The Good, The Bad and The Ugly review by Matt FuerstThe western is a bit of a neglected genre here in the 21st century. If you ask someone to tell you a good recent western, they will either (A) give you a blank look or (B) mention (1) Tombstone (which I like) or (2) Unforgiven (which I don't like). For those in my generation (I'm not sure if we have a name, but it's 2003 and I'm 24 years old) it's hard to imagine that westerns were once a very popular genre, and was once far and away the most popular genre film being produced. All those movies on the Western TV Channel got made somehow. By the time that Sergio Leone teamed up with a young American television star, Clint Eastwood, in 1964 in Leone's homeland Italy to make A Fistful of Dollars, the popularity of the western was already in decline, but that doesn't make the Man with No Name trilogy (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) any less special in the history of the western. As noted previously, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was filmed in Italy, with mostly Italian actors. At this point in Italian cinema, the Italian economy was depressed to the point that film has suffered, and output had dwindled from it's previous artistic, and financial highs. Desperate for a way to fund new development, Italy found America's desire for westerns as it's gravy train to fund filming. Thus the Spaghetti western was born.
By 1966, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was being released into theatres. It's hard to go back and get into the mind of director Sergio Leone, and consider if he was particularly pleased with the sistuation he likely found himself in. He required American dollars to fund his filming, and we must consider if he felt particularly inspired in making Fistful of Dollars, which he both had a hand in writing and directing. Fistful is a relatively simple, straight story with a normal runtime (something on the order of 100 minutes). There is no doubt by the time he was writing and directing TG, TB, a TU he had decided to elevate the film from a straight western to an art film with a moral. Once again, the protagonist/man in white hat/"The Good" is Blondie, the man with no name (Clint Eastwood). A holdover from the second entry, For a Few Dollars More is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), whom we can consider to be "The Bad" and rounding out the trio is Tuco (Eli Wallach), who gets slapped with the sloppy second leftovers, "The Ugly".
Set during the dwindling end days of the Civil War in the dusty, desert filled west, the story begins with Tuco and Blondie in cahoots together. Tuco is a wanted man by the authorities, so they have a scammed worked out where Blondie will turn Tuco in to the Federalies, collect the reward, only to break Tuco out of the can, to go to the next town and do it all over again. Being two guys both from the wrong side of morality, they tend to have a bit of rocky relationship, and through the course of tormenting each other the eventually come into a tantilizing bit of information. A nearly dead Confederate soldier tells Tuco that he has buried $200,000 in gold in a military gravesite. While fetching water to try to keep him alive, the soldier whispers the specific grave to Blondie before dying. Now Tuco and Blondie are joined at the hip in their search for the gold.
Quick cut to a million miles away, or is it a mere mile away, Angel Eyes is being relatively unfriendly to a local farmer, whom he has been hired to kill. In the process of finishing off the job, his mark squeals that he knows of a stash of gold hidden in a graveyard somewhere. At this point the stage has been set, and our three hombres, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are all set to converge on one point.
In spite of the main story, which is intriguing enough, the actual content of the film is only vaguely about the search for the gold. Of a film that weighs in a 2 hours and 41 minutes in the American, cut version (more on that later), the main introductions of characters comprise the first 40 minutes of the film, and the actual process of converging on the gold will be on your screen until the 2 hour, 20 minute mark or so. Luckily, this bulk is both extremely interested, and very well shot by the master, Leone. After gathering information from the soldier, Tuco and Blondie steal their uniforms and set off in the direction of the gold. Of course, along the way, the come across a column of fellow soldiers, but aren't concerned since they too are wearing their Confederate gray uniforms. That is, until they stop marching in the desert and brush themselves off. Tuco and Blondie are captured. Angel Eyes, knowing only that a group of Soldiers in the area have stolen the gold, has planted himself in the Union camp to wait for one of the thiefs to show up. For the first time, all three members meet up.
