Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For A Few Dollars More Blu-ray Review

If A Fistful of Dollars began the Eastwood legend, then its sequel, For a Few Dollars More, cemented it. Clint Eastwood makes his return as “The Man With No Name,” this time teaming up with a rival bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef as “The Man In Black”) to take down a ruthless outlaw and his band of renegades.   But all is not as it seems in the hard-hitting second installment of Sergio Leone’s trilogy starring Eastwood as the famed “Man With No Name.”  This gritty,  western masterpiece would be followed one year later by The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to complete director Sergio Leone’s brilliant Spaghetti Western Trilogy.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The Man With No Name trilogy started off with a bang with A Fistful of Dollars (see my review here) and that film’s success made all the parties involved want to make a sequel.  Unfortunately, director Sergio Leone and the production company that financed the film, Jolly Films had a falling out which resulted in a lawsuit over who owned the character.  A court determined that the character was sufficiently different between the two movies and clothed in a fashion that wasn’t unique enough to be copyrighted, that the case was dismissed.  Alhough technically the two characters are supposed to be different people, it can be argued that they are the same person as both characters wear the exact same poncho and even more telling is the fact that in the second movie the poncho has been mended from the abuse it took from the first movie.

Eastwood’s character in this movie seems to have a new nickname of “Monco” which in Spanish is “One Handed” which is an appropriate nickname since the character always has his right hand on his gun which reduces himself to using his left hand to do everything else.  This Man With No Name (at least nothing firmly established) character is now a successful bounty hunter.  His rival bounty hunter is Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and we quickly see how proficient both men are at their jobs at the beginning of the movie.  Both men are ruthless and coldy efficient at their jobs and Mortimer shows no hesitation in breaking the law when he forces a train to make an emergency stop for his convenience.

Soon, both bounty hunters learn of a new bounty that’s been placed on a psychopathic bandit known as El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté) whose reputation was earned by his willingness to kill men, women, and babies.  For Indo, the bounty is $10,000 which is a lot more money than the standard bounties the two men usually collect.  We later learn that Mortimer has his own personal reasons to hunt down Indio, but for The Man With No Name, money is his sole motivation.  After sizing each other up by shooting each others hat, the two bounty hunters form a partnership to go after Indio and his gang of fourteen men.  No one in this movie can be completely trusted as there’s betrayals, double-crosses, and a lot of twists and turns.

After being successfully sued by Akira Kurasawa for copying Yojimbo for A Fistful of Dollars, Leone created a new direction and story for For a Few Dollars More.  Now partnered with producer Alberto Grimaldi, the sequel had a bigger scope, a larger budget, and a built in audience that loved the first movie.  This sequel builds on everything that was done right the first time and makes it even better than before.  This feels more like a John Ford western with it’s wide vistas and the larger budget also allowed for the entire town of El Paso to be built (which still stands and is a tourist spot), and the extra money also allowed for a great co-star to raise the stakes of the movie.  In a repeat of what happened during the first movie, Leone offered a lead role to Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson and both turned it down again (although in a humorous bit of trivia they both learned their lesson and later starred in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West).  Lee Van Cleef had appeared in countless westerns and TV shows, but this movie turned out to be his big break and he ran with it.

While I believe this movie could have benefited from some trims to make it flow quicker, there’s no denying Leone’s growing mastery of what would become his signature directorial style with his use of extreme close ups, religious imagery, shots that stretched time, and his emphasis on the manufactured sound design that included re-recorded dialogue and sound effects heightened for dramatic effect.  Once again, Eastwood is the epitome of cool and shows why his character has become a film icon.  Lee Van Cleef turns in a powerful performance as Mortimer and he was so good that he was brought back to play “The Bad” in the next film in the trilogy – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Gian Maria Volonté delivers another good performance but this time alternates between chewing the scenery and taking a more nuanced approach when he is haunted by one of his more evil acts.  For a Few Dollars More is an excellent movie on it’s own but taken as part two of a three part trilogy, it shows the admirable progression of everyone involved which helped prepare them to be able to make the final film a masterpiece.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

