A Fistful of Westerns: The Making of The Italian West Part 6
After Fistful of Dollars went on to be a massive hit it was time for Sergio Leone to pen a sequel. With Duccuio Tessari now directing A Pistol For Ringo, Leone turned to scribe Luciano Vincenzoni to help him turn his treatment, The Magnificent Stranger’s (Strange that he called it that after the first picture’s name change) into the screenplay Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu aka For A Few Dollars More.
I think losing Tessari may have been for the best as Vincenzoni also spoke English as well as his native tongue and did a massive amount of research on the real American west. He rightfully discovered that the west wasn’t wholesome as the American films had suggested everybody was out for themselves but he also discover the differences in cultures, Mexican towns were as nice as the gringo’s. The town names were real, Tucomcari, Santa Cruz, El Paso as opposed to the usual Boot Hill’s and Rio Grande’s that often are in Italian pictures dealing with the old west.
Jolly Film wouldn’t give Sergio Leone his percentage of the huge profits that Fistful made unless he made a sequel for them. Leone went elsewhere. Producer Alberto Grimaldi set up a deal with Spanish producer Arturo Gonzalez and German Constantin Film and gave Leone a $600,000 budget.
After Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood went back to work on Rawhide. During this time, Fistful was earning a fistful of dollars over seas. He started to play his Rowdy Yates character more like his stranger character and 1965 would be the final season of Rawhide when he got the call to be in the Dollars sequel. Clint got a few dollars more than previous, $50,000. Compared to his $15,000 on Fistful. Eastwood detested the cigars and asked if he could lose them this time around. Leone replied “No, the cigar has the lead.”
Gian Maria Volantè returned as a new bad guy the manic, dope smoking, murdering rapist El Indio. This character is much more interesting than his previous character Ramon Rojo. He’s also the most reprehensible, having a woman and her baby boy killed (the baby was played by Leone’s baby daughter Frachesca!)
The screenplay called for a new character, a bounty hunter but not like Clint’s, this was to be an older more seasoned hunter named Colonel Douglas Mortimer, an officer and a gentleman now making his living collecting bounties he’s cunning, studied, patient and smokes a pipe. Again Leone went after Henry Fonda he declined, then Charles Bronson, not interested again, then he tried Lee Marvin but he was working on Cat Ballou, a film that would win him an Academy Award for best actor. Sergio Leone then went to one of Lee Marvin’s henchmen from the John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, actor Lee Van Cleef.
Van Cleef had been out of work for a couple of years after being in How The West Was Won. He made a few appearances on some tv westerns, including two Rawhides. Van Cleef had been around for a while in pictures like High Noon, the b-noir classic Kansas City Confidentia, but his only lead role really had been in Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World. One of the first films I remember ever seeing when I was little on TV, I couldn’t figure out why my father was laughing so hard, I was terrified.
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Van Cleef had been in a very serious car accident which cost him his knee cap. Doctors said he’d probably never be able to ride a horse again, but after a year he was back in the saddle but the injury would plague him the rest of his life, if you watch closely his leg has a slight limp. By 1965 when he got the call about the part he was pretty much on the skids and was in semi-retirement living in a motel and making ends meet as an artist. He was offered 17,000 and he took it and it would be the largest role he had up until then.
For A Few Dollars More tells the story of two bounty hunters going after the notorious El Indio and his gang. With more money and more time, 12 weeks, Sergio Leone was able to further experiment with what he had previously started. He takes his time introducing the characters.
First we meet Colonel Mortimer on board at train heading to Tucumcari, New Mexico and reading the Bible. Once he lowers the book to answer a passengers question we know he’s no man of the cloth. Shortly we discover he’s a bounty hunter as he tracks down a killer. With his pipe in his mouth he tracks him down methodically and slowly. When he faces off with the killer we see he had an arsenal of gadgets on his saddlebag including his Colt Buntline Special. The killer fires right at him, but the cool Mortimer knows he’s out of range as he puts a shoulder stock onto his Buntline and shoots the killer in the head.
After he collects the reward he sees a wanted poster for Red Cavanaugh and inquires if anyone else has been looking for him, the sheriff, sounding a lot like Mel Blanc, says there is “he goes by the name of Manco.”
Cut to the stranger, walking down the muddy street with the rain pouring down with the sun breaking through the clouds. This time he’s called Manco, in it’s American release the Manco line was cut out in keeping with UA’s Man With No Name marketing campaign. He’s essentially the same but wears a leather gauntlet on his right hand. Manco is Spanish for one arm or handed and here Eastwood’s stranger fights, lights his cigar and deals cards with one hand, he also has a penchant for karate chopping. The moment he steps into the saloon you can tell how much more attention to detail Leone has put into his picture.
Everything looks and feels authentic and the lighting in his scenes feel natural, the sets were built at Cineccitta in Italy and looks like perhaps they had a wall or ceiling left open for natural light maybe covered with some kind of diffusion, like in the silent days of cinema; I couldn’t find anything that spoke of it in my research though. Leone used the same cinematographer as in Fistful of Dollars, Massimo Dallamano. In this film his work is more painterly with rich colors and a warm pallet one can almost smell the dirt, grime, and sweat on the characters.
When Manco shoots Cavanough’s henchmen I can’t help but think of Charles Marion Russell’s painting “Death Of A Gambler” the way the bodies are flayed about. This is the film where the Leone style really blossoms.
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Manco eventually see’s Mortimer at work in a bar and studies him admiring his work, Mortimer strikes a match on the back of one El Indio’s goons “The Hunchback”, played by eccentric German actor Klaus Kinski (Kinski was a hot actor at this moment having just appeared in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, in fact the German release of Few, had Kinski alongside Eastwood and Van Cliff!) Manco sends him a, this towns not big enough for the two of us type of message by having the hotel servant pack up Mortimer’s things and the two square off outside. After an amusing bit of marksmanship the two share drinks in Mortimer’s room to discuss a partnership. Through out the film their partnership becomes more of a father/son relationship than a competitive one, with Manco often referring to Mortimer as “old man”, ironically Van Cleef was only five years Eastwood’s senior.
Unlike Fistful, where we get into plot right away Leone takes his time preferring to establish his characters before getting into plot, he would continue to do this more elaborately for the remainder of his career as a director.
In December 1965 Per Qualche Dollero in Piú was released in Italy and like its title implied earned a few dollars more than its predecessor. 1967 finally saw the U.S. release where it initially made 5 million, a tidy sum. Critics weren’t too kind but one young critic who had just started reviewing films that year for the Chicago-Sun Times was highly impressed. Roger Ebert said of the film “Here is a gloriously greasy, sweaty, hairy, bloody and violent western. It is delicious.”
The film finally catapulted Lee Van Cleef to international stardom, so much so that the Italian re-release of High Noon has a large image of him on the poster and his name listed alongside Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly even though he has a very minor role in it. Van Cleef would stay in Italy for a time, living the life of a movie star and making many more westerns like The Big Gundown, Death Rides a Horse, Sabata and Sergio Leone’s masterpiece The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Next: Sergio Corbucci and his game changer Django.
Sources: Once Upon A Time in The Italian West Howard Hughes