While the Civil War rages between the Union and the Confederacy, three men – a quiet loner, a ruthless hit man and a Mexican bandit – comb the American Southwest in search of a strongbox containing $200,000 in stolen gold.
I'm looking for the owner of that horse. He's tall, blonde, he smokes a cigar, and he's a pig! It's debatable of course, since there are legions of fans of the first two films in Sergio Leone's Dollars Trology, but with each film there not only came a longer running time, but also a rise in quality - debatable of course! Here for the third and final part of the trilogy, Leone adds Eli Wallach to the established pairing of Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood, and brings all his tools of the trade to the party. Plot is slight, the three principals are on a collision course to find some buried gold, with each man having varying degrees of scuzziness, so how will it pan out? Such is the genius of the narrative, it's a fascinating journey to undertake. The characterisations are ripe and considered, the various traits and peccadilloes beautifully enhanced, and with Leone being Leone, there's no shortage of cruelty and humour. He also brings his style, the close ups, long shots and some outstanding framing of characters in various situations. The story encompasses The Civil War, which pitches our leads into "The Battle of Branston Bridge", where here we get to see just how great Leone was at constructing full on battle sequences. It's exciting, thrilling and literally dynamite, whilst Aldo Giuffrè as Captain Clinton turns in some memorable support. The Euro locations pass muster as the Wild West, superbly photographed by Tonino Delli Colli, and then of course there is Ennio Morricone's musical compositions. It's a score that has become as iconic as Eastwood's Man With No Name, a part of pop culture for ever more. It mocks the characters at times, energises them at others, whilst always us the audience are aurally gripped. There's obviously some daft coincidences, this is after all pasta world, and the near three hour run time could be construed as indulgent. But here's the thing, those who love The Good, The Bad and the Ugly could quite easily stand for another hour of Leone's classic. I mean, more barbed dialogue, brutal violence and fun! Great, surely! From the sublime arcade game like opening credit sequences, to the legendary cemetery stand-off at the finale, this is a Western deserving of the high standing it is held. 9/10
Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a classic Western film. Clint Eastwood is the Good, aka the Man with No Name, a taciturn wanderer who follows his own sense of justice. His opposite is Angel Eyes (Lee van Cleef), the Bad, a brutal mercenary who kills anyone who stands in the way of making ready cash. The film's comic relief is Tuco (Eli Wallach), the Ugly, a Mexican bandit wanted in several states who ends up inadvertently doing some good turns. At the height of the Civil War, as Union and Confederate armies battle each other in the West, these three men vie for an abandoned cache of gold coins. The film is especially memorable for its pace and cinematography. The opening scene, for example, juxtaposes closeups of anxious faces with vast panoramas of the Western landscape, and 10 minutes passes before a single word is said. It is like Tarkovsky transplanted to a vastly different setting. That's not to say it's all so serious, though. In a sense the film is a "two buddies on the road" movie, with Tuco the wisecracker and Eastwood's character the straight man. It is also a war film, with Leone apparently sparing no expense in presenting a realistic image of hundreds of men charging each other on the battlefield. This is not among the greatest films I've ever seen, but it's very well-made. Because this is a "spaghetti Western", an effort in the genre realized by a joint Italian-Spanish production team with American lead actors, the film has some curious qualities. Because of the use of locals, all the faces of Civil War soldiers are so clearly Italian, even though Italian immigration into the US picked up only later. The Mexican bandit Tuco is played by a Jew from New York, and furthermore Leone mocks the character's Catholicism in a way that Americans of the era would, although the faith would be in no way foreign to his Italian audience.
I am not a fan of Sergio Leone. In fact, this movie and Once Upon a Time in the West are the only movies of his that I have seen. But I think they are both classic westerns. He seems to bring out the best in his cinematographer, both for scenery and for his characters. In one review I read, he was criticized for staying with facial close-ups too long, and I would probably agree if he populated his movies with beautiful actors and actresses as many films do, but he relies heavily upon actors with interesting faces. Sometimes I feel he relies on too many shootings, and on having his gunfighters be too damn good. Two, four, six opponents? Doesn’t matter, these guys kill them all and come out unscathed. But that is part of the western movie gunfighter mystique. On a different level, I have owned the soundtrack for this movie: The Good the Bad and the Ugly, for close to 50 years. I write novels in my spare time, and I started listening to this soundtrack (plus others like Thunderball) for background music as I wrote. I moved on to Ambient music, such as Brian Eno, but still listen to this album. As a side note, I heard a great version of this movie music on YouTube, performed by the Danish National Orchestra. Check it out. So the movie works for me on multiple levels, and I own a copy so I can watch it any time the mood strikes me
There is one word to define The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And that word is “transcendent”. This movie is not only the pinnacle of the Spaghetti Western, but it transcended into the pinnacle of the Western genre in itself. It’s safe to say it transcends that too, and can be considered one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever. It counts with memorable performances by three different leads, a story that breaks the “black and white” concepts of morale, and an original score that can only be defined by the word “epic”. Directed by the man responsible for the revitalization of the western in Italy, Sergio Leone, the film does an incredible job of introducing every character, and showing each and every one has a dubious concept of moral values. “The Bad”, Sentenza, or Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), is shown to be a ruthless, greedy gun for hire, but also someone who lives by the mantra of always getting the job done. “The Ugly”, Tuco, is a greedy backstabber, but he is also a man who comes from an extremely poor environment and family conflicts, showing a bit of determinism in the film. “The Good”, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) is not much better himself. While he is surely the less greedy one, he also has no problem with killing and backstabbing other people. To put it in perspective, he is ironically announced as “The Good” right after abandoning a man to die in the desert. The story follows all these three personalities as they engage in their particular gold rush: a buried treasure that is hidden in a cemetery. In order to find it, they must form an uneasy alliance, while trying to outrun each other, and claim the prized gold alone. All of this while the Civil War happens around them. The performances are nothing short of amazing. It goes to show the range that Lee Van Cleef had once this villainous role is compared to his work in the previous installment of the trilogy, For a Few Dollars More, as a heroic, friendly and almost fatherly figure. His presence is as intimidating as ever, and one of the best he has given in his lengthy career. Eastwood is as eye-catching as one would expect: his deep stares and lines delivered in a whispery, yet gravelly voice, defined The Man With No Name. But the best of the bunch has to be Eli Wallach. His comedic timing is as precise as any bullet shot in this film. But the most outstanding part of his characterization is that while he is extremely funny, he also manages to be a credible threat for the “hero”, Blondie. The original music score for this film deserves a whole book just to talk about it, and it still wouldn’t do it justice. It’s simply a lesson by the maestro, Ennio Morricone, on how music can change a film. Thanks to a track such as L’estasi dell’oro (The Ecstasy of Gold), a man running around a cemetery becomes one of the most epic scenes ever made. Thanks to a composition such as Il Triello, three men staring at each other, pondering their options for almost seven minutes straight, becomes tense enough to have the viewer on the edge of its seat. There is simply no other way to put it: Morricone crafted one of the best scores in this art’s history. At the end of the day, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is more than just a great western film. It’s a show of great acting, writing, directing and music scoring. It’s a real once in a lifetime classic, that has been around for a long time, and not aged a little bit, and will still be talked about for generations of cinephiles to come. To conclude, all I can say is… There are two kinds of people, my friend. Those who have watched this film, and those who have not. You watch.