I’ll start off with the good news…this disc looks better than A Fistful of Dollars.  This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer offers a lot more clarity and the film offers a wider variety of colors which all look stronger than they did in the first film.  As before, the outdoor scenes look the strongest with the blue skies not looking as washed out as they did before. Night-time scenes also look better as they have less noise present.  Black levels are deeper as well with a more satisfying darkness.  Flesh tones are more accurate as well and the transfer does a nice job showing off the varying complexions of everyone involved.  There’s a lot of nice detail shown as well as you can see beads of sweat and the pores of the actors during their close ups.  The main complaint I have is that there’s some evident print damage with white specks popping up now and then.  Compared to the previous DVD release, this transfer looks very impressive and well worth the cost of upgrading to Blu-ray.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

My feelings on this mix are the same as how I felt about A Fistful of Dollars.  This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a lot better than I expected it would be.  By filling out all of the channels it adds a new aural experience for the film that was missing on previous releases.  Sergio Leone liked to boost the audio level of his sound effects and music which is carried over well in this mix as gunshots, horses galloping, and musical cues are very evident in this track.  There’s some nice atmosphere present too on the few occasions in between the gun fights.  The dubbing of the actor’s lines isn’t as seamless as you’d hope for and honestly it’s very distracting and the movie’s main weakness.  The voices selected to replace the original actor’s voices were well selected but it was just awkwardly done.  The dialogue itself however, is clear and easy to understand but I just wish they had the time and money to do it right especially since there’s no option to hear the original language track.

Special Features (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

These features are almost identical to the ones on A Fistful of Dollars but this time they focus on this movie.  Once again, the extras provide some excellent coverage of the film despite the sorely missed presence of the late director.
  • Commentary with Film Historian Sir Christopher Frayling – This is another comprehensive commentary from Sergio Leone biographer Frayling.  This track is really all you need as it covers just about every aspect of the movie.  Frayling once again proves his credentials as historian of these films.
  • The Christopher Frayling Archives: For A Few Dollars More – Another look at some of Frayling’s memorabilia collection focused on For a Few Dollars More.
  • A New Standard: Frayling on For A Few Dollars More – Faryling talks about the series’ progression and how it was put together with a new and old cast and Leone’s continuing growth as a director.  A lot of this is also covered by the commentary track but it’s all good info.
  • Back For More: Clint Eastwood Remembers For A Few Dollars More – Clint Eastwood was filmed in 2003 to gather his thoughts on his long association with Sergio Leone and the movies that they made together.  This extra is the complete footage taken from that interview that pertains to this movie.  Eastwood talks about his experiences making the movie and shares his thoughts about the casting of Lee Van Cleef as his co-star.
  • Tre Voci: For A Few Dollars More – Alberto Grimaldi, Sergio Donati, and Mickey Knox talk about their personal/professional relationships with Sergio Leone and their contributions to the film.
  • For A Few Dollars More: The Original American Release Version – A short featurette that covers how United Artists made some changes to the film for the American release such as removing references to Eastwood’s character’s nickname of “Monco” to preserve their marketing of the character as “The Man With No Name.”
  • Location Comparisons – I love these kind of extras that show the filming locations during the period the movie was filmed during 1965 and how they appear today.  I wish every film had this kind of extra because it’s fascinating to see the changes over they years.
  • 12 Radio Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer 1
  • Theatrical Trailer 2

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

Bigger and better than A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More provides an excellent stepping stone to the final movie of the trilogy – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.  Sergio Leone’s skills as a director were obviously improving and his cast couldn’t be any better than this.  If you are on the fence about replacing your DVD version of this movie, I’d recommend that it’s worth it due to the improved video and audio quality.  The special features also add quite a bit of value to this release so if you are a fan of this film and the series, you should pick this one up!

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