The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Synopsis: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: It had been a long while since I saw this film — probably six or seven years. Let’s just say I have a greater appreciation for film-making and storytelling methods now… I liked it then, but I thought it was sloooowwww. I wanted to see if I thought the same thing this time (spoilers: I didn’t).

Brent’s Review:

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” takes place in barren wastelands – even the scenes taking place in towns or buildings last only a few moments before cannonballs blast the walls in. Set during the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, the third film of the “Dollars” trilogy follows three men – Blondie (The Good), Angel Eyes (The Bad), and Tuco (The Ugly) – as they each seek to obtain $200,000 in gold coins buried in a cemetery.

The film’s director, Sergio Leone, has an eye for framing and cinematography. The actors’ cragged faces are examined in close-ups, detailing every feature of their sun-worn skin. Characters enter abruptly from just beyond the frame, cutting long shots into close-ups. Deep Focus is used throughout, adding depth to every shot.

We’re just getting started. Leone is a master of tension. In one scene, three bandits creep upstairs to get the drop on a character while he cleans his gun, the sound of marching soldiers covering the sounds of their spurs. Ignorant of his danger, he continues cleaning. The scene goes on for minutes, wide shots turning into close-ups and the pace of the cuts ramps up to the turn: the march stops and a spur chimes. Now the race is on to get the upper hand.

This is but one of many suspenseful sequences in the film, which reminded me of Hitchcock’s distinction between suspense and surprise. To paraphrase: Suppose we’re having a chat and there is a bomb under the table. At a certain point, the bomb explodes. You’re surprised. But suppose now that we tell the audience that there’s a bomb under the table and it’s going to go off at a certain time, but we still continue to chat. That’s suspense.

Suspense falls flat, however, without meaningful characters. Clint Eastwood criticized the film, saying Tuco’s character is the only one fleshed out in the story. He’s right, but that’s missing the boat. Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco aren’t just men, they are archetypes. They stand like titans in this wasteland. The film’s climax features a three-man duel. We know that only one of the men can win, but the sequence only works if we connect with the characters.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the perfection of Ennio Morricone’s score, which words cannot do justice. Without its perfection, however, entire sequences of the film simply would not work, including a lengthy sequence where a character runs in circles through a cemetery. And I want to give a special note about Eli Wallach’s turn as Tuco, which is superb.

Watching this film in 2017 calls to mind the filmography of Quentin Tarantino, whose more recent works mimic Leone’s style. It also calls to mind Eastwood’s film “Unforgiven”, in which he pens his love letter to the genre. The “Dollars” trilogy revived the Western genre, if only for a short time. That this film is so influential is appropriate – its legacy stands tall like a titan in an all-but-barren wasteland.

Leah’s Review:

I have a confession to make: I hate Westerns. I find them to be boring and slow and the subject matter isn’t something that I can connect to. On the rare occasion that I catch one on TV, my eyes usually glaze over and I immediately change the channel. However, I knew I needed to see “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” purely because it’s such a classic, iconic film.

Despite my hesitations, I genuinely enjoyed Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. Sure- the run-time was probably 45 minutes more than it needed to be and there are definitely some parts that drag. But overall, the pacing works well- slowly building the tension between the three lead characters until their final, iconic standoff. The soundtrack and classic main theme couldn’t fit the feel of this film better (why did it take until 2016 for Ennio Morricone to win an Oscar for his score???). And the cinematography is downright gorgeous.

Another confession: This was my first Clint Eastwood watching-experience (This is probably due to the fact that he’s in so many Westerns). I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed his performance. I’ve always pegged Eastwood for playing the grumpy/crotchety, jerkish character (And maybe that’s just because of how he seems in real life). But I absolutely loved his role as Blondie- the charismatic, smart, and cunning gunslinger. He is truly a hero (though often quite dastardly) that you want to root for. And that poncho. I mean, come on.

A final embarrassing confession: The only movie I had ever seen Eli Wallach in was 2006’s “The Holiday” (which is by no means a great film, but is one of those guilty-pleasure-romantic-comedies for me). As I soon discovered, Wallach appeared in countless films (both Westerns and other genres) from the late 1940’s until his recent death in 2014. And it’s no surprise. Wallach’s performance as Tuco is flawless. Eastwood may have been the star of this film, but Wallach definitely has the most dialogue by a long-shot. A method actor, Wallach did most of his own stunts and somehow manages to make the corrupt and deceitful outlaw one of the most like-able characters. If I got anything out of this film- it’s a resolution to watch more of Wallach’s films.

Side note: After watching “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, I definitely felt like I better understood the filmmaking of modern director Quentin Tarantino. A favorite film of Tarantino’s, it inspired and influenced several of his own movies including “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction” and (very obviously) “Django Unchained”. The pacing, the style, and even some of the camera shots feel like they’re straight out of a Tarantino film. The theme of glorifying criminals is also a nod to Leone.

I was very happy to be proven wrong about Westerns. Perhaps they’re not quite as bad as I thought they were. Or maybe they’re just not as good as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

Up Next: We’re getting a chance to see “The Godfather”, which some say is the best film of all time. Hard to refuse an offer to see that, am I right? 

Peace out, kids.


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