Lee Van Cleef as Douglas Mortimer, taciturn Old West bounty hunter and former U.S. Army Colonel
El Paso, Fall 1873
Film: For a Few Dollars More
Release Date: November 18, 1965
Director: Sergio Leone
Costume Designer: Carlo Simi
Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty hunters appeared.
…is how For a Few Dollars More introduces itself after blazing onto the screen, underlined by yet another iconic Ennio Morricone score. Clint Eastwood returns to the Sergio Leone spaghetti western scene as one of these bounty hunters, a laconic loner referred to only as “Manco”. While his dress and demeanor would imply that this was the same character he portrayed in A Fistful of Dollars the previous year, a lawsuit actually prevented Leone from using Eastwood’s “Joe” character from that film. Thus, the “Man with No Name” was born more out of legal necessity than artistic intention.
Manco is surprised to find himself facing off against a rival bounty hunter, described as having “once been a great man… a soldier”. Indeed, Colonel Douglas Mortimer had risen far in the ranks of the U.S. Army before family tragedy struck. The sole focus of Colonel Mortimer’s life has become vengeance for his sister, who took her own life after she was ravaged by the drug-addicted psychopath El Indio. While Mortimer certainly carries out the tasks of a bounty hunter – quite effectively, too – it is his personal mission that drives him more than the promise of a reward. After an entertainingly ridiculous showdown in the street, Manco and Mortimer decide their efforts would be better spent joining forces.
Lee Van Cleef was no stranger to the Western genre as his first film role was as Jack Colby, one of the gunslinging gang members that takes on Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in High Noon. Thirteen years later, Van Cleef was a familiar face to fans of Westerns and crime flicks, but he had yet to land a major part other than a singularly-named flunky. After Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and Lee Marvin had all passed on the role for various reasons, Leone turned to the reliable Van Cleef. In what must have been a very fortuitous discovery for Van Cleef, the actor assumed he would be filming a few scenes as usual and was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was actually the co-star.
The success of For a Few Dollars More had many critics taking notice of Van Cleef’s tough but sympathetic portrayal of Colonel Mortimer, finally breaking him out from more than a decade of small but dependable performances. Leone cast him as “The Bad” in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, released the next year and often considered to be one of the greatest Westerns of all time.
What’d He Wear?
Colonel Mortimer’s dark outfit nicely complements his Stygian task. He alights from the train in Tucumcari (which wasn’t founded until 1901 and wasn’t named until seven years later) wearing a black wool Ulster coat over his ensemble. Mortimer’s coat extends down past his knees with a long over-cape around his shoulders that flaps over the double-breasted front. A single set of five cloth-covered buttons run down each side of the chest.
A true Ulster is a coat with both sleeves and a cape, dating back to the early 1800s and popular among Old West figures like lawman Charlie Siringo. The Ulster has been erroneously confused with the Inverness, which lacks the sleeves of the Ulster and is technically a much simpler garment consisting only of armholes connected to a cape. Although Arthur Conan Doyle often described Sherlock Holmes as wearing an Ulster, contemporary illustrations usually depicted the detective in an Inverness cape… as well as a deerstalker cap that was never specifically mentioned in any of Doyle’s original stories.
Mortimer wears his Badass Longcoat during most of his time in Tucumcari, but he ditches it for the majority of his adventures with and against Manco. Beneath the Ulster, Colonel Mortimer wears a black frock coat, brocade vest, and wide necktie.
Mortimer’s black wool frock coat is single-breasted, as opposed to the more formal “Prince Albert” double-breasted coat, with two covered buttons at the waist. Mortimer’s frock coat has moderately wide fishmouth-style notch lapels.
As a simpler man in a more rugged setting, Mortimer wears a no-frills frock coat with 2-button plain cuffs that lack the popular “turnback” sleeves often found on coats of the era. Like those on the front and back of the coat, these buttons are covered in the same cloth.
The waist is pulled in with an excessively flared skirt that extends down to his hips. Outer pockets were not common on early frock coats, but Mortimer has two large straight flaps on the waist that would indicate pockets.
