Yes you’ve seen them or atleast heard of them or maybe you’ve heard some of the music – but there is just no escaping the trio of Spaghetti Westerns that Italian director Sergio Leone unleashed on an unsuspecting public who would go on to worship them and elevate the said movies to cult, classic status. Commonly referred to as either the Dollars Trilogy or the “Man With No Name Trilogy”, a trilogy following the exploits of the same so-called “Man with No Name” (Clint Eastwood, wearing the same clothes and acting with the same mannerisms). The “Man with No Name” concept was invented by the American distributor United Artists, looking for a strong angle to sell the movies as a trilogy. Eastwood’s character does indeed have a name – albeit a nickname – and a different one in each film: “Joe,” “Manco,” and “Blondie,” respectively.
Fistful Of Dollars is first of the trilogy, released in 1964 starring Clint as the Stranger – a quick as lightning gunslinger – with Gian Maria Volente as the main villain. Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo, Antonio Prieto, and Joseph Egger play supporting roles. A remake of Akiro Kurusawa’s 1961 classic Yojimbo, the movie was subjected to a lawsuit. The movie is about a stranger who arrives in a small Mexican border town of San Miguel. After seeing a young boy sneaking into a building to meet a lady (who we learn is his enslaved mother) and being beaten up by some men, the stranger enters a inn. innkeeper, Silvanito, tells the Stranger about the bitter feud between two families vying to gain control of the town: on the one side, the Rojo brothers, consisting of Don Miguel, Esteban, and Ramón; on the other, the family of the town sheriff, John Baxter. The stranger senses an opportunity to play both families against each other and waits for the right moment. The Rojo clan ambushes & massacres a a detachment of Mexican soldiers escorting a shipment of gold passes through the town, while dressed as American soldiers and steal the gold. The Stranger takes two of the bodies to a nearby cemetery and sells information to both sides that two Mexican soldiers survived the attack. Both sides race to the cemetery, the Baxters to get the “survivors” to testify against the Rojos, the Rojos to silence them.
The two rival groups fire at each other with Ramon managing to “kill” the “survivors” and Esteban capturing John Baxter’s son, Antonio. While this is going on the stranger goes for the gold in the Rojo hideout but accidentally knocks out the enslaves mistress of Ramon, Marisol. He takes her to the Baxters, who, in turn, arrange to return her to the Rojos in exchange for Antonio. At the exchange Marisol’s son runs to her, with her husband following – but she has to return with the Rojo clan while the Baxters get their son back. That night, while the Rojos are celebrating, the Stranger rides out and frees Marisol, shooting the guards and wrecking the house in which she is being held in order to make it appear as if it were attacked by the Baxters. The Stranger tells Marisol, her husband, and their son to leave town, at the same time giving them some money to tide them over. His only explanation for helping them out is that he knew someone just like her in the same situation. The stranger is discovered as having crossed the Rojo clan, who then beat him up and lock him in a room but he escapes killing two of the men. Believing the Stranger to be protected by the Baxters, the Rojos set fire to the Baxter home and massacre all the residents as they are forced to flee. Among the dead are John Baxter, his wife, Consuelo, and Antonio. Now the only gang left in San Miguel, the Rojos confront and beat Silvanito, who they think is hiding the Stranger.
Having recovered & rested the Stranger comes back to town and faces the Rojos in a dramatic showdown. Protected by a steel chest plate behind his poncho, the stranger manages to over their bullets and kills all but Ramon. The two then have a race for their guns and finally Ramon is killed. Esteban, who has this ridiculously animated laugh (I swear the guy doing the dubbing must have also voiced some hyenas in cartoons) is shot dead by Silvanito as he hides in a building and tries to kill the stranger. Saying his goodbyes and taking some of the gold, the Stranger rides out of town.
The second of the three, For A Few Dollars More, released in 1965 sees Lee Van Cleef join Eastwood with Volente playing a different villain. The Stranger, referred to as “Manco” in this film, is a bounty hunter in search of El Indio, one of the most wanted fugitives in the western territories, and his gang. Indio favoures a musical pocket watch that he plays before engaging in gun duels, shooting only as the chimes finish. Flashbacks reveal that the watch belonged to young woman, who killed herself while being raped by Indio after he had found her with her lover and killed him. Indio still obsessed over the woman. The Stranger finds himself having competition in Colonel Mortimer also hunting for El Indio and after a classic “head-butting” scene, the two decide to pair up and share the money that is to be made for killing Indio and his 14 member gang, which amounts to a lot of money. Indio’s primary goal is to rob the Bank of El Paso and its disguised safe containing “almost a million dollars.” Mortimer persuades a reluctant the Stranger to join Indio’s gang during the robbery in order to “get him between two fires.” Manco is offered membership in the gang after rescuing one of Indio’s friends from prison.
