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#182. Money in the West

What drives a society? For the most part, the rise and fall of an economy can herald eras of prosperity or poverty. Therefore, it is the almighty dollar that drives society. It’s why we have jobs and dream of one day having enough money to retire comfortably. Of course, as time progresses, patience decreases. We want money, we want a lot of it, and we want it now. The rise in credit card debt shows this to be true for many of us. However, a century or two ago, we still had the same desire for money. In the Old West, money was the law. Because of the allure of bounties, gold mines, and robberies, the trend of the time was to get a lot of money all at once. Today, we still play the lottery for this dream to come true. This week’s two films examine how money was a factor in Old West economics.

For a Few Dollars MoreFor a Few Dollars more
Year: 1965
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Lawmen had a difficult time in the West. It’s easy to uphold the law when everyone obeys it, but when nobody does, the task of keeping the peace can be insurmountable. That is, unless you have some money to spend. For every criminal who commits a crime, a bounty can be put on their head. The bounty will correlate to the severity of the crime, which will help bring vigilante lawmen out of the woodwork to collect a hefty sum on receipt of a deadly outlaw. Of course, there is an amount of risk involved, as the higher bounties are generally reserved for the more dangerous criminals. But if you are sure in your gun-slinging skills, there is little to worry about. For a Few Dollars More is a great example of a bounty-collecting film, rivaled only by the 2012 Best Picture nominee, Django Unchained.

El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté) and his gang are out to strike it rich by stealing a safe from the Bank of El Paso. This safe is rumored to have roughly a million dollars inside, which is more than enough money for the notorious gang to fund their wild lifestyle. While a Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) has helped them to pull off the heist, they need the help of Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) to get the safe open. What they do not realize is that both men are in cahoots, bounty hunters out to collect the amount placed on Indio and the members of his gang: a total reaching close to $30,000. Even though the Man with No Name’s reason to collect the bounty is just to get some quick cash, Mortimer is actually out to avenge his sister, who shot herself during her brief and unwelcome encounter with Indio.

The Kid BrotherThe Kid Brother
Year: 1927
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 82 minutes / 1.36 hours

While bounties can help to bring in criminals, it still doesn’t prevent the large amount of lawlessness in the Old West. With the bad far outweighing the good, things can get ugly. Respectable citizens often have to watch their backs (and their pockets) for murderers and thieves. Because such large sums of money are used in the West, the temptation for some to steal these sums is high enough that they will do whatever it takes to strike it rich. Of course, considering the alternatives of digging in a dangerous mine or facing off against dangerous men, a simple theft is often the much saner choice. The one drawback is that, if one robs a large enough sum from powerful enough people; they’ll soon get to know the life of a wanted man as a bounty will almost undoubtedly be placed on their head. However, for some reason, Old West robberies tend to be rife with comedic situations.

In the Old West, strength can go a long way. This is why the sheriff of Hickoryville, Jim Hickory (Walter James), is proud of his two eldest sons, Leo (Leo Willis) and Olin (Olin Francis). These manly men are in sharp contrast to his youngest son, Harold (Harold Lloyd), who is weak and easily manipulated. Because of these traits, Harold is tricked by Mary Powers (Jobyna Ralston), a beautiful woman who brings a banned medicine show into town. Even though Harold is told by his father to shut the show down, he ends up being the comic foil for “Flash” Farrell (Eddie Boland). The town soon rises into an uproar when they learn that public money given to the Hickorys has gone missing. Having stolen the money, Flash is soon confronted by the weak Harold, who manages to use his wits to get the money back and win the heart of Mary in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 money movies

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One response to “#182. Money in the West

  1. Pingback: End of Act Four | Cinema Connections

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