Mortimer’s brown wool trousers have a flat front with belt loops. His trouser belt is brown leather with a square brass single-claw buckle. The trousers appear to be totally devoid of outer pockets, although it is possible that they have straight front pockets that are concealed by his gun belt or waistcoat. There are almost definitely no rear pockets. Mortimer tucks the bottoms into his boots.
Thanks to Hollywood, we know that brocade vests must have been the waistcoat of choice for well-dressed gentlemen in the Old West. Mortimer wears a flashy black garment with a paisley floral gold motif throughout. It is double-breasted with slim shawl lapels, a flat bottom, and a tight 6-on-3 button layout on a tapering “V”-shaped front panel. Like the coats, all of the vest buttons are covered in the same fabric. The vest has two welted pockets. The back lining of the vest is blue-gray silk with an adjustable strap.
Mortimer keeps the plot-driving gold watch in the vest’s right pocket, slung across his abdomen with a gold chain that connects to his left pocket.
Colonel Mortimer wears a light gray flannel shirt that reveals a subtle herringbone pattern when seen in close-ups. The excessive sweat and sand that are inevitably part of Mortimer’s Southwest travels often dirty up his shirt to give it a tan appearance in some light.
Mortimer fastens the squared cuffs of his shirt with large flat links of dulled brass.
Under the large spread collar of his shirt, Mortimer wears a black wool necktie, tied with an excessively large knot. A pearl stickpin through the top of the excessively large knot keeps it in place. (Does anyone know what this type of knot is called? The closest definition I could find was “scrunchie cravat” which just doesn’t seem that accurate to me…)
Mortimer also spends the entire movie wearing his same tall black leather knee-high riding boots. The boots are relatively plain with plain toes and no excessive decorative stitching other than the simple curved “crown” above the counter and up around the tongue, separating the lower instep from the upper shaft. The collar is straight around the calves with no pull straps, although a small patch can be seen that looks like the pull straps have been torn off.
The rest of Mortimer’s accessories and gear are also black. He wears a black 10X fur felt hat – which I’ve heard may have been a genuine Stetson – with a thin black grosgrain ribbon, low crown, and low edge-curled 5″ brim.
Mortimer’s plain black gun belt has cartridge loops along the right side and center with a steel-lined holster rig for his long-barreled Colt Buntline Special. The rig is worn on the left side for a right-hand cross draw.
Replicas of Colonel Mortimer’s hat and gun belt can be ordered from this site for $250 and $500, respectively.
Go Big or Go Home
Colonel Douglas Mortimer smokes and drinks just as much as you’d expect from any Old West badass. He downs many shots of whiskey both by himself and after teaming up with Manco, and his distinctive Peterson Meerschaum pipe provides a definitive character moment in the opening scene.
Though he has a fairly laconic demeanor, Mortimer doesn’t display any of the excessive braggadocio of the younger Manco. Mortimer is more experienced and far more patient bounty hunter who will take the time needed to act appropriately rather than acting quickly and rashly and hoping everything works out. His pragmatism and purpose make him – in my opinion – a better and more watchable character than the Clint’s considerably one-dimensional “Man with No Name”.
One of my favorite scenes in any Western occurs early in For a Few Dollars More after Colonel Mortimer arrives in Tucumcari hot on the heels of escaped outlaw Guy Calloway. Although Calloway is a reckless wild man, Mortimer is able to calculate the moves necessary to trap him and shoot him down in the street.
Unlike Manco, who would fire a few shots from the hip without even blinking as cheroot smoke wafts into his eyes, Mortimer approaches the situation realistically and efficiently. When cornering Calloway in his hotel room didn’t work – as he expected it may not have – he followed the fugitive down to the street, carefully but quickly selected and assembled the appropriate weapon needed to bring him down… and then did so.
How to Get the Look
This look doesn’t fit in as well on a 2015 street as it may have 140 years ago, but it’s still a classic look from an iconic Western character… certainly appropriate for any upcoming costume parties.
