Feature of September: Sergio Leone's Man-with-no-Name Trilogy

Before A Fistful of Dollars (1964), American Westerns means John Wayne. You can imagine the impact when the Man-with-no-Name trilogy came out, though at that time the Western genre was still far from being stale.

A Fistful of Dollars was almost a total remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. But Sergio Leone being Sergio Leone, besides being at ease with Kurosara's technique, he also complemented it with some of his own style - his close-ups of characters' eyes and fast zoom-in and zoom-outs were already impressive here. The film shattered the genre: there is not an Indian to be found and Man-with-no-Name, unlike some cowboy heroes, he will not take out the guitar and belt out a song in his rest. More importantly, the line between the good and bad had never been so blurred. Man-with-no-Name loves money just as much as the ruffians, and he is just as cruel. Leone did not follow the Hollywood rules - he made his own, and he created the spaghetti Western.

The sequel For a Few Dollars More (1965) came out a year later. Besides Clint Eastwood, the cast also included Lee Van Cleef. Sergio Leone did not show off his slow motion this time but captured the audience's attention with the fast-paced editing. Few would forget the pocket-watch chime scene when the duelists will shoot once the chime stops. Audiences' heart almost stop when the camera cuts back and forth between the duelists to Morricone's quickening score. This film was the least known of the trilogy but it was a milestone in the establishment of Sergio Leone's style.

For a Few Dollars More marked the director's first attempt in score manipulation, and it became his trademark. Take the pocket-watch chime scene for instance, the audience first hear just the chime, then Morricone's score gradually joins in, when it dies out the chime returns, but slowing down in tempo: the guns are about to be drawn and one will fall.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967) is the last of the trilogy and the best known. It differs from the previous two by having no "dollars" in its title. It was also a big budget production with expensive scenes.

The Eastwood character is The Man-With-No-Name, but he has one here: Blondie. As least that's what Tuco calls him. He is the Good (relatively speaking), and Tuco (played by Eli Wallach) is the Ugly. Lee Van Cleef plays Angel-Eye, the Bad. The three of them are looking for the gold buried in a grave (two hundred thousand dollars, exactly the cost of making A Fistful of Dollars). Tuco knows the name of the graveyard and the Blondie the name on the gravestone. They are forced to team up but mistrust each other. Angel-Eye is a killer and he wants the gold all by himself. The ending is the classic trilateral duel, with the shot cutting back and forth between their eyes and hands. The audience's heartbeat pulses with the score, then with the pop of a gun, it is over. Two remain standing, with one stunned and the other jauntily shows the bullets he has taken from the other.

The theme of the Man-with-no-Name trilogy is simple: man dies for money. There is no deep message or morals. The image, the mise-en-scene, the atmosphere and the character design are the only things the director care about.

By Longtin

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