Wednesday, February 18, 2009

For a Few Dollars More

For a Few Dollars More posterFor a Few Dollars More (1965) is the second installment of the “Dollars Trilogy” starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Sergio Leone. The film continues the A Fistful of Dollars (1964) narrative of frontier lawlessness as Eastwood partners with another bounty hunter to pursue El Indio, a notorious killer and bank robber, in southern Texas.

El Indio makes his first appearance while being busted out of jail by a motley gang of Mexican outlaws. He hunts down the man who jailed him, and in a theatrical display of rabid vengeance in gratuitous cruelty, El Indio has his wife and infant child dragged away to be shot, and then shoots the trembling man after they listen to the tinkling melody of a gold pocket-watch. However, El Indio is not so cold-blooded that this event leaves him unaffected; after the murder he motions desperately to his henchman to light him a joint. He spends the rest of the film alternating between being a hot-blooded, cackling gunslinger and a stoned, disheveled wreck. He congregates with his men in El Paso, site of a purportedly impenetrable bank that holds half a million dollars. Coincidentally, he and the carpenter who installed the safe were jailed together, so he knows the schematics of inside the bank.

Meanwhile, the skilled bounty hunters Manco (played by Eastwood) and Colonel Douglas Mortimer have shown up in El Paso hoping to earn the reward for bringing in El Indio, dead or alive. They make a partnership and a plan whereby Manco infiltrates El Indio’s gang. El Indio knows that Manco plans to double-cross him, but involves him in the bank heist anyway. However, the trick is on Manco, because instead of catching El Indio mid-heist, his gang merely blows up the bank wall, lets the safe topple into a wagon, and speeds off with it. Manco terminates his partnership with Mortimer and tries to deceive him. Mortimer is too intelligent for this, and the pair meets again at Agua Caliente, a small town of whitewashed adobe, where El Indio is hiding out. Manco is already accepted by the gang, and Mortimer joins up as a locksmith. However, when they are caught trying to steal the money they are severely punished, beaten up to a chorus of maniacally laughing Mexican thugs.

The reprehensible El Indio proceeds to double-cross members of his own gang; he releases Manco and Mortimer then, knowing that the duo are better with guns, sends his men after them so that they will be killed, leaving him and his henchman all of the money. El Indio is now visibly unhinged, which tips the smartest gang member off to the deception, so he stays behind to hold El Indio at gunpoint. He asks why he is obsessed with the gold pocket-watch. Flash-backs have occurred before as El Indio sinks into a pot-induced stupor, but now the memory is shown in full: El Indio creeps into a bedroom where two young lovers are seated; he shoots the man and rapes the woman, who shoots herself while underneath him. This girl’s portrait is inside of the pocket-watch and she turns out to be Mortimer’s sister. The final scene is a shoot-out between Mortimer and El Indio, in which the former is victorious. Mortimer is not interested in collecting the bounty on El Indio and his gang, motivated solely by retribution, and instead lets a contented Manco ride away with a cart full of corpses which are worth a (then) massive sum of $27,000.

For a Few Dollars More has a theatrical trailer containing the phrase: “In a land where life had no value, death might have a price.” This land is geographically in the United States, but not portrayed as the United States proper. Just as in A Fistful of Dollars, this liminal zone between the United States and Mexico has weak rule of law, is a repository for dubious characters, and has a hybrid appearance of both nations. Manco, the archetypal mercenary without a past, operates according to his own moral code because the official one has broken down. In the opening scene, Manco asks a sheriff, “Tell me, is the sheriff supposed to be courageous, loyal and above all honest?” before contemptuously ripping off his badge. However, Manco does not attempt to reinstate his own moral code; instead he blows up a jail to release a friend of El Indio, double-crosses his partner, and is solely profit-driven. The Mexico-U.S. border itself is a cause for anxiety as a place that cannot be effectively policed, but perhaps more so is the lawless individual.

The difference between Manco and El Indio illustrates the difference between law and morality; while both the hero and villain are lawless, only the villain is unarguably amoral. The character of El Indio was crafted to provoke numerous anxieties; on top of being cruel, murderous, double-crosssing and thieving, he also is a drug-addict and rapist. For a Few Dollars More was produced in the 1960s when anti-drug propaganda was in full swing, and there could be few better images to dissuade marijuana use than a glassy-eyed El Indio trying to smoke away painful memories of murder. The name “El Indio” gives a Mexican twist to the cowboys and Indians genre, but just like in the old Westerns when the supposedly rapacious sexuality of Indian men would cause them to carry off white women, so El Indio rapes Mortimer’s sister for no given reason. Old stories die hard.

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