Tuesday, 8 July 2014
Character Profile: Douglas Mortimer
When discussing Leone's wonderful "Dollars Trilogy" the obvious character to discuss is Clint Eastwood's role as the memorable anti-hero we've come to know and love as "The Man With No Name", but instead I've decided to shift focus to a slightly different character. When discussing Lee Van Cleef's performances in these films, the obvious choice to bring up is the ruthless villain Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but let's look instead at his role in the second installment of the series: For a Few Dollars More.
This is certainly a film that likes to mess with your expectations and there is no clearer example than the Lee Van Cleef's performance of Douglas Mortimer. From the moment we first see him you'd be forgiven for assuming he was going to be the main villain. The fact that he has a habit of dressing in all black doesn't help, but the first thing we see him do is force a train to make an unscheduled stop just so he can get off.
It isn't a very pleasant thing to do, but if you pay attention he never actually causes any serious harm. He never forces anyone at gunpoint or resort to any drastic measures. He simply pulls the emergency break and gets off as soon as the train stops. It's small but it is a little clue that he is not who he initially seems.
Once in town the man is ruthless. He forces a man into revealing information about an outlaw's whereabouts and proceeds to gun him down in the street. He makes plans to track down other outlaws and is especially entranced by a wanted poster for the film's real villain, El Indio and the money offered for him dead or alive.
In the town of El Paso there are hints that he's in league with Indio, with him apparently understanding their plans to rob a highly fortified bank. In fact at the same time as the bad guys are counting the seconds it takes for the security patrol to complete one move around the building he is making the same observations. He seems like a cold-blooded killer desiring nothing but money, right? Wrong.
As we eventually discover, Mortimer may in fact by the most honest man in the film, and the closest person to having a truly noble cause. Once the plot starts to get going, he gets his first confrontation with Manco (the nickname given to Clint Eastwood's character in this film). During this confrontation they quickly prove to each other that they are both a force to be reckoned with (hey, it takes a lot of nerve to be able to hold your own in a gunfight against the Man With No Name) and become what might be considered worthy opponents.
They get pretty friendly with each other, having a drink and sharing information, but one gets the sense Mortimer is an experienced man. He says he's around 50 years old and it's implied he has been working as a bounty hunter for some time. He knows the job inside and out and already knows ahead of time the risks he's about to face and the best way to minimize them. This creates a sharp contrast to our hero, who is much younger and a lot more aggressive.
The partnership between Manco and Mortimer is one that becomes very strenuous, and is really only solidified when circumstances necessitate the two to work together when they're both living among Indio's gang (after all, they can trust each other a lot more than anyone else in their immediate vicinity). However, one thing you may notice is that while Manco tries to get out of it several times and even makes attempts to double-cross his partner, Mortimer always sticks to it. He remains loyal to his comrade and never shows any indication to the contrary.
In the end, Mortimer even shows his respect for Manco by allowing him to keep the reward for Indio himself, his gang, and returning the money they stole. However, this is not simply a generous move on his part but because his reasons for going after Indio were far more personal. As it turns out, Indio murdered his sister's lover and then raped her, which led to her committing suicide.
At first it seems Mortimer is just a cold-blooded scoundrel interested in money, but that ultimately had nothing to do with it. The whole reason he was so keen to get Indio was because he was rightfully angry with the man and wanted revenge. He's not doing it for himself, but for the sister he presumably loved dearly. Contrast with Manco's clearly money-centric incentive, and suddenly he seems a far more noble man.
Of course, given this is a Leone western you can hardly expect Mortimer to be a perfect human being. He is still a bounty hunter who kills without remorse, but in the long run, he is the closest person the film has to an honest man. He has a moral code and he sticks to it, and while he may be a killer his motivations extend far beyond a mere desire for a few dollars more.