August 14, 2008

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) - see it

(1966, Italy/Spain, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo)

If you only see one spaghetti western, make it this one…

This was one of the earliest epics that really engrossed me. Even on TV, I was totally immersed in the story for two and a half hours. Thankfully it used to be shown on a channel without advert breaks. The story, the characters, the music and the spectacle all help make this my favourite western.

This was the third in the 'Dollars Trilogy'. I know, no dollars in the title, but it’s so similar to A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More that they’re always considered together. There are familiar faces from the first two films, though Lee Van Cleef, introduced as Clint Eastwood’s older wiser mentor in For A Few Dollars More, becomes 'The Bad' here. Even in by wild west standards, he shows a marked lack of conscience. As a prison camp commander (director Sergio Leone is keen to remind us that p.o.w.s were interred even during the Civil War). 'Angel Eyes' (Cleef) uses relentless torture to get what he wants, muffling the screams with a band of prisoners.

While 'Blondie' (Eastwood) is more clearly defined as ‘The Good’, he’s still motivated by money, with a cruel streak of humour. ‘The Ugly’ is Tuco, played brilliantly by Eli Wallach. Not a shining representative of Mexico, but for that matter Clint isn't a shining example of all that's American.

The three are gradually introduced, eventually meet up, and then race each other to a stash of army gold. But their journey, alliances and clashes are the treat. The story is far clearer than Few Dollars More, but still character-based and episodic. It contains many classic scenes filled with invention and humour...

A dangerous scam involving faked lynching. Torture by desert crossing. How to sabotage the Civil War. A gunfight in a town under bombardment. And the awesome, oft-copied, circular gunfight. If anyone wants to quote the visual language of a tense gunfight, it's usually from this film. The scene was parodied soon after in the WW2 comedy adventure Kelly's Heroes that also starred Eastwood.

I never tire of the soundtrack music, even after thirty years of listening to it. A key cue from the film’s climax took me by surprise in Las Vegas earlier this year. Outside the front of the Italian-themed Bellagio hotel/casino, a huge synchronised fountain display plays every half hour. I was thrilled to see them use 'The Ecstasy of Gold' from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, a pretty ironic track, but I was delighted that this particular Ennio Morricone era is still recognised and paid tribute to, especially in such spectacular style.

The latest DVD Special Edition has reinstated scenes missing from the American release version that orignally appeared in Leone’s longer Italian release. This meant belatedly adding 15 more minutes of English language audio, using the actors to dub their performances over thirty years later. Unfortunately this makes the new scenes quite easy to spot, as Wallach and Eastwood’s voices have altered considerably. It’s also not the version that I grew up with and they add nothing crucial to the experience. These scenes would be nice as an option or an extra, but I’m not throwing away my copy of the original English language release. Once again, a film that I love is getting rare in the form that it was originally seen.
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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is being shown around the UK and a Clint Eastwood retrospective is currently running at the BFI Southbank.

1 comment:

  1. And of course inspired the totally awesome "The Good, The Bad, The Weird", which is one of my favourite Korean films :D.