Lee Van Cleef did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Colonel Douglas Mortimer in For A Few Dollars More.
Lee Van Cleef portrays Colonel Mortimer the other bounty hunter who I consider lead with Eastwood as the film at first follows both their exploits separately but equally, and after they team up they both stay important to the story. Van Cleef's Mortimer perhaps is even more important due to the fact the film tells anything about the past of his character something that is left as a complete mystery in regards to Eastwood's Manco. Lee Van Cleef before appearing in this film was in a few westerns, notable ones even like High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but in both of those films despite having a given name his characters were no more than thug number two. Here though Cleef honestly has a role, and is given the chance to shine as an actor.
Lee Van Cleef is actually the first of the two actors to appear, and for me makes an even greater impression than Eastwood does. Both are shown on a job as a bounty hunter basically just to show us how much of a badass each of the characters are. Lee Van Cleef is even better than Eastwood at being one here, and Eastwood might as well as the badass king. Van Cleef is cool and collected in the film, showing the ease of his character's ability to kill. In the first scene of him going after a man Van Cleef shows that Mortimer moves through to his job with an ease, and unquestionable confidence. It is an absolutely earned confidence by Van Cleef, there is not a moment where Mortimer seems pompous, Van Cleef makes it clear that Mortimer is just simply that good.
It simply is just enjoyable to watch Lee Van Cleef as Mortimer maneuver his way through eventually dealing with the group of bank robbers. Cleef makes a particular sort of hero here with his firm precise method of walking, his always squinting eyes that seems to see through anything, and ease he seems to show in any situation. Really when he is not talking to Manco Mortimer says very little, but Cleef again speaks only with precision and just the right degree of gentlemanly demeanor that suggests his past as a proper soldier. There is a bit humor, and always a quiet power in Van Cleef's portrayal that makes everything that the colonel does believable. Even when he does something that no sane man would do such as lighting a match on Klaus Kinski, I doubt even Werner Herzog would do that, is made convincing through Van Cleef's steadfast performance.
Now although Lee Van Cleef is very consistent with his performance as the strong willed Mortimer there are little indications throughout the film that show that Mortimer may be in the fight for more reasons that just the money. These are relatively small moments for most of the film, but Van Cleef portrays each of them marvelously. Lee Van Cleef of course does not really show that there is any sort of weakness in Mortimer, the strength and cunning of the character really are his primary trait. He does not show that there is more to the man that just being a professional killer. It is quite well hidden pain, but Van Cleef lets in just enough that there is something that haunts him over something that he has lost in his past.
The very best moment of his performance comes in the very best part of any Sergio Leone western which is the final duel which is in this film is between Mortimer and Indio. Before this moment Van Cleef subtly suggested through glances in Mortimer's earlier scenes with Indio that there was something more, but here it really comes out as a deadly want of vengeance. Van Cleef is amazing here because it is not just anger in his eyes as he looks at Indio as they prepare to kill one another, but there is a sadness in his eyes as well. This is not a sadness over the fact that he possibly could be killed, but rather Van Cleef effectively shows it to be the feelings over his past devastation over the death of his sister which Indio caused. He does not make it as a debilitating factor though, but instead makes it as the driving factor in his will to win the duel. Although this is not the type of performance usually associated with great acting, but it simply is nevertheless. It is a performance of quiet simplicity, and in this simplicity is where the incredible strength of this performance lies.