Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The (1966)

Review #1,261

Director:  Sergio Leone
Cast:  Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
Plot:  A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.

Genre:  Western 
Awards:  -
Runtime:  179min
Rating:  PG for some action violence.
International Sales:  Park Circus
Distributor:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig.”

Spaghetti westerns don’t get any bigger or more epic than this.  A must-watch in every sense of the word, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly may be presented in all of its 3-hour glory, but it is so entertaining that you might actually forgo that toilet break.  It is however not Leone’s magnum opus – that distinction goes to what I think is the greatest western in the history of cinema: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). 

That, however, should not take away the utter pleasure of seeing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly unfold.  It is a brilliant piece of populist filmmaking and a sparkling showcase of the supreme talents on both sides of the camera. 

We have, on one end, three faces that you will remember for ages: a tobacco-chewing Clint Eastwood (playing Blondie the Good), a smug Lee Van Cleef (Angel Eyes the Bad), and a cunning Eli Wallach (Tuco the Ugly), all of whom give terrific performances. 

While the main star of the movie is Eastwood, who continues his character’s cool if stoic persona from the two preceding films that make up the ‘Man with No Name’ trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), the most memorable display is from the great Wallach, whose character (painfully dumb he may be) gives the film its strong comic thrust that is a delight to watch.

On the other end, we have Leone and his crew, particularly composer Ennio Morricone, whose sensational score remains his most famous.  Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli and editor Nino Baragli (both frequent collaborators of Pier Paolo Pasolini as well) realize Leone’s vision of a gritty, grim if sometimes absurd western through their craft. 

There are some outstanding moments to savour: the climactic sequence at the cemetery springs vividly to mind, accompanied by Morricone’s soaring ‘Ecstasy of Gold’.  Leone cranks up the suspense through rapid intercutting of extreme close-ups, a cinematic technique now very much indebted to him. 

The story unfolds with all the three main characters given due introductions: in a race against each other, the trio attempt to find a fortune hidden in a grave that would set himself up for life.  Along the way, they stumble headlong into the Civil War.  In one particularly poignant scene, Morricone’s emotive ‘Story of a Soldier’ is diegetically played by a lonely band of prisoners-of-war. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the definitive spaghetti western, a more stylized and rhythmic cousin to the more operatic and nostalgia-laden Once Upon a Time in the West.  Go see both, and you may find yourself placing Leone on the pedestal reserved only for masters of cinema. 

Verdict:  The legendary spaghetti western to end all spaghetti westerns.


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