Wednesday, 4 July 2012
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Now, I know there are all sorts of Westerns, but if someone starts talking about this genre, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is what I automatically think of. Few other westerns have the same dynamism of a Sergio Leone western. They are full of action, have amazing characters and are beautifully shot. Having said that, I'm really looking forward to Django Unchained in 2013.
Having wowed the world with his dynamic, violent style in Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, TGTBATU is the icing on the Sergio Leone cake. It's a film that is in no hurry. The first half an hour are spent slowly introducing the characters: Tuco (The Ugly) is evidently often a wanted man, but is perfectly capable of looking after himself. Angel Eyes (The Bad) is a real mercenary and will stop at nothing to get his hands on as much cash as possible. Finally there's Blondie (The Good), still quite the mercenary, but with more scruples than Angel Eyes. It's typical of Leone that even the "hero" (The Good) is a morally ambiguous character.
After these introductions we get into the story proper, these nefarious characters are trying to track down a cash box buried in a graveyard. Of course it's not as simple as that, they get there via various altercations and encounters with the Unionist and Confederate armies, as well as each other. However, when the graveyard is reached, the climax to the movie is 25 of the best minutes ever committed to film. Leone's style is most evident here as the camera slowly gets closer to the protagonists using static shots of faces, eyes, hands and guns. I have talked more about this in my Sunday Scene; quite simply, it's superb.
Behind all this wonderful direction and editing is an amazing score from Ennio Morricone. Perhaps it is the theme music from the film that is most famous (perhaps even the most famous music from a Western), but The Ecstasy of Gold and "The Trio" showdown music are truly magnificent.
The three stars are quite brilliant. Lee Van Cleef is the perfect embodiment of The Bad; the piercing blue eyes, the mousey smile, all played with such gleeful recklessness. I know that Clint's character is meant to be the main hero, and Blondie is the epitome of cool, but it is Eli Wallach's portrayal of Tuco that is the highlight of the film. He has the best lines: "If you're gonna shoot, shoot! Don't talk!", and the scene in which he "buys" a gun in a shop is pure genius. Tuco is very much an adolescent character trying to survive in a man's world, and as such always seems to make it through by the seat of his pants. Eli Wallach always manages to make his beady eyes full of wonder at the possibilities available to him, but at the same time terrified by what might happen to him. This is no better demonstrated than in the truel at the end of the film: his beady eyes searching, his mouth twitching as he tries to second guess his opponents, and his gun on a piece of string! He could win so much, but he could lose everything. Superb.