Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 23, 1966
DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Tonino Delli Colli
WRITERS: Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone
MUSIC: Ennio Morricone
While it is often considered the masterpiece of director Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy, “The Good, the Bad and Ugly” is really not as good as the previous entry, “For a Few Dollars More”. However, this doesn’t make it anything short of an epic Western filmed by a true master of the genre.
Like the two previous entries, the film was first shown to American audiences in 1967 while being released in Italy the previous year. It’s funny to think in the present that the film actually received mixed reviews on its initial release due to many critics looking down on the Spaghetti Western. Today, it is considered a major classic by modern critics and other filmmakers. Director Quentin Tarantino has even referred to the film as the greatest ever made.
The film follows a bandit, a mercenary and a bounty hunter this time around. First, there is Tuco (Eli Wallach), credited as the Ugly at the beginning of the film. Then, there is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), credited as the Bad. Finally, audiences see the return of the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood, credited as Blondie this time around). Obviously, Blondie is credited as the Good.
Eventually, all three men learn of a grave that is stashed with $200,000 worth of gold. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery and Blondie knows the name of the grave. Due to this, the two enter into an uneasy alliance as they go on a quest for the gold.
Of course, just because Blondie is credited as the good guy of the film doesn’t mean that he won’t turn against Tuco or Angel Eyes at a moment’s notice. This is okay for the audience due to the fact that he knows the other two would do the same thing to him should they get the chance. Again, this is Leone’s West where no one is completely good or bad. Even people who are now making honest livings have questionable actions from their past.
It is also funny that Tuco, considered the ugliest of the three, is actually the most humorous. He is still a cold-blooded killer, but the dark humor comes out at his most desperate and it keeps the film from becoming nothing more than melodrama. Wallach excels at both the dramatic and the comedic and he works well with Eastwood’s stoic and more quiet character.
Speaking of which, the Man with No Name is back yet the audience still knows very little about him. Eastwood is more confident than ever in the role that made him famous and it is probably this film that got Hollywood’s attention. It is great final performance as the iconic Man with No Name. The only thing that is weird is if the audience is watching the director’s cut. Eastwood had to be brought back in to re-dub the scenes more than 35 years after the film’s release. This means that there is a considerable difference in his voice when these scenes play out.
Then there is Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. His name definitely does not match his persona. Van Cleef returns after playing the very likable Colonel Mortimer in “Few Dollars More”. It is a bit of a shock to the system to see him playing someone who is very unlikable here. In the end, though, Van Cleef pulls it off and proves that his character is not afraid to kill or torture anyone in his way.
The only problem with this film is the length. Standing at three hours, the film pushes the audience’s limit on how much they can take. There are scenes that draw out like the now-famous five-minute Mexican Standoff between the three main characters. That scene, even though it is a classic, is still the ultimate test in keeping the audience’s suspense at a high level.
Despite the length of the film and not being as strong as the last entry, the film is still one of the ultimate examples of the Spaghetti Western. It should definitely be seen by anyone who is a fan of any type of Western.