Indio & gang rob the bank and reunites his men in a small border town to wait while things cool down. Meanwhile the Colonel is recognized by one of the men as from a previous encounter in which the Colonel had deliberately insulted him and forces a showdown in which he is killed by the Colonel. He then proves his worth to Indio by easily opening the safe for him but Indio states his intention to wait a month if necessary to allow the furor over the bank robbery to die down and locks the money away. The Stranger & the Colonel try to steal the money but are caught and severely beaten up. Indio has his right hand man Nino kill the guard and release the two bounty hunters and then has his men chase after them; his intention being that if they are all killed, he only has to share the money with Nino! However one of them realizes this and kills Nino. The next morning the bounty hunters kill off all the men one by one but the Colonel has his gun shot from his hand by Indio, who then takes his pocket watch out and plays the music. However just as it ends, the stranger comes with a similar watch that plays the same music! The second watch belongs to the Colonel, who is the brother of the woman Indio raped. The stranger plays the music once again and sits aside; as the music stops the Colonel outdraws and kills Indio. His revenge complete, the Colonel decides to take no part of the bounty.
The Stranger stacks all the dead bodies in a horse cart and rides off and counts them by the reward for each one, totaling $27,000. As he leaves, he recovers the money stolen from the Bank of El Paso, though it is not clear whether he intends to return it. He then rides off into the distance with his horse towing the wagon full of the lifeless bodies of the entire gang, while the Colonel rides off on his horse back home.
And now we come to the 3rd and the most famous of the trio, the behemoth that is the legendary The Good, The Bad & The Ugly which came out in 1966 and once again starring Eastwood, with Van Cleef in a different role as an antagonist and Eli Wallach as the second villain. The plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in buried Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of gunfights, hangings, American Civil War battles and prison camps. Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) interrogates a former soldier called Stevens about a missing man named Jackson who has taken on the name “Bill Carson” and a cache of stolen Confederate gold. He brutally guns down Stevens and his eldest son after the interrogation, but not before Stevens pays Angel Eyes to kill Angel Eyes’ employer, another former soldier named Baker. Angel Eyes later collects his fee for Stevens’ killing from Baker, and then shoots and kills him, too. Meanwhile Tuco Ramirez, an escapes bandit who killed 2 bounty hunters and wounded another, runs into a group of bounty hunters who prepare to capture him when they are approached by Blondie (Eastwood), a mysterious lone gunman who challenges the hunters to the draw, which he wins with lightning speed. Blondie then delivers him up to the local authorities for the reward money of $2,000. Hours later, as Tuco awaits his execution, Blondie surprises the authorities and frees Tuco by shooting the execution rope; the two later meet to split the reward money, revealing their lucrative money-making scheme.
When Tuco’s reward money goes up to $3000 the two repeat the process at another town before Blondie, weary of Tuco’s incessant complaints about the dividing of the profits from their scheme, abandons him in the desert, keeping all of the money. An angry Tuco makes his way back to town and arms himself while enlisting three outlaws to kill Blondie. Almost killed by Tuco, Blondie manages to escape when a cannonball hits the hotel and demolishes the room. But Tuco catches up to Blondie and captures him, and marches him across the harsh desert making him suffer from heat exhaustion & dehydration. As Tuco prepares to kill him, he spies Bill Carson the dying Bill Carson, who reveals that $200,000 in stolen Confederate gold is buried in a grave in Sad Hill Cemetery but falls unconscious before naming the grave. As Tuco leaves to get water, Blondie drags himself to Carson and learns the name on the grave from Carsonn just before the latter dies. Tuco nurses Blondie back to health in a monastery and the they leave but are captured by a colonel. Angel Eyes gets wind of the torture Tuco into revealing Sad Hill Cemetery as the location of the gold, but Tuco also confesses that only Blondie knows the name on the grave. Convinced that Blondie would not be easily broken, Angel Eyes offers to take Tuco’s place in the partnership to recover the gold. Blondie agrees and rides out with Angel Eyes and his posse. Tuco manages to escape and follows them.
Much fighting, twists and killings later, we have a Mexican standoff between the three at the Sad Hill Cemetery. Blondie shoots Angel Eyes, who tries to shoot Blondie while he is down only to be shot by Blondie again and roll into an open grave, dead. Tuco also tries to shoot Angel Eyes, but discovers that Blondie had unloaded his gun the night before. In a grave marked ‘Unknown’ Tuco is made to dig out the gold and is to stand atop a tottery grave marker and fixes the noose around his neck, binding Tuco’s hands before riding off with his share of the gold. As Tuco screams for mercy, Blondie’s silhouette returns on the horizon, aiming a rifle at him. Blondie fires a single shot and severs the noose rope, dropping Tuco face-first onto his share of the gold with no horse to make his way out. As the movie ends Tuco swears at Blondie, who rides off.
6.5, 8 & 9.5 for the movies respectively.