May 30, 2009
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Grade: 89/100

Director: Sergio Leone
Stars: Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef

What it's about. A western set in the U.S. during the Civil War. Theoretically, a sequel to the two Dollars films also directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood. However, while Clint still wears a poncho and continues to chain smoke thin cigarettes, his too-cool-to-smile character is quickly understood. To follow this film, you have no need to first see the Dollars movies, although both (especially A Few Dollars More) are highly recommended anyway.

Tuco (Eli Wallach), a loquacious but lethal bandit, is The Ugly. Clint, referred to as Blondie by Tuco, is The Good. This is less than it implies, since it only means that he kills out of self defense instead of for pleasure or profit. Which brings us to The Bad, (Lee Van Cleef), a.k.a. Angel Eyes, who needs little motive to kill.

All three characters are after the same thing, 200K in gold, buried in a grave at a cemetery. Blondie knows the name of the grave. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery. And because he tortured Tuco to get the information, Angel Eyes also knows the cemetery. Because it's a movie, all three killers end up at the same cemetery at the same time. Who will draw first?

How others will see it. Of course, you know what happens, because you have seen the film. Practically every adult male has. At, it has received a whopping 125,000 votes, and is currently ranked #4 on the imdb Top 250. It is the oldest movie in the top 10, aside from the overly wrought courtroom drama 12 Angry Men. Which, come to think of it, is also the only film in the top 10 with no character deaths.

Women enjoy it less, perhaps because it stars three unredeemable killers, or perhaps because there are barely any female characters (one woman spends her brief screen time getting slapped around by The Bad).

How I felt about it. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is unquestionably entertaining. And it has a highly memorable score. But what makes it a great film? Leone was confident from the commercial success of the prior two films in the Dollars trilogy, and the budget was substantially higher. The most appreciable change, however, is the presence of Eli Wallach, a comical figure despite his propensity for shooting straight and often with a handgun.

Wallach is more compelling here than Eastwood, because his character operates with complete selfishness, which makes him human. Eastwood in each Dollars movie, although to a lesser degree than in High Plains Drifter, seems otherworldly, a spirit sent here (whether from heaven or hell) to witness the death and suffering of others. And he'll dish out some of that death and suffering himself, when he feels that others deserve it.

Angel Eyes is merely cruel, a man who relishes the moment when his victim realizes that he is certain to die, or at least suffer extreme pain. He surrounds himself with men who are equally ruthless, such as Corporal Wallace (Mario Brega), who might even be more sadistic than Angel Eyes himself. But I don't think so.

Angel Eyes sees the world differently than either Tuco or Blondie. Take the Civil War, for example. Tuco or Blondie commiserate with Captain Harper (Antonio Molino Rojo, dubbed by an unknown deep-voiced actor), who wants to stop the slaughter of soldiers by removing its provocation, a strategic bridge. Tuco and Blondie look for an excuse to blow up the bridge, and make sure it is accomplished in time for Harper to appreciate. But if Angel Eyes were there and in charge, he would keep the soldiers battling until they were all dead or wounded.