Title: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Director: Sergio Leone
MPAA Rating: Approved
Tuco, a criminal with a crooked smile, sits on a horse with a noose tight around his neck. He squirms uncomfortably. A crowd surrounds him, waving their hands in front of their faces to keep the flies away. Squinting to shade the sun, the deputy finishes reading Tuco’s offenses. “Therefore, according to the powers vested in us, we sentence the accused here before us, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez.”
From behind a horse stable’s window, Blondie steps out to survey the scene, a cigar in his mouth. “Known as the ‘Rat’,” he whispers.
“…and any other aliases he might have, to hang by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on his soul. Proceed.” The deputy, concluding the list, gives the executioner a nod. The executioner raises the whip and brings it down on the horse, but before the whip touches the horse’s back, a gunshot tears it from his hand. Another shot severs the noose around Tuco’s neck and send the horse galloping away. Then three more shots remove the hats of three frightened onlookers.
A few decades ago, if you asked anyone what “American cinema” was, chances were, they would reply something along the lines of “Westerns” or “Clint Eastwood.” Notice that I said “a few decades ago,” but don’t take it the wrong way. Westerns, Clint Eastwood, gunslingers, flawed protagonists, lovable idiots, betrayals, the iconic music of Ennio Morricone, the beautiful scenery lightened by Tonino Delli Colli, and the masterful directorial hand of Sergio Leone all shaped the Spaghetti Western genre in the late 1960s and on. Though they outlined a time when the quality of American films hit a peak, they have defined what the modern visual film language has become. Crafting characters of momentous proportions, Sergio Leone’s westerns never took themselves too seriously, but nevertheless asked many questions about humanity that not many other films dared to do at that time.
Clint Eastwood, in his most memorable role of his career, plays Blondie, a bounty hunter with the same quietly confident personality as the other characters he plays in A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More—the other two Sergio Leone films along with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that round out The Man with no Name trilogy. His cool attitude and modest “good guy” personality probably made him America’s first celebrity crush. With only this trilogy of roles, Eastwood became a household name and secured his place in America’s heart.
We are introduced to his character through a frozen frame with the words “the good” scrawled onto the screen, the same technique used to introduce “the bad” as well as “the ugly.” Blondie, “the good,” teams up with “the ugly,” Tuco, in an uneasy bond, making a dishonest profit by scamming the bounty hunting system. Tuco is the disgraceful and idiotic criminal that Blondie somehow choses to save. Only Sergio Leone could manage to pull off such a ridiculous relationship and still make it work. Their friendship becomes more and more of a ticking bomb when they realize there’s a fortune of gold waiting, buried in a grave. Tuco knows which cemetery but not the grave. Blondie knows which grave but not the cemetery. But neither of them is willing to give up their respective knowledge. The stakes are raised when “the bad,” Angel Eyes, learns of the existence of the gold as well.
Blondie may be “the good,” Tuco may be “the ugly,” and Angel Eyes may be “the bad,” but there is no “good,” “bad,” or “ugly” clearly defined here, despite this film’s title. Even Angel Eyes could be considered “the good” if seen in a different light. Each character is just as greedy as the next, although Eastwood’s Blondie stands a bit taller, perhaps. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly questions if anyone really can be entirely pure and good. This is what gives The Good, the Bad and the Ugly the depth it has. In addition to the “bad,” Sergio Leone serves up a stirring plot with abundant, percussive violence and action sequences that are gorgeously filmed (and add on a small topping of mild language).
Speaking of the plot, Sergio Leone’s tale of the trio’s journey to unbury the gold is unpredictable–one of the most engaging stories I’ve seen. You never know who and where the travelers will run into next. Its narrative follows the likes of epic films, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Lord of the Rings. One moment the characters are taking a breather at Tuco’s brother’s Catholic mission; the next, they’re planting bombs under a bridge. It’s a risky move to have the plot spanning nearly every locale ever, but you know that when you trust any story like this to Sergio Leone, you’re in good hands.
One thing I, and maybe other viewers, may find a bit bothersome is the pacing. A few scenes are unbearably prolonged, some because of the drawn-out violence, like the torture scene, which altogether isn’t too violent or bloody but is brutally lengthy. Another such extended scene is when Blondie and Tuco run into a heavily drunk Union Captain, and their exchange plays out in lifeless fashion. However, despite that, the film doesn’t lose much in terms of excitement. The script is sharp, and many lines have been ingrained in pop culture, a rapid-fire style of dialogue that sometimes seems to be an antecedent of renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s unique flair. And with each frame delicately detailed by Tonino Delli Colli’s camera work, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly reminds us what movies are supposed to be—exciting, beautiful to the eye, and full of characters we care about.
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