"This movie is a classic for a reason"
"Ugly running through the graveyard has to be in the all-time great scene pantheon"
"This movie is way too long. "
To begin, I’ve always enjoyed Westerns. It’s definitely one of my favorite genres. Maybe it’s an inherent bias since I was named after a Western-based book. Just wanted to let you know where I’m coming from.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly feels like an incredibly familiar movie. The sounds, the music, the themes and the style have obviously been replicated since its release. I think it’s a testament to how much of an influence this movie had on film-makers that we know today. I had multiple scenes where I felt like I was watching Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction (though the dialogue is quite different). Speaking of familiarity, good God, I’m way less impressed with the creation of Wolverine now. Basically they just took Blondie and gave him claws.
So, first theme I noticed, and it’s one we’ve talked about a bit so far is there’s really no good guy here. Just three flawed guys, almost superhero level, who, to me, represent our base instincts of survival and survival is basically the name of the game in the West.
Blondie might be the closest thing we have to a noble-survivor here. He is good looking and charismatic, but we don’t know anything about him nor does he do anything that is particularly admirable. Hell, he screws over Tuco, kills bandits with no care and ruins everyone’s hats. It isn’t until he blows that bridge up that we see something relatable, and even then he’s doing it mostly so he can get across the river. In the midst of this, though, he does have a line about never seeing such a waste of lives in reference to the war around him. He really only commits to kind acts: (1) Giving the handsome soldier a smoke before he dies and (2) Letting Tuco live with his half of the money, though he did torture him first. This isn’t to say I found him one-dimensional. While we don’t know about his past, with the way his character acts, I think we can learn enough. He’s a sociopath, no doubt. But he still has some humanity left. He doesn’t seem to kill when he doesn’t need it, he has a soft-spot for soldiers, but he’s also dead emotionally. Money and survival are his only motivators, but he’s not willing to achieve those things by totally abandoning integrity.
Tuco actually might be the most likable overall. Like Blondie, he’s a sociopath. Unlike Blondie, dude is pretty funny. Knowing nothing else, you’d think that Tuco was actually the main character. He’s the only guy we get to know as we meet his brother as they hash out some family issues. While we’ve mostly found Tuco despicable up until this point, we do see that he cared about his family and it gives us something to relate to. Tuco, in actions and mannerisms, is like a rat. It’s the voice in our head that is most desperate. He’ll do or say anything to survive. He rambles, he curses, he jokes. While he doesn’t seem so dangerous from looking at him with his random jewelry and his odd way of moving about, he proves that he’s just as dangerous as anyone else in the movie. He’s the ugly because he is the complete lack of dignity or integrity. Tuco is actually the main person in my favorite scene of the movie: Where he has found the cemetery and that badass music comes and we get a dizzying ride with him looking for the right gravestone. I love that he once again is so focused on the money that he loses track of Blondie. There are two types of bad guys: Those who pay attention to Blondie and those who don’t.
Angel Eyes is our third main character and the one we know the least. Again, he’s a sociopath. However, unlike Blondie, he enjoys killing. Like Blondie, though, he has integrity and a code. He’s similar to Tuco in in his sadism when it comes to killing (they both have some intense violence and torture scenes). But unlike Tuco, there’s nothing to like about Angel Eyes outside of his impressive will that he imposes on everybody and his quiet, calm resolve. Really, it isn’t until the 3-way shoot-out that we see even the smallest hint of questioning or worry. He’s just a damn smooth operator. Speaking of, that’s definitely up there for my favorite scene of the movie.
Part of what made some of these scenes so enjoyable was the intense score accompanying them. Oh man. I loved the score. It’s rare that a score can ruin a movie, but a score done so well as this easily increases enjoyment. I could listen to some of those tracks without a movie involved.
Certainly, you can see some differences in what they’re able to do with technology then as compared to now. I loved in the opening scene with the coyote howl that was clearly recorded at night because when it’s played, you can hear the crickets. Or the sounds effects of a hat flying off of a head. I’m willing to give them a pass on some of these things due to the era. Also, it’s amazing how much smoother modern day editing has made movies. One impressive feat that we’d never see today was the battle scene. Those were all legit extras. That’s a ton of people.
Before I get to the flaws, I do want to mention the camera work. There were a lot of interesting angles going on. The down the hallway, man in black in the doorway was a good set-up. The zooming out to catch the entire setting when they were outside gave us some depth to the area. The zooming in on eyes, the POV glimpses, etc. This had to have been a ton of work with the technology they were working with. From what I’ve read about director Sergio Leone, he was a demanding perfectionist, which also reminds me of many modern day directors.
I do have a few issues. There are some incredibly convenient things in the plot. They need explosives, oh hey, we’re sitting next to explosives. Two guys are stalking them in the thoroughfare, boom, random cannon explosion (which actually happened twice in the film). I just found those plot-points a bit too convenient. Also, some scenes did last a bit too long. I know editing was more of a challenge, but some of those were excessive. Also, some of the voice dub overs were distractingly bad. Though, this might be a technology thing, so largely I’ll give it a pass.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I think the main characters and most of the side characters were well-acted. The plot was enjoyable, though not overly sophisticated. I loved the Blondie/Tuco relationship. Mostly, I enjoyed a lot of the individual scenes, the accompanying score and the intense feeling of the film. This movie is a classic for a reason: A-