A hard-hitting western with upper-case values out of the busy Italo stable, this is a topnotch action entry.
Story [by director Sergio Leone and Fulvio Morsella] deals with a race between two bounty killers (Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef) for reward money riding on head of a bandit (Gian Maria Volonte). First separately, then via a somewhat shaky and untrusting allegiance, the pair manage to set the stage for the killing of the bandido, El Indio. In the finale, it turns out that Van Cleef’s real reason for getting El Indio was not the coin involved.
Script generally manages to avoid the cliche pitfalls traditional to the western, and Luciano Vincenzoni’s dialogue is literate and satisfying to the ear. But it’s principally thanks to Leone’s bigger-than-life style, which combines upfront action and closeup details with a hard-hitting pace, that this acquires its impactful dimension.
Eastwood is fine in a tailor-made role of the squint-eyed opportunist who plays his cards right. Van Cleef etches a neat picture of his partner-rival. Volonte makes a suitably villainous heavy (for an added fillip, script makes him a drug addict to boot).
Spanish countryside and Italo studio interiors combine for realistic southwestern effect. Ennio Morricone’s music, without measuring up to his previous efforts in the oater belt, is nevertheless pleasing. Pic is somewhat overlong at 130 minutes.
[Version reviewed was Italian-language one. English-dubbed version was released in US in 1967 and UK in 1968.]