More happens along the way obviously, but I am being sucked into the storytelling vortex without any qualititive analysis, which is what you, dear reader, are paying the big bucks for. So, the story. Yes, it's very interesting. The setting of the wild, wild west during the Civil War is a great one, as it gives us a chance to mix in lots of interesting elements. Of course, being a western we have the desert with it's vast open spaces, interesting mountain ranges, and great chances for long shots. The soldiers are great examples to compare our main characters to, as we watch men from the same country killing each other over their disagreements. We watch as the two sides charge at each other, each from one side of a bridge, and eventually get blurred into one big mass. At that point the disagreements don't matter, it's just a mass of men, each trying to survive and kill the person in front of them. At that point, are our immoral, greedy trio, willing to kill each other and any innocent in their way, any more immoral than a man wearing soldiers uniform?
I have called Leone a master already, and I should back that up with some examples of his wisdom. Leone took advantage of his surroundings to tell his story. Using the beauty of Italy to tell a western isn't something that an ignorant person like myself would think would be a natural fit, but it works. Long shots are used for long periods of time without edit. We see our characters ride off into the distance, and they really do ride off into the distance. If you have that much beauty and grandeur, use it to your advantage. Leone does. Leone also knew how to make a movie in the editing room. You may have found shootouts to be done well, but Leone does showdowns better than anyone. Using a cobination of flashy, quick edits, and mixing the length of his shots, Leone will have you yelling "Draw!" at your screen.
The currently available DVD release of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a mixed bag. In a world of ignorance, I would be more than happy with it. "The Good" The DVD is an anamporhic widescreen release, which is absolutely mandatory for the film. Leone used the both edges of his shots consistently, and if you watch some cropped version on television you aren't even watching the same movie. (I'm not widescreen warrior, I have my preference for widescreen, but if you feel strongly you want to use "all of your television" hey, that's your decision.) Additionally the Special Features selection contains the original theatrical trailer (the editor of which seemed to think that Tuco was "The Bad" and Angel Eyes was "The Ugly" which makes me wonder who let that one slip by) and 7 scenes that were in the Italian release. These 7 scenes were never released in the United States, and therefore are still only in their original Italian. While the American actors on the set delivered their lines in English, not surprisingly all of Eastwood's scenese were left in for the US release, since he was the big American star of the film. "The Bad" is that the sound is only a very weak and choppy mono track. I put the disc in my player and was hearing sound primarily coming out tinny from my center channel, I checked what was going on in my system and DVD player. Nope, that's all you get from the disc. While I get the feeling that the great, memorable and famous Ennio Morricone score was designed to be on the tinny side, the mono presentation just doesn't do it justice. As an additional insult to the viewer, the 7 scenes, only available in their original Italian are in complete stereo. What a bummer! "The Ugly" is the quality of the print. There are lots of flecks on the print of the film, hairs visible in shots. It's really a shame. But as I said, if you thought this was as good as the film was going to get, you'd be happy enough. But, as is often said, ignorance in bliss. AMC (the now crappy movie cable/satellite channel) apparently gathered up the rights to the film, and have done an extensive cleanup of the film and inserted the 7 scenes back into the film now dubbed in English. AMC has exclusive rights to this version, and as of now aren't really saying when this version is going to be available for us on DVD.
So, all this being said, is it a DVD worth owning? Well the good news is that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is available now, is anamorphic widescreen, has some good extras, and is generally available very inexpensively. We're talking in the $8 range at most locations. (I bought the trilogy for something like $25 for all three films) So yes, if you have the incling for the film, I'd recommend you go out and add it to your collection now. I feel like I need to come clean now and admit that even though I appreciate the greatness of the film, and the scope of what Leone was going for in making such an ambitious project, I do like the more straightforwardness of both Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More more. I'm not a simpleton, but I just feel like the previous entries are tigther, more hardboiled in their focus. This shouldn't take anything away from the praise that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly rightfully deserves.
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