The Films of Sergio Leone
The Colossus of Rhodes
Fistful of Dollars (June 27/04)
Fistful of Dollars is one of those classic films that doesn't quite live up to its reputation. While there are a number of thrilling and justifiably indelible moments, the movie, as a whole, just isn't entertaining enough to hold one's attention throughout its running time. Of course, there's a lot worth recommending here - particularly Clint Eastwood's star-making performance. Playing the so-called Man Without A Name - even though he's clearly referred to as Joe - Eastwood dominates the screen with his gritty and occasionally comic portrayal. The familiar plot finds Joe riding into a small Western town and subsequently playing the two rival families against each other - while he reaps the benefits from both. Director Sergio Leone imbues the film with plenty of style, making superb use of the widescreen frame. This is particularly evident during the film's shoot-out sequences, where Leone's innovative approach livens up scenes that are almost as old as cinema itself. His fluid camerawork is certainly one of the more memorable aspects of the movie, and though Ennio Morricone's score is occasionally a little bit over-the-top, it generally complements Leone's visuals quite well. But the problem is that the movie's storyline is awfully repetitive, particularly in the opening hour. While there are a couple of riveting action sequences, the majority of Fistful of Dollars' first half is devoted to Joe's wheeling and dealing with the two families. Since neither family is terribly sympathetic, it's hard to get too involved in Joe's intricate plans - though that does change once the character is found out and tortured by one side. The final showdown is clearly the film's highlight, and it's enough to make one almost forget about the iffy nature of everything preceding it. Almost.
For a Few Dollars More (June 28/04)
There's no doubt that For a Few Dollars More is a better film than its predecessor, Fistful of Dollars. All the elements that made the first movie so distinctive are here - gun fights, Sergio Leone's superb use of widescreen cinematography, etc - but there's also a concrete storyline this time around, something missing from the original. Though it's about a half-hour too long, For a Few Dollars More is overall a much more exciting and involving film. Though Clint Eastwood's character is saddled with a different name this time around (Monco instead of Joe), it's probably a safe bet that he's playing the same guy. Picking up an undetermined amount of time after the first one, Monco is now making his living as a bounty hunter (and, not surprisingly, his success rate seems to be 100%). After a vicious criminal named El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté) escapes from prison, an extremely lucrative bounty is placed on his head - which attracts Monco's attention. But Monco's not alone in pursuing El Indio, as a fellow hunter named Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) is also on the case. The two decide to team up and go after El Indio's entire gang (which consists of almost 30 people!) The opening hour of For a Few Dollars More is easily its most effective, with Leone establishing both Monco and Mortimer as top-notch bounty hunters. Each character is given a long sequence in which they track down and capture a notorious criminal, and there's no denying that this is where the film makes the biggest impact. The movie slows down dramatically once Monco and Mortimer begin pursuing El Indio, with the two characters stalking their prey in what feels like real time; after such an engaging first half, the relatively sluggish final hour takes some getting used to. Fortunately, in El Indio, we've been given an utterly reprehensible bad guy that certainly keeps things interesting - and it's virtually impossible not to root for Monco and Mortimer to track him down. How evil is he? He has the infant son of the man who turned him in killed; also, he holds his cigarette between his middle and ring fingers (a sure sign of villainy if there ever was one). The heavier emphasis on plot, combined with the obvious chemistry between Mortimer and Monco, ensures that For a Few Dollars More will appeal to more than just spaghetti western buffs. And though it does run a lot longer than necessary, it's easy enough to see why it's become the classic it is.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (July 3/04)
Sergio Leone's classic trilogy comes to a close with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and while the film is seriously overlong, there are enough elements here to hold the interest of even the most impatient viewer. It's hard to tell whether or not Clint Eastwood is playing the same character in all three films, as he's got a different name in each of them. Here he's called Blondie, and his money-making racket this time around has him working with Tuco (Eli Wallach), a bandit who allows himself to be captured and almost executed (Blondie steps in at the last minute and saves him, while the two split the bounty). After learning of a buried $200,000 hidden by a civil war soldier, it becomes every man for himself - including the "bad" of a title, an unforgiving and brutal gunfighter nicknamed Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef). Cinematically, there's no denying that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the most effective entry of the three movies. Leone imbues virtually every shot with an intriguing sense of style, ensuring that the movie is almost always interesting on a purely visual level. Structurally, though, the film isn't nearly as successful. At a running time of three hours, Leone simply isn't able to keep things going the entire time and begins introducing needless subplots. This is particularly true of a long sequence towards the end of the film that finds Blondie and Tuco wandering onto a civil war battlefield. This entire section could've easily been excised without any damage to the overall storyline, though there's no doubt rabid fans of the movie would disagree. But had Leone trimmed all the fat from the burgeoning screenplay, it's fairly clear that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would've been a much better film. Having said that, Leone's creative direction ensures that the movie is never boring. There are a number of incredibly entertaining sequences peppered throughout the story, with a stand-off between the three central characters an obvious highlight. Leone takes what was presumably a one-line description in the script and turns it into an epic moment of suspense. Accompanied by Ennio Morricone's justifiably famous score, it's certainly the most effective scene in the film. Add to that a trio of fantastic performers - particularly Van Cleef, who deftly steps into the shoes of a truly despicable character - and you've got a Western that's always watchable, though it's clear some serious editing would've been beneficial.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Duck, You Sucker
Once Upon a Time in America