After a couple of weeks of packing up all our stuff, my girlfriend and I finally moved into our new place this past weekend. Satan was kind enough to help us out with weather on loan from Hell as temps here in Charlotte topped out at 105 degrees both days we were moving the bulk of our furniture. So after all that and a long week at work driving, I was really ready to relax and enjoy my favorite film, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. I am a huge fan of the western genre. This film, along with its star, is a huge reason why.
The first westerns I can ever remember seeing were the Young Guns movies, but the one that made the biggest impact was Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. I was only 12 when it came out and it was rated R, but my dad still took my brother Jordan and I to see it in theaters. Dad did this quite a bit back then, later with my brother John and sister Brigitte he was a lot more strict with the exposure to violence, sex and the like. In Unforgiven, I saw Clint Eastwood for the first time. The man just seemed to embody tough and his gravelly voice (which reached Batman level later in his career in Gran Torino) perfectly matched the coarseness of the frontier landscape his character inhabited. He just looked like a tough old son of a bitch that you didn’t want to fuck with, even though he was in his 60s. When the end credits rolled on Unforgiven I was glued to my seat, as was my brother and father. It’s the first time I can remember sitting through the end credits, which is usually torture for a child. One of the last things to roll up the screen was “Dedicated to Sergio”. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered Sergio Leone’s films. This was thanks in large part to re-watching the Back To The Future movies, which reference Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy heavily. The final part of this trilogy is The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. The previous two films being Fistful Of Dollars & For A Few Dollars More.
The Good. The Man With No Name. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Clint Eastwood’s character is referred to as Blondie in this film. This is only a reference to his hair color. No character in the film knows his true name, nor do we the audience. Blondie is a sharp shooting gunslinger with a cool head and pinpoint accuracy. In the beginning of the film he has a lucrative scam going with a thieving murderer named Tuco.
The Ugly. Tuco. Arguably this guy is the star of the film. Eli Wallach is perfect as the conniving, double-crossing bandit. He has a certain odd charm and appeal, but at the same time manages to be a repulsive, vindictive human being. Blondie and Tuco run a scam where Blondie “captures” Tuco, collects the hefty reward for capturing such a infamous murderer, then proceeds to save him from the gallows only to do it all over again in another town. When Blondie crosses Tuco, the two end up crossing 100 miles of desert only to have a chance run in with a Confederate Regiment coach. The dying men inside speak of a cash box hidden with over $200,000 in gold. The two pose as the dead confederate soldiers. Little do they know that someone is already on the trail of the cash box and its secret location.
The Bad. Angel Eyes. Lee Van Cleef is THE ultimate western villain. He’s a gun for hire, and a good one too. He is cold, calculating, and logical but with a skewed moral compass. Angel Eyes comes across Blondie and Tuco in a POW camp, completely intent on beating the secret of the hidden gold out of them, or at least making a deal to get a piece of the prize.
The truth of the matter is that even though these characters are introduced to us with these titles, The Good (Blondie), The Bad (Angel Eyes) & The Ugly (Tuco), they should not be stuck in these descriptions in your mind as you watch this. Tuco is a filthy murderous bastard, but even after holding up a gun store he still has enough compassion to leave the poor shop keep his bottle of whiskey. Blondie seems the one of the three most on the straight and narrow, yet he still schemes, double-crosses and is usually ending up on the wrong side of the law. Angel Eyes is a cold-blooded killer who will mow down an entire family if it suits his needs, yet he is a respected Union soldier. All three have both admirable and detestable traits.
In my humble opinion, the final 20 minutes of this film are cinematic perfection. Direction, acting, editing, music, cinematography, location and set. The perfect blend of image, sound and emotion. The final sequence set to Ennio Morricone’s iconic score is my favorite of all time. The final standoff filled with epic wide shots and extreme closeups is mimicked and copied to no end. Morricone’s score is so ingrained in world culture that people who have never even seen this film know it. It is the sound of a western film in everyone’s mind. Coincidentally, the day I sat down to write this, the tune was being hummed by 4 different people where I work. It’s catchy, memorable and infectious. I’m hard pressed to think of another film score that has transcended the source material to this extreme (Jaws, maybe?).
Even though the inspiration for Eastwood’s character comes from Yojimbo, as David pointed out in his earlier post in Profiles In Badassery, the western setting helps make it fresh and Eastwood makes this drifting warrior character his own. Both of these films have inspired thousands of filmmakers, none more notable than Quentin Tarantino who drew inspiration from both films and their directors by blending samurai and spaghetti western themes masterfully in his best film, Kill Bill.
Every time I see The Good, The Bad & The Ugly on TV, I end up glued to my seat. Just like when I was 12 years old in a theater with my family seeing Eastwood’s final western performance. This film is a treasure for the world to discover.