Sergio Leone’s hard-hitting “For a Few Dollars More” on 4K UHD

Updated: May 18


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / SDR FRAME SHOTS

Clint Eastwood returns as the nameless, poncho-draped drifter and bounty hunter to bring a murderous bandit to justice.


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FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE”

4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, 1965, R for mostly bloodless violence, brief nudity, disturbing content, with rape, and suicide, drug content

Best extra: “A New Standard: Frayling on “For a Few Dollars More” featurette












SANDWICHED BETWEEN “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), “For A Few Dollars More” (1965) has often been overshadowed in Sergio Leone’s Western trilogy. American TV actor Clint Eastwood (“Rawhide”) returns as the nameless, poncho-draped drifter, this time a post-Civil War bounty hunter tracking an escaped Mexican outlaw, El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè), along the U.S. border.

As the title suggests, “a few dollars more” was exactly what Leone wanted and got from his Italian investors. Eastwood’s paycheck bumped from $15,000 for two weeks of work to $50,000, and the budget tripled from $200K to $600K, giving cinematographer Massimo Dallamano and Leone the time needed to create more dynamic visuals in Spain’s southern desert.

EXTRAS

In the carryover featurette “A New Standard: Frayling on “For a Few Dollars More,” British film historian Sir Christopher Frayling says Leone finally had the confidence to begin the film with “pure style” using stunning visuals and crisp editing during the first act as he introduces two bounty hunters, Lee Van Cleef’s character (the Bible-toting Colonel Mortimer, a former Confederate officer) and Eastwood as Monco. “Then [the first] 20-minutes end and the story begins, so he’s relaxing into this, taking his time,” Frayling says.

It’s also the film in which Leone’s western trademarks came to full fruition: careful framing with big faces; larger-than-life production sets; Ennio Morricone’s striking, organic score, and the introduction of a circular duel at the end. Frayling says, “They find their voice, and Leone’s style emerges.”


(1&2) Character actor Lee Van Cleef plays the Bible-toting Colonel Mortimer, a former Confederate officer, now a bounty hunter traveling toward Tucumcari, halfway between Amarillo and Santa Rosa. (3&4) Col. Mortimer makes an illegal stop at the Tucumcari station, and the train conductor (Mario Meniconi) isnt happy. (5) Mortimer sees the $1,000 Wanted poster for Guy Callaway and takes it with him.






Because of the director’s newly enhanced skills, “For A Few Dollars More” stands the test of time. It was selected No. 3 in the Spaghetti Western Database of Top 20 movies, right behind “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) starring Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson, with its howling harmonica theme.

During one of the two commentaries on the 4K disc and Blu-ray, author/critic Tim Lucas pinpoints the scene where El Indio and his men blow up the Bank of El Paso, the cinematic moment driving many fans to select “For a Few Dollars More” as the best of the series. The explosion, the camera placements, the lens selects, and the editing are nearly perfect as the band of outlaws load the safe onto a wagon and ride off in a whirlwind of dust – the two bounty hunters in hot pursuit.



“Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price. That is why the bounty killers appeared.


(1-4) Col. Mortimer finds Guy Callaway (José Terrón) and collects the $1,000 bounty after killing him. The sequence was filmed at a movie set in Madrid, Spain.






Eastwood’s return ensured the second installment would be a success. For the bad guy (El Indio), called Tombstone in the script, Leone rehired Italian actor Gian Maria Volontè, who co-starred in “A Fistful of Dollars” as Ramón Rojo. “He’s a larger-than-life baddy, who shoots women and children, smokes dope, and even shoots his own men. They piled on the theatrical attributes,” Frayling says. In many of El Indio’s scenes Morricone and Leone created a high-pitched sound that wears on the audience – just in case “You haven’t noticed he’s a psychopath.” Volontè took the role to extremes on and off the set, creating a tense atmosphere. To help drain his excess energy, Leone purposely reshot his scenes over and over hoping it would tire the actor, and the director would finally get the performance he wanted.

For the role of Colonel Mortimer, Leone wanted another American. He initially tried to cast Henry Fonda, who turned him down again. Fonda had been the director’s first choice for ‘The Man with No Name’ in “A Fistful of Dollars,” which became Eastwood’s breakout role. Then he went for Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, who nearly signed, then ended up doing “Cat Ballou” with Jane Fonda, winning the Best Actor Oscar. Finally, Leone considered Van Cleef and all his western characters – mostly bad guys – in the 1950s and ‘60s TV shows and movies. “He had a very distinctive look, his face, and his silhouette,” Frayling says. Leone sent his production manager to L.A. to hunt Van Cleef down. He brought a suitcase filled with money to entice the actor, and signed him there and then. Van Cleef arrived in Rome and began acting on a soundstage the next day becoming a huge star in Europe.

