There's a man on this train carriage reading the Bible, but he's not a reverend as one of his fellow passengers seems to think. He also believes that the train stops at a town which it is meant to be passing straight through, but Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), for it is he, has other ideas and pulls the communication chord, bringing the locomotive to a halt and promptly walking off with his horse. The guard protests, then catches the steely look in the man's eyes and thinks better of it, leaving Mortimer to inquire of the ticket clerk about the criminal he is seeking - he's a bounty hunter, after all...
And he's not the only bounty hunter in this film, for who is that hoving into view? That's right, Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, here called Monco (sounds like a name to me), in the hit follow up to director Sergio Leone's previous, groundbreaking Spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dolllars. Rumour had it that Leone did not want to make a sequel after falling out with his employers on his first Western, so fashioned something just different enough to make this fresh, with terrific consequences: if anything, moviegoers liked this one even more, and it was a more accomplished work, with a wider scope and more epic feel.
Knowing that Leone was to get yet more epic still should not diminish this effort, however, as it is highly entertaining as a stepping stone to the director's most popular works. Nevertheless, it stands on its own, no matter how many try to link the plots of his Dollars trilogy together, a futile task as while they share strong affinities, each of the three instalments was in and of itself peculiar to whatever story they were presenting. Here Eastwood returned, hot off the success Leone had guided him to, and so did Gian Maria Volontè, again playing the villain, though a more soulful, deeper characterised one than before; there's something almost noble about Indio as he is haunted by an incident in his past, though there is nothing noble about what he did.
He is literally being haunted by the Colonel, who has reasons other than cold, hard cash for hunting him down to claim the price on his head. Van Cleef had been working steadily as a second string bad guy for over a decade when he got the call from Italy to make this film, and while he had recently been in television his career was not exactly flourishing. However, once he appeared in this, it was if a generation of movie audiences asked, where has this guy been all our lives? He was a revelation here, enigmatic, slyly humorous, suggestive of hidden depths and most of all tough and resilient, so effective in fact that Van Cleef became an international star in his own right. Although it takes almost half the movie for the characters to meet, he and Eastwood were ideal partners in productions such as these, and it's a pity they only made two films together.
But what films! There had been so-called "Adult Westerns" in the fifties, with Leone particularly influenced by the Anthony Mann series of that decade, but they really were for mature-minded grownups, and there was something about the Dollars Trilogy that spoke both to the men and the little boys who they had once been. Look at Monco and Mortimer's first encounter where they shoot at each other's hats: it's very funny, but childishly so to see these two grown men acting like little kids, and even the actual little kids watching note this. It was as if these movies made the viewer recall what it was like to play cowboys, making those two activities of shooting and smoking (watch how Van Cleef lights a match on hunchback Klaus Kinski's hump!) look as cool as they would to a young boy. And yet, there were themes of vengeance and how everything is reduced to money that would be understood best by the adults - here was a Western that, whether by accident or design, had broad appeal, at times hilarious and others inspiring, and Ennio Morricone's music bolstered that mythic quality which would only be built upon for the next film.