For a Few Dollars More: Sound & Look
Ennio Morricone's beautiful score for A Fistful of Dollars had still been a rather independent piece of work, detached from what happened on the screen. For the second Dollar movie, some of the natural sounds, in particular the chimes of the pocket watches, are embedded in the score. Leone and Morricone would develop this interplay between image and music even further in their further collaborations; in the score for Once Upon a Time in the West the principal characters would all get their distinctive musical theme; furthermore Leone would attune some of the imagery to Morricone's score that was played on the set.
In For a few Dollars More some themes still feel a little detached from what's happening on-screen, but Morricone's revolutionary idea works marvelously in those moments when the score is embodied within the narrative. The characters are linked to each other with the help of the pocket watches and to the watches also function as links between present and past: the sound of chimes brings back memories of the fatal moment of the rape and the suicide to both Colonel Mortimer and Indio.
The score is highlighted by a title called la resa dei conti, meaning the settling of the scores, that is used twice, in slightly different versions. The first time it is played over the massacre of the traitor's family (El Indio settling his scores with him), the second time it's used during the film's conclusion, the shootout between Colonel Mortimer and El Indio (the Colonel settling the scores with El Indio). The first scene is set in a church, the second in a pseudo Roman arena, and the difference between the two settings is underlined by the different arrangements of the two versions, an solemn organ for the scene in the church, a more predominant trumpet for the scene set in the arena.
Although working with a bigger budget this time, Leone was still unable to shoot (part of) his film in the Real West. Leone therefore asked costume designer and set decorator Carlo Simi to build a western town in the middle of nowhere. In his trademark commanding way, Leone told Simi that it should be 'the finest western town in the world'. Simi had little or no money, but out of misery a miracle was born: the town of El Paso. In an interview he gave in 1998, two years before his death, Simi told Christopher Frayling that they originally planned to build the western town near Madrid. It was snowing when they were there so they moved further South, to Almeria. The new location also had the advantage that it resembled New-Mexico or Arizona. The town was built near Tabernas, around a massive bank, with vistas of the desert and the sierras visible between the various buildings. Simi declared:
"Since the town was called El Paso, I wanted to get away from the traditional bank in the main street (...) instead I designed an old Spanish fortress with parts of the building destroyed. It looked like a prison, a treasure house and a fortress all at the same time."
The set was used for other movies as well and the 'bank of El Paso' would become one of most characteristic buildings of the genre: when you see the bank of El Paso, you know you're in the West created by Sergio Leone and Carlo Simi. The set still exists today, as a tourist attraction called "Mini Hollywood".
Agua Caliente (Hot Water) was an existing Andalusian village called Los Albaricoques (The Apricots), Tucumcari a redesigned version of a set previously used for A Fistful of Dollars. Another famous location was Cortijo de Fraile. Simi declared in the interview:
"We also used an abandoned monastery called Cortijo de Fraile and a deconsecrated church which was enhanced with baroque elements by a Spanish painter and ornamented with cherubs, angels and twisted columns to make it look like a model of St. Peter's basilica in Rome."
In Albaricoques Simi was asked by Leone to build a small arena with stones in a circle. According to Simi these circles were a special weakness of the director:
"I was always too discreet to ask why this meant so much to him. It was as if it reminded him of something (...) When The Good, the Bad & the Ugly was filmed, the same thing happened with the scene in the cemetery: "Carlo, can you make an arena for me, with the stones around it positioned in a circle. It must be a circle." I was never able to bring myself to ask him why he always wanted an arena."
The whitewashed villages, the Bank of El Paso created by Carlo Simi, the dark complexion of the Mediterranean extras, the Almeria desert, the stones in a circle, the apricots and palm trees - they all contributed to a unique vision of the West as a scorching place of dusty ghost towns. When Leone went to America to shoot in the real West, Hollywood went to Spain to imitate his version of it.
- Many thanks to Ray Watts
- The quotes are taken from: Christopher Frayling, Once Upon a Time in Italy, London, 2005, p. 123-132