CINEMA CLASSICS: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Richard joins Clint Eastwood and two disreputable associates for a gold rush in Sergio Leone’s ultimate Spaghetti Western. 

Who made it?: Sergio Leone (Director/Co-Writer), Agenore Incrocci. Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni (Co-Writers), Alberto Grimaldi (Producer), Produzioni Europee Associati/Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas/Constantin Film Produktion. 

Who’s in it?: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffrè, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov.

Tagline: “The Man with No Name Returns!”

IMDb rating: 8.9/10 (Top 250 #8).

I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for only the second time today. Everyone knows the famous music cues by Ennio Morricone and it’s also one of the most quotable films of all time, with famous lines like “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” “You see, in this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” And “Every gun makes its own tune.” But, for me personally, I was just impressed at how well-made a film it is.

I love how it’s essentially a treasure hunt, but Sergio Leone turned it into an epic as the three main characters – Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes – try and find 200,000 dollars in gold amidst the violence of the American Civil War. One thing is for certain and that is, despite a thin premise, the film certainly isn’t light on story or character. We have three great actors in three great roles, and I think they all represent something both literally and figuratively.

Clint Eastwood’s iconic “Man with No Name” represents The Good. He’s an anti-hero and a gunslinger, and maybe a bit amoral like the other characters, but he also has a virtuous side to him. He does things like comforting a dying Confederate soldier and considers the war to be a total waste of good men. Naturally, the reason why the character is so memorable is because of Eastwood’s deadpan “man of few words” performance as he squints at everyone around him, ready to draw his gun and shoot down anyone who challenges him. Blondie is arguably the ultimate badass when it comes to Westerns and it’s all thanks to Leone’s direction and Eastwood’s performance. Blondie is also, of course, the character which secured Eastwood’s place in film history. Whenever I think of classic Western performances, his legendary turn as the The Man with No Name is the one I usually think of.

Lee Van Cleef, like Eastwood, is another Western veteran and brings a lot of presence to the role of the bounty hunter Angel Eyes. He is a sadistic killer who murders for sport and money; I think he represents what Blondie could be if he didn’t possess morals. Angel Eyes is an ice-cold, nasty piece of work and you can’t take your eyes off him as he shadows Blondie and Tuco every step of the way to that cemetery where the gold is buried. Unlike Blondie, who is somewhat compassionate, Angel Eyes is completely ruthless and will off anyone including women and children to get what he wants. He’s not someone you would want to mess with, and Van Cleef shows he’s more than up to the challenge of turning this rogue into one of the best Western villains of all time.

No, Tuco isn’t The Ugly because Eli Wallach has the face of a rat. It’s because he is quite literally ugly both inside and out. Tuco is a snivelling, weasely little Mexican bandito with a long standing feud with Blondie, as the two have been running a scam wherein Blondie turns Tuco over to the authorities, collects the reward money and rescues Tuco at the last second before he’s hanged. But, after their latest attempt, Blondie rode away with the money instead of splitting it with his partner, and Tuco does anything and everything he can to get his revenge. He has to grudgingly work with Blondie after the aforementioned Confederate tells him the name of the cemetery where the gold is buried; Eastwood knows the name of the grave containing the gold and neither one of them is divulging the information they have learnt. Sometimes, I just want to outright bitchslap Tuco, but I guess that’s the whole point of the character and I love Wallach in the role as he has great chemistry with Eastwood. Tuco is a little bastard that you just love to hate, but he also provides some great comic relief and, in the end, realises that he isn’t as clever as he thinks he is.

What can I say other than this film is an absolute classic which is quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. It seems to have gotten better with age. Not a single minute of the film’s three-hour run time feels wasted and every scene feels like a perfect beat that leads to the next. The final three-way duel between Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes is quite simply one of the finest pieces of filmmaking that I have ever seen. It’s all filmed, edited and scored perfectly and just builds and builds and builds until one of the characters shoots first. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker and want to know how to make a masterful scene, then just sit down and watch the climax of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I can also honestly say it’s now one of my favourite films of all time. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a bit too long and dragged unnecessarily in some places, but this time around, watching it on a bigger screen with surround sound, I found myself sucked into the world Leone created and was never bored or felt like it went on too long once. It’s an epic masterpiece that redefined the Western genre for an entire generation, and its influence is still being felt to this day almost fifty years after it was originally released.

Best Scene

Everyone needed a Mexian Standoff after this.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Clint Eastwood wore the same poncho through all three “Man with No Name” movies without replacement or cleaning.
  • Eli Wallach would have been decapitated during the train scene if he had lifted his head up. In the wide-shot, you can see the step that would have impacted his head.
  • Sad Hill Cemetery was a very-convincing set piece constructed by the pyrotechnic crew and not a real cemetery. Today the site is marked as a local point of interest. Though the central stone ‘proscenium’ and parapet are gone, the circles of grave-mounds are still quite prominent.

Richard Bal

My name is Richard, I like beer, heavy metal and movies, but maybe not necessarily in that order.

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