Considering the success of A Fistful of Dollars, a sequel was all but inevitable, and thus what were conceived as three standalone films began to be thought of as the Dollars Trilogy. For a Few Dollars More is definitely the weakest of the three, as is frequently the case with the middle part of a trilogy, but not being as good as Fistful and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is no great crime: this is still a very good Western.
Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, respectively playing the Man With No Name (although called Manco in the film) and Colonel Mortimer, are bounty killers on the trail of notorious bandit El Indio (Gian Maria Volonte). They come into conflict, each wanting the $10,000 dollar reward for themselves, but upon realising the size and strength of Indio’s gang, they decide to team up and split the money between them.
For a Few Dollars More‘s main problem is its pacing. With a substantially larger budget than Fistful and 30 minutes longer, it’s a much bigger film than its predecessor, almost the entirety of which took place in one town. It feels a little like Leone was still learning the tricks of the trade, and wasn’t quite sure how to work with the size of the new film, a problem which would fortunately have been corrected by the trilogy’s final instalment. A Fistful of Dollars was light on dialogue, high on action, and very tightly plotted, whereas For a Few Dollars More does tend to drag at points, especially towards the middle. It doesn’t have the economy of its predecessor or the epic scope of its successor, which contributes to it being the trilogy’s weakest instalment.
All the same, there is a lot to like in For a Few Dollars More, and it isn’t a bad film by any stretch. The black humour which was so defining a part of Fistful is unfortunately gone for the most part, although there are a few laughs; in its place is the increased darkness of story not uncommon for a sequel. The two heroes are bounty killers: as the opening narration says, when life has no value, death often does. While Van Cleef’s character certainly has more noble motives than Eastwood’s, they don’t become apparent for some time. And while it is nice to see Van Cleef not playing the villain for once, it is the villain El Indio who emerges as the most interesting character. He may be a bandit and a killer, but he’s consistently characterised as quite insane, and spends a lot of his time passed out from drugs, trying to dull his memories of the terrible things he’s done.
It’s very interesting to watch Leone’s talent grow over the course of the Dollars Trilogy: the first one was small scale, but expertly and economically put together; the sequel is bigger but also not as focused; and the finale has all the best parts of both previous films. Even if For a Few Dollars More never comes together quite as well as Fistful, it’s still a very good Western; it’s just not the classic that the other two of the trilogy are. It has great performances, fantastic settings (no doubt a consequence of the bigger budget), and another top-notch Ennio Morricone score. It’s not essential viewing as its predecessor and successor are, but you could do a lot worse.