The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – 1966 – English
Film directed in 1966 by Sergio Leone, and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Rada Rassimov, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Enzo Petito, Claudio Scarchilli, Al Mulock, John Bartha, Livio Lorenzon, Antonio Molino Rojo, Sandro Scarchilli, Chelo Alonso…
Synopsis: Blondie (The Good) (Clint Eastwood) is a professional gunslinger who is out trying to earn a few dollars. Angel Eyes (The Bad) (Lee Van Cleef) is a hitman who always commits to a task and sees it through, as long as he is paid to do so. And Tuco (The Ugly) (Eli Wallach) is a wanted outlaw trying to take care of his own hide. Tuco and Blondie share a partnership together making money off of Tuco’s bounty, but when Blondie unties the partnership, Tuco tries to hunt down Blondie. When Blondie and Tuco come across a horse carriage loaded with dead bodies, they soon learn from the only survivor, Bill Carson (Antonio Casale), that he and a few other men have buried a stash of gold in a cemetery. Unfortunately, Carson dies and Tuco only finds out the name of the cemetery, while Blondie finds out the name on the grave. Now the two must keep each other alive in order to find the gold. Angel Eyes (who had been looking for Bill Carson) discovers that Tuco and Blondie met with Carson and knows…
Review: On a partial first viewing, I didn’t like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I thought it was a slow, tedious story about a bunch of unpleasant jerk characters involved in a bog-standard conflict over money. It all seemed very macho and self-consciously cool, and it had obviously inspired all the overrated macho directors I don’t like in my own generation – Tarantino, for example, and Robert Rodriguez. In short, I was unimpressed.
Years later, I gave the film a second shot, watching it all the way through this time. I loved it. What had changed?
For one thing, I took more notice of the technical side of the film. I paid attention to Leone’s famous use of close-ups, his selection of memorable character actors, and his wonderful scene-setting. I admired the detailed sets and the sweeping landscapes, the props and the costumes and all those weird, wonderful faces that Leone clearly loved to photograph.
I also got hooked by some of the quieter moments that I had skipped over in my first viewing. One of the most effective scenes involves Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, quarreling with his brother when they meet after they’ve been apart for years. Their argument is great, emotionally charged stuff, made all the more effective by the suggestion that they really do love and care about each other. It’s the kind of sensitive, human scene you never get to see in a Tarantino or Rodriguez movie.
Before I get too fuzzy-wuzzy, I should also like to point out that, on my second viewing, I LOVED all the action, too. Every gunfight is great, in its own way, and they’re all a bit different. The greatest of them all is, of course, the final confrontation between the trio, which is accompanied by some of the most rousing music I’ve ever heard in a film. And hey, there’s even a huge Civil War battle to provide a change of pace from all the small-scale action.
Ultimately, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is probably just a potboiler of a film, without too much to say about, for example, the human condition. But what a potboiler! It doesn’t have to try to be cool – it simply IS cool. In fact, it probably defined heroic coolness for an entire generation. Eli Wallach’s performance, Leone’s direction and Morricone’s music alone are enough to elevate it to classic status – and the fact that everything else in the movie is great, too, helps elevate it to the level of perhaps the greatest action film ever made.
And to think, I missed all that the first time through…