Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy

One of the questions that we are so frequently asked and one that I can never answer is what is your favorite trilogy ? Even the current poll at LAMB asks the same question and I still do not have the answer. There just are too many options to choose from like
(a) Nolan's Batman trilogy: with The Dark Knight Rises(2012) epic ending to the trilogy this summer, we have another brilliant option available.
(b) Three Colors trilogy: White(1994) is inferior of the three only because it has likes of Blue(1993) and Red(1995) alongside and together they just hit it out of the park.
(c) Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy: After I saw all three movies earlier this year, it has become a serious contender as my favorite. Only thing keeping me is the quality of the competition.
(d) Lord of the Rings trilogy: Another one of personal favorites and certainly one I have seen most. More than everything else put together in this list
(e) Toy Story trilogy: Probably the weakest of the list but I love Toy Story 3 and can not argue with the iconic status of first one.
(f) Bergman's Faith trilogy: probably the best trilogy I haven't seen yet.
and I am sure there are quite a few more I am forgetting here but then this labor day when I sat down in front of the TV and saw all 3 movies from Sergio Leone's Dollar trilogy, I added one more name to the list.

Starting out with A Fistful of Dollars(1964) as the first installment, it is adaptation of Kurosawa's Yojimbo(1961) set in the west. Eastwood's iconic character Man with no name, arrives in one of the small towns on Mexican border where there are two gangs fighting with each other over the control of the town. One of them is Gang of Rojo Brothers - Don Miguel, Esteban and Ramon while the other is so-called sheriff of the town John Baxter. Because of the constant feud between these two families, rest of the town is pretty much dead as there are no more businesses alive except one hotel. After this stranger arrives in the town, he decides to make use of this divide in the two families to make some quick money. He gets his chance to play these two families against each other pretty soon as Ramon, with the help of his gang dressed in American uniforms, steals the gold being delivered to Americans by Mexican soldiers. He feeds false information to both the gangs that couple of American soldiers survived Ramon's attack and are hiding in the cemetery. Both the gangs rush to cemetery, Rojos to silence these soldiers and Baxters to use them against Rojos. When they both square up against each other in cemetery, Ramon becomes successful in killing both the soldiers who are actually just the dead bodies planted by stranger. With this success under his belt, stranger tries to do something bigger and soon realizes that he is biting something bigger than he can chew. But, he is the Hero right? So, he has to win in the end and with the help of couple of friends in the town, he does. Of all the three movies, this is probably the weakest in my opinion but for the first film in trilogy, it does a lot of groundwork for more greatness to follow. It establishes the character which pretty much made Clint Eastwood Clint Eastwood, that is of of 'The Man with No Name', though he does have a name in the other two, in his signature costume with his typical hat, poncho and munching the cigar. We never know anything about his background, here we don't even know what he really does, he speaks only when it is necessary and rather prefers to let his gun do the talking for him. It also sets you up with what to expect visually because lets be honest, if I ask one thing that is of prime importance in this movie I am sure majority of us will say it is visual style. It also marked first collaboration of Leone and his composer Ennio Morricone which would bring us to another very important aspect of the trilogy - background scores. Even though the weakest of the three, it certainly is marks a great start to the trilogy.

Rating(out of 5):

For the second installment of the trilogy, we have For a Few Dollars More(1965), only movie of the trilogy that I could remember properly before I saw it again that day. It may be isn't the most popular or even the best of the trilogy, but in my opinion it is most compact of the three in a sense that I may be in the minority who thinks so but it is better than A Fistful of Dollars and is shorter than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly(1966). This time around, as I said, The Man with No Name has a name - Monco and we also know that he is a bounty hunter. There is also another bounty hunter in picture by the name of Colonel Douglas Mortimer. After getting their hands on some smaller bounties both happen to set their eyes on the big prize of Indio and his gang. Being good at their job, they both guess correctly that Indio who has just escaped from prison, his first target will be Bank of El Paso which is considered as the safest bank of all. When they both arrive in the town of El Paso and square off against each other, they have already learned about each other from different sources. After testing each other out, they both realize that the best thing for either of them will be to join forces against Indio. Mortimer proposes an idea of one of them joining Indio's gang so that he can work from inside and Monco reluctantly agrees to be that man. However, not everything can go according to plan, after all there is a reason why Indio isn't an easy target. This duo of bounty hunters also try to come up with a counter plan to make up and with some more twists and turns we get to the eventual ending but not without revealing why Mortimer is so badly behind Indio. Building on the elements from first installment, it adds a lot in various departments, especially characters. We get to know Clint Eastwood's character a little more in depth here after first installment. He still has all his signature articles - his poncho, cigar, his hat and he still prefers to let his gun do the talking which should be clear from the scene when Monco and Col. Mortimer face each other. But to tell you the truth, Van Cliff's Douglas Mortimer is much better and even more interesting character in this. He is the brain of their partnership whereas Monco is pretty much of a follower. Even Indio's villain is little more dangerous as he is just as savage as Ramon but this time around works more with his head than his heart. If not better, this movie has as much visual flair as the first one and also Morricone scores again with his whistling soundtrack. Something else that did stand out for me this time is sound editing in general but specifically the use of echo mostly in their gun fights and the use of chiming of a watch in final duel was amazing.

