1966/Director: Sergio Leone/Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone
Cast/ Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffr, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov, Enzo Petito
I was living in San Antonio Texas where my dad was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base when The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was released. We all packed ourselves in his Valiant station wagon and went to the Valley-Hi Drive to see the film and it left an impression on me that was to linger for the rest of my life. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a film that falls into a very narrow category for me. Films that I feel are not only great films but films worthy of deeper introspection and multiple viewings and each viewing seems as fresh as the first one. It is a film I am not even comfortable commenting on here. There are a few others as well that would make me shudder to do a post here at my humble site about: Apocalypse Now, The Last Picture Show, Dr. Zhivago, Lord Jim and even Blade Runner and other films of the same caliber that have left such a lasting impact on me that I simply feel unworthy to expound on them in any fashion. And is another reason and that is that films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Apocalypse Now have been critiqued and reviewed to death on the net. I usually try to select more obscure and little viewed films of an often trashier variety here at the Café to pander. Also I try not to be too pretentious with my comments and speculations. I will leave all that to the experts. Certainly many films deserve deeper philosophical reflection but I am not the sort of person to publicly delve into all that sort of thing. In simple terms I like to proceed with my foot as much out of my mouth as possible. But when I watch a film like this one I am usually transported to another world all together. So with that as an introduction let’s take a look at this western masterpiece by maestro Sergio Leone.
The Good: As anyone who has seen the film realizes the term ‘good’ here must mean "not so bad" when compared to the two other mongrels. Blondie’s ethics are as flexible as the other two characters when dealing with the prospect of instant wealth but he does not kill unless drawn on and shows acts of compassion the other two characters seem unable incapable of. With sympathy in his eyes he hands a dying Union Captain a bottle of whiskey, he shares a smoke with a dying young soldier and in the end shows mercy to Tuco when Tuco probably would not have done the same if the tables were turned. He is not above a double cross himself or leaving a buddy stranded in the desert without food or water. We really never learn anything about the character in any of the films except that he is essentially motivated by money. He tends to be a little smarter than the other people around him and is always faster on the draw.
The Bad: In For a Few Dollars More Lee Van Cleef played basically a good guy. While Eastwood’s bounty hunter character in that film was motivated by reward money Van Cleef’s character was equally motivated by revenge (and money). In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly his Angel Eyes character is a killer who enjoys his work. He does not always do his own dirty work and often has some partner or gang to back him up. He is shrewd as well and maybe as equally shrewd as Blondie but lacking any compassion or sense of mercy. He is patient and predatory as his tracks the trail of the gold that finally leads him to Tuco and Blondie. The character was originally top be played by Charles Bronson but Bronson was committed to The Dirty Dozen. He would eventually star as the mysterious harmonica player in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.
The Ugly: No doubt the most interesting of the three characters, or at least most entertaining, is Tuco as played by Eli Wallach. Wallach was not overly excited about playing another bandito type character like the one he played in 1962’s How the West Was Won but he finally agreed to the role after talking with Leone. Tuco’s character is the most developed in that we learn things of his past; his brother is a priest, he stayed at home and helped while his brother studied the priesthood and he himself chose the other option… a bandit, his parents are dead and that he is wanted for a comically long list of crimes. Wallach’s performance adds some comedic relief to the film but Tuco is as tough as they come and handy with a gun himself though probably the slowest of the three. He becomes evilly vindictive when he is betrayed by Blondie and left to die in the desert. One wonders if his revenge may have been less, or at all, had Blondie not basically screwed him over so bad.
And of course before closing this article off something must be said of Ennio Morricone’s exquisite soundtrack. He scored the first two Man With No Name films and, I believe, Leone’s remaining films (Once Upon a Time in the West, Fist Full of Dynamite and Once Upon a Time in America) but his score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is as perfect as a film sore can be for a film. By this I mean how the sore seems to describe the characters themselves and helps to bring the scenes to life. Another composer for the film would have been like another actor in the place of Eastwood. It would not have worked. I have posted a few samples from the soundtrack. Most people are aware of the theme song but not know some of the other tracks. I guess I could ramble on and on about this film. If you have not seen it then see it. If you have seen it then see it again. I saw it with my wife and she loved it and it is possible she may even see it again someday she said. This is as good a recommendation as you are about to get since she is one of those people who can only typically see a film once in a lifetime.