The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Mario Brega
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Some movies are simply 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 helping create a complete sub-genre of Westerns, lovingly called "Spaghetti Westerns" – mostly because they were Italian productions – Sergio Leone also built the foundation for Clint Eastwood's super-stardom. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is one such piece of work, beautiful to behold, and timeless in its presence. After "A Fistful Of Dollars" and "For A Few Dollars More", it is the third part in a series of movies featuring Eastwood as what has come to be known as "The Man With No Name" – despite the fact that he actually has a name in the film.

Somewhere in the West, two gunmen team up to make some easy money. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a wanted man with an endless string of crimes on his record. In a profictable scheme, his partner, "Blondie" (Clint Eastwood) occasionally turns him in to the authorities to collect the bounty. He then sticks around for the hanging and shoots the rope around Tuco's neck at the last minute for him to escape. With every escape, the price on Tuco's head rises and the two make for the next town to repeat the scam. 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 in an everlasting power struggle to see who's role is more important. One day they encounter a horse carriage, filled with dead and wounded soldiers and before the last of them kicks the bucket, he is able to tell them about a $200,000 treasure. But the kicker is that while Tuco learns one half of the secret, only Blondie learns about the other half. Thus, they are now forced to work together to find the riches, but with their mutual trust in rags, each man has find some way to ensure his survival.

In the meanwhile 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! He is determined to get the gold and he is not at all interested in sharing…

The basic story of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is actually a simple treasure hunt, but 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 a Western icon through these 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 with him, as his spur-of-the-moment antics almost always land him in hot water. Crowning it with the right amount of humor and slyness, Wallach puts in one of the most memorable performances in this movie.

Part of the fascination in this movie lies not only in its story and the acting, but also in the strong subtext that can be found throughout the movie. It elevates many of Leone's statements and observations as this Wild West story is set before the American Civil War in a way no other Western had done before or since. It is an incredibly fascinating and satisfying twist when, at some point during the story, the characters find themselves confronted with the realities 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 talk or shoot their way out of. It quickly and purposely destroys the overly romantic myths many American movies have created about the Wild West and gives "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" its unique signature.

When Blondie and Tuco are again dragged into the midst of the ongoing Civil War in a different scene, they encounter the carnage of a real battlefield. "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly," Blondie comments as he witnesses soldiers being slaughtered by the hundreds. It is a world that is beyond their comprehension. 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. Leone shows us the same tenacity in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", as the bridge in question crosses waters that are barely 4 feet deep. In their own way, Blondie and Tuco solve the problem by simply blowing the bridge up. When they awake the next morning, after a hilarious scene of them falling asleep in the trench during battle, 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 but also by their sudden gentleness as they care for the wounded soldiers regardless of the color of their coats. North and South means very little to them. All they see is people being wasted over a bunch of wood. 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 on display 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.

As always, Leone 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, music and to-the-point film editing. It features a multitude of spectacular panoramas and vista shots that can take your breath away, but Leone's editing skills reach a peak in the movie's climactic duel scene. It is perfectly timed, choreographed, and photographed – and despite its incredible length, it remains suspenseful throughout.
Arriving in high definition for the first time, "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" is a celebration of Leone's film, really. The image is wonderfully defined and rich, offering up nuggets of detail that were previously invisible. The film has not undergone real rigorous restoration so it does not look like "The Searchers," for example, which is an incredible treat for the eyes in high definition, but it is still a remarkably clean and detailed transfer that shows its 1080p muscles on countless occasions. Colors are strong and perfectly render the warm hues of the Spanish landscapes that stand in for the real West. Skin tones are meticulously rendered also, never appearing too hot or unnatural, giving this film exactly the kind of look it was designed for – dry and sandy. It should also be noted that this is an extended cut of the film inserting scenes back into the film that had been previously deleted for the movie's American release.

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 release features a 5.1 channel DTS HD Master Lossless Audio track which has been remixed form the original elements. The quality of the track is impressive, giving it depth and spatial placement while also making sure the frequency response is always well preserved. Dialogues sound natural and are well integrated.

In terms of extras, the release brings us a commentary track by film historian Richard Schickel. Now thee are a few things I have to say about this commentary – first and foremost among things is that I feel Schickel is not a suitable commentator for this film. While he is very knowledgeable on the subject matter, he is also very aloof and pompous. Clearly Schickel does not understand – and doesn't even try to – the way Leone made movies and he does not seem to be able to wrap his mind around the fact that the European filmmaking community works very differently from Hollywood. I felt that in many instances he was disrespectful to Leone's achievements to the point of mocking them and virtually attributing them to sheer luck at times. He goes on to add further insult to injury by constantly mispronouncing Leone's name. As I said before, the name is "Leone" as in "Leon-eh" and not "Leon-y." We do not call the godfather Don Corleone "Corleon-y" either. That aside, the commentary offers up a wealth of interesting information that will deepen you appreciation for the film no doubt.

Christopher Frayling is another commentator on a separate track who is equally unwilling to pronounce Leone's name properly. I mean, how can someone be taken seriously as an "expert" commentator on a track if they don't even take the time to learn the filmmaker's name properly? And, moving on…

"Leone's West" is a featurette that takes a look at the production of the movie and how it came together. Presented in standard definition only it features interview footage with Leone's collaborators as well as Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. The same goes for "The Leone Style" in which cast and crew members offer up insight into the way Leone worked, shooting seemingly off the cuff without a script but with the entire film in his head instead. It also discusses Leone's cinematography as well as his incredible artistic abilities that translate into the most memorable images on the screen.

A featurette about the reconstruction of the movies, as well as deleted scenes are also included, as well as "The Man Who Lost The Civil War" offering up a look at the backdrop of the movie. A featurette on Ennio Morricone and his music is also included as well as the movie's trailer.

"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 breaks with the Hollywood conventions and cliches of Westerns and dishes out a serious, infectiously humorous movie with striking images and a clever plot. With a high definition version available now, there is absolutely no reason why you should not take a look!