperialist army). It’s hard not to see Vera Cruz as the starting point not only for Leone, but Peckinpah’s later western films.

The movie also gives you an interesting contrast between the “classic” Hollywood style of Cooper, and the more modern approach of Lancaster, which pays off frequently. Who knows if Cooper, like Henry Fonda, could have found a place in the Leone era of Westerns? And Mexican film star Sara Montiel, who didn’t act in many American movies, has a role.

Morricone’s film scores, in general, can be a lengthy discussion itself. One of my favorites is his music for, of all movies, The Exorcist II: The Heretic (which I think is an unfairly maligned film, but that’s a topic for another day).

Posted By swac44 : March 7, 2014 5:44 pm

I have over a dozen of Morricone’s scores on LP, and none of them disappoint, not even obscurities like his music for the TV miniseries Marco Polo, of all things. And you can’t deny the majesty and power of his music for films like The Big Gundown (now finally available on blu-ray) and The Battle of Algiers. I highly recommend the John Zorn tribute album, also titled The Big Gundown, for a real sonic blast. I’m glad TCM programmed a couple of titles I haven’t seen before, like Death Rides a Horse, can’t wait to see how the music and images match up.

As for the power of the “Dollars Trilogy”, I’ve watched all three in one sitting a couple of times (sadly, I’ve only seen the first one in a proper 35mm screening), and I always enjoy the experience, to me it seems each film builds upon the last, until you get to that monumental standoff in the cemetery at the end of GBU.

Posted By Gary Palmucci : March 10, 2014 11:23 pm

Speaking of Morricone, check out the hilarious mistake on that lobby card….

Posted By Juana Maria : May 24, 2014 7:14 pm

swac44: I agree that the “Dollars Trilogy” does build upon the last. That being said there’s a rumor that the films are actually going back in time with each film not forward as with most sequels. Ok, if they are really sequels and not just follow up films or some kind of anthology like “the Twilight Zone” or maybe is just like on “Gunsmoke”, “Rifleman” and “Bonanza”, we ain’t suppose to notice that the same bad guy that got killed off last week has returned with a new name? That’s either some kind of Westerns version of reincarnation or they think the audience just doesn’t notice! Oh, we notice, we take note, I love most of the Western villains. I can’t write here without closing with how much I love Lee Van Cleef’s smile at the end of “For a Few Dollars More” (sigh).

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