Elsewhere, The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) rides into a distant town and calmly locates his quarry. Blessed with the bluffing skill of a champion poker player, No-Name interrupts the card-game and deals two hands. Immediately he has a psychological advantage, remaining mysterious and therefore unsettling while he sizes up the opposition. Tension mounts as the cards are played, reaching a peak when No-Name reveals the stake; the man's life. Unfortunately for No-Name he's been taken for a sap, tricked into concentrating on a low-level doppleganger while the real villain comes from behind. Fortunately for No-Name, he's got a lightning fast draw and before the smoke can dissipate, bodies are sprawled awkwardly upon the floor.
At yet another locale, gang leader Indio (Gian Maria Volonté) languishes in jail. Without him the previously united ruffians are rudderless, thus they decide to break into the lightly-guarded jail and hustle him away. Indio's sadistic streak soon displays itself though. Tracking down the double-crosser who put him in prison, Indio inflicts substantial suffering. Strangely enough, as Indio does so he becomes exhausted/intoxicated by the whole business, slumping afterwards in an almost post-coital haze. Now that he's free, however, Indio wants to go after the biggest prize around - the bank at El Paso. Since both No-Name and Mortimer are of some intelligence, they've already worked this out, setting the stage for a triumphant show-down.
In form, For a Few Dollars More closely follows the classic three act structure. The opening exposition, itself divided by three, rapidly and cleanly establishes the principal characters. Each of them (No-Name, Mortimer and Indio) positions themself in opposing corners of a moral triangle, despite their superficial similarities. No-Name is cold, disconnected from the bloody reality of death. Mortimer, on the other hand, is wise enough to understand the meaning of each bullet and has known the counterpoise of hate, love. Meanwhile Indio is fully ensnared by his emotional furnace, junkie to the heady thrill of killing. Thus outlined, the central section of the film draws the trio together and lays the groundwork which will define their fatal waltz. Inevitably their tied destiny approaches, to be concluded in the short but violent final act. Here minor figures are swept away, leaving the stage empty but for the central three. Stripped of all excess, Leone places his own individual spin on what are eternal themes.
Funded with a larger budget than its predecessor, For a Few Dollars More capitalises upon this with an improved script, higher quality cast and better production values. Eastwood is excellent as a cigarillo-smoking, poncho-wearing gunfighter. The subtleties of his character are much refined, with spot-on dead-pan timing and a realisation of how less can be more in this type of role. Van Cleef makes an appropriate contrast to Eastwood and is a commanding presence in his own right. As the oldest figure in the film to still retain his faculties, it's clear that both his character and motivation are somewhat different to those of the young upstart Eastwood. There is, however, an air of competence to Van Cleef that no wrinkles can disguise. Equally impressive is Volonté, balancing his performance on the boundary between believability and farce. A volatile combination of psychosis and keen intelligence, he's an extremely unnerving person to know. As for the minor roles, Klaus Kinski makes a fine hunchback, Mara Krup provides the strongest female role and Rosemarie Dexter the most sympathetic.
In addition, the directorial capabilities of Sergio Leone have greatly matured in For a Few Dollars More. Rapid cutting between long-shot and close-up (as seen in the earlier film) is much in evidence, yet here the rough edges have been smoothed. A wonderful example of this comes about when No-Name and Mortimer face off in a test of their professional skill, probing each others defence for weakness. As the duel progresses, it becomes clear that they're unwilling to actually shoot each other (since there's a good chance that both would be killed), yet the tension inexorably mounts. Breaking this impasse with an uneasy pact of grudging respect is a master-stroke by Leone, setting the tone for their partnership. The superb score by Morricone should also not be overlooked, encompassing as it does sonic signposts (such as the pocket-watch chimes) and heightened background noises. To an already thick atmosphere, these are the finishing touch. As for problems with the film, For a Few Dollars More is a little too long, even with Leone's superbly staged gunfights. Otherwise, nothing.