Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone & Mickey Knox
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffre, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli & Al Mulock
Even if you’ve never seen THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, you are probably aware of the film’s existence due to its instantly recognizable soundtrack and many parodies of the final standoff. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is the most famous Spaghetti Western in existence. What’s a Spaghetti Western? A subgenre of Westerns made by Italian filmmakers that only had a handful of English-speaking cast members. This filmmaking movement began to reach the height of its popularity during the late sixties and continued through to the eighties. While it didn’t receive a warm welcome at the time of its release by critics (who largely saw the Spaghetti Western as trashy exploitation), GOOD, BAD AND UGLY has since been recognized as a hugely influential, celebrated classic. While I didn’t exactly think this film was perfect in every way, I do love it in spite of my one complaint (I’ll get to that later on).
The story, set during the American Civil War, follows a trio of characters who embody the three different characteristics in the title. The Good is cocky bounty hunter Blondie (Clint Eastwood), who has worked out a scheme to capture criminals and then conspire with them to repeatedly cash in on their increasing bounties. The Bad is sociopathic mercenary Angel Eyes, who always finishes a job that he’s been paid for. Finally, The Ugly is bandit Tuco, who is basically comic relief, but still won’t hesitate to shoot whomever he perceives to be a threat. Through a fateful series of events, Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes will cross paths many times as they search for buried gold hidden in an isolated Confederate cemetery. Loyalties remain unclear, but two things are certain: lives will be lost and one man will walk away very rich.
GOOD, BAD AND UGLY is a long movie (nearly three hours), but I was surprised at how fast the running time flew by. There’s never a wasted moment as Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco each encounter colorful individuals and find themselves in intense situations. Many of these characters and situations directly connect to the Civil War time period. Both Confederate and Union troops have a significant part in the plot. During one somber moment, Angel Eyes visits the fiery ruins of a Confederate camp. During a more exciting sequence, Blondie and Tuco uniquely engage in a bit of Union vs. Confederate combat. The Civil War element thrown doesn’t feel distracting in the slightest and blends consistently well into the writing.
The movie keeps its momentum high as potential violence and gunfights seem to be lurking around every corner. Besides the iconic finale in the center of Sand Hill cemetery, one long sequence in which Tuco and Blondie take on six of Angel Eye’s thugs in a half-demolished town is especially well-done. The sheer craftsmanship that went into building these elaborate sets and executing the convincing effects comes through on the screen. Amputees were hired to portray wounded soldiers who lost limbs in battle. Lots of explosions go off as cannonballs frequently pummel the landscape and certain performers seemed genuinely startled by these fiery hazards. Sergio Leone spared no expense in bringing his grand vision to the screen (going slightly over budget as a result). One of the most effects-heavy moments involves a massive explosion and actually had to be repeated a second time, because three cameras were destroyed during the first take.
When this film isn’t showcasing Old West bloodshed, it builds great character development and delivers comic relief that holds up decades later. One particularly great scene involved Tuco reuniting with an old relative and the conversation between them speaks volumes about his character. Blondie and Angel Eyes are more mysterious figures as we know very little about their backgrounds. However, their introductions give us all we need to know. Angel Eyes is especially scary in his first appearance, while Eastwood’s Blondie is a cool do-gooder with a hard edge.
My only complaint with GOOD, BAD AND UGLY comes from an element of the Spaghetti Western in general. Some of the dubbing in this film is not so great. While I got used to watching Italian actors being dubbed over by English voices as the movie went along (especially because Sergio Leone seems to go out of his way to avoid close-ups of many Italian-speaking performers), there were still points where it was a distraction. I think this is a core part of the Spaghetti Western subgenre and almost feel bad for complaining about it, but this did occasionally take me out of the otherwise very intense near-masterpiece. Even with this slight gripe, I love THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and can easily see why it is has earned its status as a timeless classic!