Rating(out of 5):

And finally, we come to the most iconic, most popular and certainly the best of the trilogy The Good, the Bad, the Ugly(1966) as the final installment. Now, I had seen it before but it was long ago and I almost remembered nothing about it. So, despite the fact that it would mean I will be watching 3 movies in a row, 10 hours non-stop, I sat down for this classic yet again. This time we have three men we are focusing on. The Man with No name goes by the name of Blondie here who is a professional gunslinger, Angel eyes is a man on hire who makes sure that the job he is hired for is done gets done while Tuco is a wanted criminal. Tuco and Blondie have a kind of partnership where Blondie will arrest Tuco and give him to police, collect the bounty on him and when he is about to be hanged, he will rescue him and then they share the bounty. After a while Blondie gets tired of doing this every time and he ditches Tuco in the desert with not even water to drink. Tuco not only survives the scare but he soon enough finds Blondie out and makes Blondie go through the same routine he did. Just when he is about to bolt Blondie to death, he sees a stagecoach full of confederate soldiers. Only one of them, by the name of Bill Carson, is alive and he tells Tuco about cemetery where he has hidden a lot of gold but he is dying of thirst and will not tell the name on grave unless he has water to drink. By the time, Tuco finds water for him and brings it to him, he is dead but not before giving Blondie the name on grave. So, the two men again have to form an uncomfortable partnership and keep each other alive to get that gold. Now Angel eyes has also been looking for this gold for quite some time. He knows that Bill Carson is the one who knows everything about it but unfortunately he hasn't been able to get hold of Carson. Through a lot of interesting twists and turns where at one point Tuco and Blondie disguised as confederate soldiers, even fall in hands of Angel eyes in Yankee prison Camp, where he is disguised as Yankee Captain; we finally get to the cemetery and to the grave where we witness probably the most iconic moment in western movies ever - all three men for themselves in a three-way shootout. Almost all the elements Leone has been building so far have been almost perfected in this movie. Characters are much more richer, deeper and best example in this case is Eli Wallach's Tuco who is like chameleon changing its color and he gives probably the most entertaining performance of the whole trilogy. It has much better storyline which maybe isn't really complex but there is a lot that happens in it. Soundtrack is unforgettable, I am sure even those who haven't even seen movie know about it(e.g. my parents). Cinematography is breathtaking. Even though I do feel like it is little too long, especially towards end and sudden disappearance and reappearance later in the film of Van Cliff's Angel Eyes bothers me a little, there is no denying at all that this is Western Cinema at it's very best from any angle you choose to look at.

Rating(out of 5):


  1. Well this is interesting. I've never been a fan of westerns, so I haven't watched a lot of them, but I guess I should start with these 3 right? Great post SDG, keep up the good work!

    1. Ok. Not that I am an expert on these but these are much more stylized, much western-y for the lack of better word. They are great but maybe not good to get into the genre. Start with something easy to get into something like High Noon or The Man who Shot Liberty Valance - great movies, typical westerns and very easy to get into.

  2. Michelangelo Antonioni "Incommunication Trilogy" - (L'Avventura(1960), La Notte (1961) and Eclipse (1962) - One of best trilogy too.
    Dollars trilogy is epic with Moricone's monumental background score. My Phone ring tone too :

    Directors Once upon time in America/West both are awesome.

    1. I might have seen it after I wrote this post, I don't remember, but I have seen it now and even though I probably don't agree that it is one of the best, I certainly think it is damn good.

      I have seen the other two too. Once upon a time in the West being favourite of all the movies mentioned so far. :)


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