directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Klaus Kinski and Aldo Sambrell
Following up on the success of A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone brought back Eastwood and little known actor Lee Van Cleef out of retirement to work on his second spaghetti western. Gian Maria Volonte, Maria Brega, and Aldo Sambrell, all holdovers from the first movie, reunite as well. Would Van Cleef and Eastwood sharing screen time make for great entertainment?
Two bounty hunters, Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Van Cleef) and Manco (Eastwood), arrive in the lawless towns of Tucumcari and White Rocks respectively, where bounties are a plenty for the hard working man. Mortimer discovers Guy Gallaway has a price on his head and currently shacked up in Tucumcari. Manco finds an equally unsavory character by the name of Cavanaugh and a sheriff who does nothing about it. After easily disposing of the creepy looking Gallaway (he's got a face only a mother could love) Mortimer arrives too late to take Cavanaugh. Manco shows some interesting Oriental fighting prowess and a lightning quick gun against Cavanaugh and his gang. While this has transpired the vile Mexican bandit El Indio (played to perfection by Volonte) broke out of prison with the help of his murderess gang. In a well scripted scene involving an amazing score by Ennio Morricone, Indio duels a former amigo preceded by the execution of the man's wife and infant son.
When reunited with several more of his bandit amigos, including veteran genre actor Luigi Pistilli, Indio reveals that he wants to knock over the bank in El Paso, it being a virtual fort with thick walls and several guards patrolling the outside and stationed on the inside. When several gang members arrive in town to gather intelligence, Mortimer sees his chance to have some fun with Wild the hunchback (Kinski) by striking a match on his hump. He knows they won't try and cause any problems while planning this heist. Manco visits a crazy old prophet (played by the late Joseph Egger) who fills him in on the identity of the other bounty hunter. Realizing that this may cut into his profits he tries to get rid of Mortimer with some nicely crafted gun play involving hats. Having decided that they cannot get rid of each other, amicably they unite and plan to take the gang on together.
Manco draws the short straw to join the gang and is charged with breaking out one last member of the gang in order to gain Indio's trust. Manco is sent with three others to Santa Cruz as a diversion while Indio goes after his prize in El Paso. He eliminates the three and gets to Santa Cruz and has a false emergency telegraph sent regarding the bank being robbed. The alarm being sent to El Paso, the town's lawmen are not there when Indio rides in and brazenly blasts open the bank and rides off with the safe. The bounty hunters ride off in pursuit and they keep their plan as the reward for the gang has gone up considerably now. Manco and Indio ride to Aqua Caliente (translated to the aptly named Hot Water) where the decision is made to hide out with the stolen safe. There Mortimer is waiting and he and Wild complete their unfinished business.
Mortimer afterwards offers his services to Indio by opening the safe without blowing it up. With both of them in Indio's good graces they try to steal the money but are ruthlessly beaten when they are caught. Soon after the already unstable Indio becomes completely unhinged and decides he wants to get his gang killed off so he doesn't have to share the money. He also has the bounty hunters released and hopes to witness the destruction of both groups. Following several gun battles with the gang, all that remains are Mortimer, Manco and Indio. Indio draws Mortimer into an unfair duel (Mortimer's gun lays on the ground while Indio is armed) but Manco arrives to make sure the duel is fair. Indio's drug induced haze is no match for the lightning speed of the Colonel. With the gang wiped out, the true nature of wanting Indio dead is revealed. In a bit of a nod to the American western Mortimer rides off into the sunset while Manco collects the dead to collect on their bounties.
Leone's second western is filled with tension, shoot outs, bits of humor, and absolutely stunning landscapes. Morricone's score provides some of the best background, while being overlooked by the more popular The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The scenes involving the pocket watch's music are simply amazing and yes, it is stating the obvious. Lee Van Cleef, only recently out of retirement, plays one of the best western characters and it wasn't even written with him in mind originally (Lee Marvin, Henry Fonda, and Charles Bronson all passed on the role). He is the man in black (sorry, Johnny Cash), and thankfully Leone took a chance on someone who impressed him over 10 years earlier in various American westerns. Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name (but he does have one) is back and slightly more compassionate but still remains the stranger who shoots first and never asks questions later.
From start to finish this movie does not allow the viewer to rest and it remains the pinnacle of the genre for me. Also, I am pleased that MGM has released this on Special Edition DVD in both region 1 and region 2 PAL formats (I own the latter as it was released first). The picture, audio and extras are first rate and worthy of this classic spaghetti western.