The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966 Italy)

Proof that the simplest ideas are the best ones. The plot is fairly simple: three men try to reach a buried fortune of Army gold coins while the American Civil War erupts around them. The story is even simpler and yet the audience gets wrapped around in it and those 180 minutes just seem to whip by so fast that when it does end, we’re craving for more. The film is also evidence that the Western cannot be a dying genre, for this landmark film from Italian director Sergio Leone has aged like wine. Time has done nothing to varnish its style and authority. Spaghetti Westerns, which are low in budget and oftentimes flamboyant and over-the-top, can be art too. I urge women to give this a watch too. It will put hairs on their chest. Its hypnotic. It’s operatic. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s gritty. Its the Psycho of Westerns.

This was the third and final time that Clint Eastwood worked with Sergio Leone. He returns again as the mysterious Man with No Name: a cigar-chugging bounty hunter quick on the draw and minimal in emotions. Here is the pinnacle of the vintage Eastwood as an actor, where he could manufacture a character by doing little other than squinting and hissing some sparse dialogue. The Good The Bad And The Ugly also features Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, a mercenary/bounty hunter/Army colonel, the exact opposite of the warm-hearted character he played in the previous “For a Few Dollars More.” The stylish man in black can always be relied on to lift any western. And oddly enough, even though Eastwood gets top billing, he is overshadowed by Tuco, played with outstanding charisma and sharp energy by Eli Wallach.

Wallach had played bad guys and anti-heroes before, but here as the bumbling, deliberately comical, greedy, self-centered, and yet somehow likable and personable Tuco, he steals the show. These three men change partnerships with each other, whenever it seems convenient and when it brings them closer to the 200,000 dollars in stolen coins. These three characters are the foundation column holding this film’s roof up. Sergio Leone was very much the David Lean of Italy. He could set up beautiful landscape shots and cinematography tricks like few others could. That’s part of the reason why so little can happen for so long and yet the tension mounts higher than most. The way he also contrasts long shots with close-ups and montages it all is sheer brilliance. His timing is also exquisite. He knows how long to go, when to cut, when to produce a long take, when to crop a short one, and so on and so forth.

And I cannot leave out Ennio Morricone’s music, which is even more famous than the film itself. His main theme, which has been used in parodies and cultural references for more for fifty years, is justifiably famous. But whereas it is usually used in parodies to produce a comical effect, here it fits the mood of the picture down to the bone. There’s not a single weak cue of music in this marvelous soundtrack. But what’s most remarkable about this motion picture is that it sustains itself for the entirety of its 180-minute length and throughout most of it, very little happens. There are long stretches – minutes upon minutes – where virtually nothing happens. Oftentimes there isn’t any music. It’s not just the suspense of waiting for Leone’s trademark bursts of action; the cinematography and the montage and the directing are so taut and winded together that the audience cannot even force themselves to look away.

And if one seeks proof, they have to look no further than the film’s climax. Of course because it’s a Western, it will have an obligatory final showdown. But consider this showdown. We have three men facing each other down and it goes on for four minutes. Four minutes and the actors are hardly even moving. The only real movement is the camera, which is locked-down, but the medley/montage whirls through very nearly static images. Coupled with Ennio Morricone’s heart-thumping music, this showdown, where very little happens for so long, comes across as one of the most electrifying climaxes in cinema history. Sure the music helps a lot, but it’s the directing by Sergio Leone that really makes this scene so intense.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is most definitely one of the most important films of all time and it certainly has earned its immortality in the realm of the cinema. It is undoubtedly the most enjoyable spaghetti Western of them all and Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. The first film is this trilogy, “A Fistful of Dollars” was nothing more than an off-beat, but fun remake of “Yojimbo.” The second film was also entertaining and fun. But the third one is a masterpiece of masculinity. Even at a great length of 180 minutes, and having most of it consumed by silence and stillness, the film never falters to goes on for too long. It goes on and when it does at last end, the audience is left craving for more. They can satisfy themselves in two ways: a) seeking out Leone’s director’s cut, which is about twenty minutes longer and b) watching the film again, something I have done and will continue to do many, many times.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review as always, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! I always appreciate your support. 🙂

    Like

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