The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
Sergio Leone’s films are often characterized by a majestic background score, stylized violence and an assortment of iconic characters. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly(GBU) is no different, and in fact, it was through the immense popularity of this movie that Leone’s trademark style of movie-making became renowned.
GBU is similar to the earlier films of the trilogy in terms of the treatment and setting, but it outshines its predecessors primarily because it is made on a much larger canvas with deeper themes, and the backdrop of the Civil War lends a touch of authenticity to the proceedings.
The plot is very basic with hardly any complications. Clint Eastwood reprises his role of the detached, lonesome bounty hunter, always in search of means to earn some quick money. He meets Tuco(Eli Wallach), a wanted criminal, and a series of events follow which make them turn against each other. Tuco very nearly kills Blondie but fate comes to his rescue, as a carriage containing several dead bodies passes by. The lone survivor, Bill Carson, knows of some gold buried in a cemetry, and as luck would have it, Tuco ends up with the location of the cemetry, and Blondie with the name of the grave. The two men, previously at loggerheads, thus form an uneasy alliance to get hold of the bounty. But the two of them are not the only ones going for the gold, there’s a ruthless murderer Angel Eyes(Lee van Cleef) hot on their trail. Through a series of misadventures, which sees Blondie and Tuco being taken in as prisoners-of-war and later, playing a part in the ongoing Civil War, the three of them reach the graveyard at around the same time leading to a thrilling finale(a Mexican stand-off!!).
When it comes to acting, Eli Wallach as Tuco steals the thunder from under Eastwood’s feet as he delivers a knock-out performance, and is the source of vivacity in the plot. He plays out the role of a bumbling criminal in the most natural and effortless manner. Initially, his character appears to be very detestable, but towards the end, the viewer bound to develop a soft corner for him despite all his shortcomings. In this sense, it is a very well fleshed out character and the only one whose background and motivations become known to the viewer.
Due to credit must be given to Eastwood though, as his is a severely underwritten character, but he manages to infuse enough style and substance to deliver an admirable performance. After all, none of the Dollar films would have been what they are without The Man With No Name. Lee van Cleef has very little screen time but excels in evoking disgust and revulsion from the viewer.
The background score can easily be called the fourth character in the movie, such is its significance. Ennio Morricone deserves every bit of acclaim for creating a wonderful score without which the film would have been incomplete. It is rumoured that Leone decided on the music before he filmed the scenes. This technique, though unorthodox, works pretty well in this case.
The cinematography is first-rate, with a fine mix of long shots and close-ups. The scene where Tuco escapes from a train and mexican stand-off sequence are filmed with finesse. Considering the fact that the film came out in the sixties, this is a monumental achievement.
Sergio Leone creates a visual masterpiece in the form of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The scenes, the music and the characters are bound to remain etched in the minds cinema lovers forever. Despite its excessive length, the movie does not cease to captivate even for a single moment. This is not just a bounty hunting adventure set in the West, it is a breath-taking saga of friendship, trust and loyalty, and if you have followed the plot and the characters closely, you would not be surprised with the outcome of the final shoot-out. Highly recommended!