- Black wool single-breasted frock coat with fishmouth notch lapels, 2-button front, straight flapped hip pockets, plain 2-button cuffs, and decorative 2-button back over split vents
- Black-and-gold floral paisley double-breasted brocade vest with slim shawl lapels, 6×3 “V”-shaped button front, and welted pockets
- Brown wool flat front trousers with belt loops and no outer pockets
- Brown leather belt with squared brass single-claw buckle
- Light gray herringbone flannel shirt with large spread collar, plain front, and squared single cuffs
- Black wool large-knotted necktie
- Pearl tiepin on a silver star backing
- Large flat brass cuff links
- Gold pocket watch on a gold chain
- Black plain leather knee-high riding boots
- Black leather cross-draw gun belt with steel-lined SAA holster and cartridge loops
- Black fur felt wide-brimmed Stetson hat with 1″-wide black grosgrain ribbon
- Black wool ankle-length Ulster coat with shoulder cape, 10×5-button double-breasted front, and sleeves with plain 2-button cuffs
“Beware the man with only one gun,” is the old mantra, but Colonel Mortimer gives his enemies plenty of reasons to beware despite the multitude of firearms he carries in his saddle bag. Film lore also has it that Lee Van Cleef was a quicker draw than Clint Eastwood, needing only 1/8 of a second – or three frames of film – to draw, cock, and fire his single action revolvers.
Mortimer’s holstered revolver is a Colt Buntline Special, the legendary long-barreled variant of Colt’s venerable Single Action Army that Stuart Lake falsely described as Wyatt Earp’s preferred sidearm in his 1931 fictionalized biography of the lawman. Earp’s Buntline was meant to have a 12″ barrel, but Mortimer’s model is a Uberti replica with a 10″ barrel, supposedly more practical for carrying in a hip holster. (Spoiler alert: no 10″-barreled weapon is at all practical for any holster.)
It is this 10″-barreled Buntline Special that Mortimer patiently affixes a shoulder stock onto before shooting down Guy Calloway in the dusty streets of Tucumcari. Another Buntline Special – this one with a wildly long 18″ barrel – is spotted in Mortimer’s saddle bag.
Also seen in Mortimer’s saddle bag is a Winchester Model 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine, a Colt Lightning rifle, and a classic double-barreled shotgun with exposed hammers. Mortimer uses the lever-action Winchester to shoot Calloway’s horse during the oft-described Tucumcari scene.
The Colt Lightning is an interesting rifle, using a slide-action as commonly seen on modern pump shotguns. Initially chambered for the .44-40 Winchester centerfire round, ubiquitous in the Old West, it was later blown out to three different frames to accommodate cartridges ranging from the diminutive .22 Short up to the big game-killing .50-95 Express. Up to fifteen rounds fit in the rifle’s under-barrel tubular magazine, with eight rounds loaded into the shorter-barreled Carbine model. Production only lasted twenty years with no major adoption outside of the San Francisco PD*, as the slide-action Colt Lightning never matched the success of Winchester’s massively popular lever-action rifles.
* The SFPD actually adopted a .44-40 variant of the Colt Lightning, providing an interesting (but tenuous) connection to Clint Eastwood’s famous .44 Magnum-carrying SFPD inspector.
Both the Winchester ’92 and the Colt Lightning are anachronistic for the supposed 1870s setting, as the Colt Lightning was developed in 1884 and the Winchester Model 1892 was introduced in… well, I’m sure you can figure that one out.
Of course, as “the man with many guns”, Mortimer has one more trick up his sleeve. One of El Indio’s lackeys is unpleasantly surprised by a .41-caliber round from the blued Remington Model 95 Double Derringer hidden inside Mortimer’s coat cuff. It was likely this mechanism that inspired Quentin Tarantino’s bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to carry a similar device in 2012’s Django Unchained. The Remington Model 95 is instantly recognizable for its over-under barrel, spur trigger, and bird’s head grip.
(For trivia’s sake, IMFDB informs us that all weapons seen in For a Few Dollars More were supplied by the Italian firm Aldo Uberti, Inc. Uberti is now known for producing quality reproductions of revolvers and rifles from the Old West era, spanning from the Colt Walker in 1847 through the Winchester 1885 “High Wall” falling-block rifle.)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
When two hunters go after the same prey, they usually end up shooting each other in the back. And we don’t want to shoot each other in the back.
Thanks to blog commenter Roman for suggesting two years ago that I write about Colonel Mortimer and his attire. Better late than never!