Mild-mannered midwestern bank teller Bill (Lando Buzzanca) is petrified his boss will discover he skimmed two-hundred dollars from the vault. So, wearing a sombrero and poncho just like a certain iconic spaghetti western star, he rides off to see his cousin Frank (Raimondo Vianello), a black-clad, greying, gadget-laden huckster dressed like another iconic spaghetti western star. Cousin Frank hits on the idea of Bill pretending to be an outlaw, faking an array of dastardly deeds to rack up a huge reward for his capture they can then collect. But Bill quickly discovers it is not so easy being bad.
This spaghetti western spoof was scripted by the usually grimly serious Euro-western specialist Sergio Corbucci along with his brother Bruno Corbucci, and is about as funny as Django (1966) or The Great Silence (1968). Which is to say, not much. Spaghetti western fans, particularly Anglo-American enthusiasts, can seem an oddly dour bunch disdainful as so many are of any film from their favourite genre featuring all but the very blackest of humour. Take for example the cryptic disdain leveled at the comic westerns of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, typified by They Call Me Trinity (1970) that were otherwise popular with audiences. On the other hand the antipathy towards For a Few Dollars Less is entirely understandable given this snail-paced farce is a laugh-free zone.
As is obvious from the title, Sergio Leone's seminal spaghetti westerns were the chief target here what with Bill and Frank sporting the same outfits worn by Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. However, Corbucci includes a throwaway gag referencing his own Django when Bill drags a coffin across town that turns out to hold not a machine-gun but his very alive girlfriend Jane (Valeria Ciangottini) for no particular reason other than supposed hilarity. That sums up the film's style of humour which is of the 'remember that bit in that other far better movie' variety, ditching satire or even parody per se for the laziest form of referencing. In that sense For a Few Dollars Less stands as a precursor to such latter-day inane spoofs as Epic Movie (2007), Superhero Movie (2008) or Vampires Suck (2010).
The tragic thing is at its heart lies a good idea, sloppily executed. The central gag is that would-be outlaw Bill is so fey and inept he bungles every crime. He is outfoxed by a wily old man he tries to rob, fails to menace a girl who proves much stronger than him (they end up making out), fails to rob a bank before it's closing time but eventually fakes a murder. This lands Bill in jail, sharing a cell with a drug-addled Gian Maria Volonté substitute (Elio Pandolfi) who unexpectedly drags him into a jailbreak. Whereupon the plot grows rather weird. It turns out Bill's new Mexican friend is 'under a magic spell' that makes him an amnesiac. After celebrating their escape together with a lengthy dance sequence with a sultry señorita (Gloria Paul), the bandito turns violent. He happens to favour a music box as a gimmick for his duels, leading to a For a Few Dollars More (1965) reference as the tune triggers a memory for Frank about the kidnap of his cherished pig.