The enclosed Blu-ray also includes four more featurettes. Highlights show Eastwood recalling how he inspired Leone to do the sequel and his first lunch break on “A Fistful of Dollars.” Production luncheons in America normally lasted only 30 to 45 minutes, he says, but cast and crew sat down with Leone to eat spaghetti and drink wine for two hours. “This was really something. The only problem, the next couple hours of work was in slow-motion,” Eastwood says.



(1) Lighting a cigar is the introduction of Clint Eastwood as the bounty hunter Monco. (2&3) He targets Red “Baby” Cavanagh (José Marco) in White Rock for a $2,000 bounty. (4) Italian actor Gian Maria Volontè plays the murderous bandit El Indio, whos escaped from prison with help from his gang and threats to kill a guard. (5) Monco discovers the $10,000 reward poster for El Indio.




Another featurette with English director Alex Cox, who remembers his first watch of the film, calling it his favorite spaghetti western. He takes viewers on a walking tour of many of the film’s locations in La Calahorra, Granada Province, Spain. The first stop is the train station, where Col. Mortimer and his horse exit the train. The station is gone, but the train line is still active with wind turbines dotting the horizon. Leone also used the same location for the opening sequence of “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

Side Note: Sergio Leone never mastered English, telling his American actors, “Watch me,” as he pantomimed the performance he wanted.

VIDEO

The 4K restoration was handled in Italy by L’lmmagine Ritovata and sourced from the Techniscope camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio) and the best surviving elements. Most Italian films of the 1960s and ‘70s used the Techniscope cost-cutting process, which created two frames within the normal 35mm frame. This cut the film stock and the photochemical cost in half, although the results on screen had slightly less resolution and made the film grain more pronounced. In 2017, the best elements were scanned and mastered in true 4K, while the color timing was dialed toward a warm tint, evident in Kino Lorber’s previous Blu-ray edition.



(1&2) El Indio threatens to kill Tomaso (Lorenzo Robledo) and his wife (Diana Faenza) and baby. Afterward, he lights up a joint. (3&4) Monco rides into El Paso and forces a guest out of his hotel room, and he complains to the hotel manager (Kurt Zip) and his wife Mary (Mara Krupp). (5) Monco tells Franando (Antoñito Ruiz) hell pay him 50 cents if he tells him “anybody you’ve never seen before in El Paso comes to town.” (6&7) El Indio and his gang hold up inside an abandoned church.





For the 2022 edition, new scene-by-scene color grading was applied in the standard dynamic range (SDR) instead of the more desired HDR. Cost or the lesser film base kept the colors and contrast in SDR. But don’t worry, the results are still striking with more natural tint and saturated colors from cinematographer Massimo Dallamano. The secondary elements, which fill in the gaps, make up about a quarter of the film. They are less sharp and the film grain less obvious. Overall, the brightness seems a click too bright in many of the daylight scenes, although that could be Dallamano’s intention.

The 4K disc has a slight edge in transparency over the new Blu-ray, especially in those trademark close-ups, and wide desert landscapes. We clearly see the last joint of Van Cleef’s right middle finger is missing, an accident he had while building a playhouse for his daughter in 1958.

AUDIO

I listened to the restored 2.0 mono track over the reprocessed six-channel DTS HD soundtrack, since the majority of the effects, dialogue, and Morricone’s chilling score is front and center. Only a slight peppering of gunshot and environmental effects bounce to the rear speakers. Still, the musical cues are fresh, arresting, and powerful with oboe, trumpet, guitar playing, and whistling from famed Alessandro Alessandroni and harmonic vocal arrangements in command.

Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer


(1-5) Col. Mortimer also arrives in El Paso, as members of El Indio’s gang count the number of steps the guards take to circle the perimeter of the Bank of El Paso.


 


(1&2) Monco and Mortimer join forces and the colonel suggests Monco join Indios gang before the robbery of the El Paso bank and the $1 million in the safe. (3) The sequence just before the robbery is some of the films best-restored footage, with excellent natural film grain and clarity. (4&5) The robbery sequence has some of the least amounts of 4K clarity, more likely from second or third-generation source, as Indios gang explodes the side of the bank and they pull the safe onto a wagon and ride off into the desert. (6&7) Col. Mortimer opens the safe without explosives and it is full of old Confederate dollars and U.S. Currency. (8&9) The finale duel.

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