Some movies are legendary. In the arena of Westerns, Sergio Leone’s works are unmatched in their strikingly visual approach, namely, the extensive use of dramatic widescreen shots interleaved with moments of extreme close-ups. Apart from creating a complete sub-genre of Westerns, lovingly called "Spaghetti Westerns" - mostly because of the Italian origins of the filmmaker and the fact that his movies were shot in Europe instead of Hollywood - Sergio Leone built the foundation of Clint Eastwood’s super-stardom. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is one such ageless piece of work, beautiful to behold. After "A Fistful Of Dollars" and "For A Few Dollars More", it is the third part in a series of movies featuring Eastwood as "The Man With No Name".
Two gunmen team up somewhere in the west to make some easy money. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a wanted criminal with an endless record. His partner, "Blondie" (Clint Eastwood) occasionally turns him in to the authorities for a bounty, and then sticks around to shoot the rope around his companion’s neck when the lawmen try to hang him. They split the bounty and travel on to the next town to repeat their stunt. This isn’t an easy partnership, though; Tuco and Blondie have a love-hate relationship, and once in a while one of them screws the other one over, just turn the tables in his favor. During one such act of vengeance, they encounter a group of dead and wounded soldiers and before the last of them kicks the bucket, he is able to tell them about a $200,000 treasure. Tuco learns only one half of the story; Blondie knows the other. Thus, they’re now forced to work together. Angel Eyes Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef), another drifter and paid killer, now in the high ranks of the army, also learns about the treasure and when he finds out that Ugly Tuco and Good Blondie have the information he wants, Sentenza turns Bad!
The basic story of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is actually a simple treasure hunt, but still Leone allows himself almost three hours to develop all its details. It is a plot with endless, unexpected twists and turns, making this movie a highly entertaining experience. Clint Eastwood became an Western icon through those movies and we still tend to remember him as "The Man With No Name", even though he left this role behind over thirty years ago. His charismatic, enigmatic, dry portrayal of the laid-back "Blondie" is stunning and it carries the movie. It is Eli Wallach, however, who makes the biggest impression as the somewhat dense Tuco. He puts so much character in this personality that, no matter how bad he is, we always care and sympathize for him. Crowning it with the right amount of humor, slyness, and humanity, Wallach puts in one of the most memorable performances in this movie.
Part of the fascination in this movie lies not only in its obviously well-done script and acting, but also in the strong subtext throughout the movie that elevates many of Leone’s statements and observations above the rest. It is an interesting twist when, at some point during the movie, the characters find themselves confronted with the reality of the American Civil War. All of a sudden, two hardened Western gunslingers have to face a completely new danger, and find themselves in situations they cannot shoot their way out of. It quickly and purposely destroys the overly romantic myths many American movies have created about the Wild West.
When Blondie and Tuco are again dragged into the midst of the ongoing Civil War in a different scene, they encounter a huge bloody battlefield. The vehemence with which those soldiers try to take a relatively unimportant bridge is clearly a nod to the famous, highly influential German anti-war movie "The Bridge", in which a bunch of teenage German soldiers are sent to defend a similarly unimportant bridge from the oncoming enemy during World War II. They panic as the opponent actually approaches, and begin attacking and destroying the enemy. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to tell them the war was over. Leone shows us the same tenacity in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", as the bridge in question crosses waters that are hardly 4feet deep. In their own way, Blondie and Tuco solve the problem by simply blowing the bridge up. When they wake the next morning, after a hilarious scene of them falling asleep in the trench while soldiers around them are battling, everyone is either dead or gone. This scene clearly displays the pointlessness of war as such, and putting two such reckless, self-centered, and socially detached characters as Blondie and Tuco in the midst of it takes this statement to a an extreme, amplified by the characters’ bewilderment and their care for the wounded soldiers. It is beyond their grasp why people could fight over a stupid bridge and get killed for it while there are more important things to live for… like hunting for a $200,000 treasure.
Another example of Leone’s highly effective use of allegories is in the prison camp. It is incredibly reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. When the prison band plays on in tears to cover up the noise of the torturing and battering of Tuco, we are painfully reminded of those Jewish orchestras that used to play for their comrades to cover up the pain inflicted on them.
Leone usually develops his stories rather slowly, giving the viewer the chance to take in all of the beauty of the photography while seeing the plot unfold. Many of his scenes are without dialogue, simply carried by highly effective camera angles, perspectives, and to-the-point film editing. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is no different here. It features a multitude of spectacular panoramas and wide landscape shots, but Leone’s editing skills reach a peak in the movie’s climactic duel scene. It is perfectly timed, choreographed, and photographed. It is a pleasure to see all the effort put into the movie’s exceptional visuals flawlessly transferred to DVD. The movie comes in its theatrical widescreen aspect ratio on a RSDL disc that allows completely uninterrupted viewing of the whole movie and its supplements. The image is razor sharp and does not show signs of age or scratches. Despite the movie’s considerable age, the colors are vibrant, solid, and naturally rendered, from the brightest sunlit scene to the murky interior shots. There is no noise or pixelation to be found anywhere on this disc, which also contains production notes, the movie’s theatrical trailer, and a small trivia game. Best of all, however, is that MGM have also restored 7scenes from the original Italian version of the movie in the Italian language, never before seen in the US, and put them on this disc as a supplement.
Probably everyone has heard Ennio Morricone’s brilliant musical score to "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" at some point or another. Its ferocious, war-cry-style main theme is as memorable as it is effective. Beside "Once Upon A Time In The West", this score is probably his best work ever and helped to stylize the unique image and appeal of Italian Westerns. It is a magnificent score that perfectly accompanies the movie’s many twists, always finds the right note, and helps the audience experience every single scene more fully. The disc has a monaural Dolby Digital soundtrack, and comes fully dubbed in English, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are also supplied in English, French, and Spanish.
"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is an exceptional movie for its richness and the peculiarity of being a Western set against the violent background of the American Civil War. It is a serious, infectiously humorous movie with striking images and a clever plot. The quality of the DVD is remarkable and makes this movie an all-time favorite of mine. You have to own this.