Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"For a Few Dollars More" - Better Than The Real Thing: December 1, 2010

I had been planning on starting this sooner, much like many of the other series on the site and, for that matter, the site in general. My prompting to do this has less to do with the fact that I finally got off my ass, but more to do with a recent article over at Badass Digest. Check it out:

While my thoughts were too voluminous to get into over at BD, I really can't say all that much in the context of this article either. To do so would take up precious space dedicated to the titular topic. Suffice it to say, I think Aliens is a fantastic film, one that still works, and that *maybe* Devin can't conceal his anti-Cameron streak at all. Likewise, I watch Alien all the time. This is a cake and eat it too situation. I used to rep Aliens hard, but that was just me being defensive. I can now say that both of them are so different they are equal in my book. I also would like to point back to my Alien3 review and throw the gauntlet down at Devin's feet and say that I think it is the equal of the first two. Whatever.

The point of this series is to discuss something that was roundly bantered back and forth via the BD article. Can a sequel be better than the original? Like any other HIGHLY opinionated argument this is pretty subjective. There will be a lot of these to come, I can assure you. I am not alone in my love of sequels, but very few will take the stance that some sequels are just better than the first film. To me, sequels, like a follow-up album, can be better than the work that preceded it. Others tend to disagree on terms generally given as canon, without giving much thought to the validity of a sequel's right to best its progenitors. In short, people tend to give the original all the credit because it was there first.

My first entry is one that I'm sure the gatekeepers of all that is geek will get up in arms about. Now, most people won't argue about whether or not A Fistful of Dollars is the best in the so-called Man With No Name Trilogy. I've never met anybody who felt it was. At the same time, very few will make a case that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly isn't the best in the series. This seems to be the consensus. But, as I'm sure you've guessed by the article title, I'm not here to defend TGTB&TU so much. As much as I like it it isn't my favorite in the trilogy.

If I want big, bloated and epic Leone I will go to Once Upon a Time in the West. That film, with all its operatic melodrama, political insight and methodical, paced revenge is the ultimate Leone film. Bronson's character Harmonica is a proxy Man With No Name, but it doesn't count in terms of the original Eastwood trilogy. For a Few Dollars More, AFOD's immediate follow-up, and the seemingly forgotten film in the trilogy, is a nice little warm-up to OUATITW and is my favorite in the trilogy by far.

Like OUATITW there is a nice, little revenge flick right in the heart of the much larger action and intrigue-paced western. This story line makes the film for me and I make no qualms about arguing about the emotional experience of this film versus the roller-coaster ride of TGTB&TU. I will go back to the shootout at the end of TGTB&TU for purely aesthetic reasons; it's gorgeous no doubt about that. But I've never been emotionally connected to these characters, not one bit. I will go back to the end of FAFDM time and time again, just for the emotionally rewarding experience of watching Colonel Mortimer come face to face with Indio, pocket watches chiming away, counting down to one last chance to right a wrong.

This scene not only brings full circle the story arc for Mortimer, but also for Indio, a villain who has lived with the heinous deed that has led him to use this pocket watch as a way of psychologically disconnecting himself from the murders he commits. In this last scene he has to reconcile just what the pocket watch means to him and what it means to the man standing across from him. This is pretty powerful stuff and the two men carry themselves here with nothing but complete conviction. Gian Maria Volante's performance as Indio is much more nuanced than the badass he played as Ramon in AFOD. As for Van Cleef, many people love to see him as the ultimate bad guy, espeically as TGTB&TU's Angel Eyes. I prefer to see Van Cleef in the charcter of a hardened military man, someone who may be just another bounty hunter, but who is hiding a deeper, heartfelt excuse for blazing the path of destruction he leaves across the Southwest.

In summation, I'll draw a corollary I'm sure all the geeks out there will get. The shootout at the end of TGTB&TU is the duel between Qui Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul, while the shootout at the end of FAFDM is the final duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Get it? One might be exhilirating but the other can reduce a geek to tears.

As for Clint's character, much like Batman in Gotham, the Man With No Name is best defined by the villains and supporting characters that color the world around him. Clint is consistently great in all the films, so much so that you'd have a hard time differentiating the performances from film to film. The best part of Clint in this film is the way he doesn't hesitate to give Van Cleef his moments in the sun. He knows what his role is and plays it brilliantly by doing as little as possible and not drawing attention away from the film's big climax.


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