A vast open, bare Western landscape comes onto screen. The camera pans across the landscape to a Western-style town. The camera zooms in to focus on the eyes of a local outlaw. His eyes steady and alert on a target focused ahead of him. His hands calmly and steadily remain near his holster. Camera swings slowly around to view another outlaw. The camera quickly zooms in on a sunburned strained face. The man seems nervous, sweating profusely. His hands seem jittery and anxious. The camera pans wide to enclose both outlaws each waiting for the other to make his move. With the blink of an eye, guns are pulled from their holsters without thought. A shot rings out, and an outlaw falls. This is the way typical “pistol showdowns” were done in most classic westerns. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly would be no different except it would add a certain quality not seen before in a classic western.
Throughout the entire movie, director Sergio Leone did not care at all about the believability of his films, but built on Western cliches to elevate his style into an art form. Leone perfected the art of producing “spaghetti westerns”, a type of Western film that was developed in the 1960s usually filmed by Italian studios. The films usually were filmed in the Italian language with low budgets and a high array of violence that was totally unusual from classic Westerns of the past. Leone filmed the greatest of the “spaghetti westerns” known as the “Dollars Trilogy”, which includes A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Leone worked with what little he had for these films to produce some of the greatest westerns to grace the big screen. What Leone had was a TV-reject in Clint Eastwood, a small budget for which to film, and the lack of Hollywood support forcing him to film overseas. This lack of resources may have been a blessing in disguise. The foreign essence of the film made the work of art that is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly have a foreign, out-of-this-world feel that was not present in traditional, classic Westerns. Leone traveled to southern Spain for the setting of this film, which was similar in topography to the southwestern section of the United States. Southern Spain was an area unseen by many Americans in classic westerns giving this film an unobserved, out of this world feel about its setting. Mainly using Spanish actors from the surrounding area as extras, the Spanish extras gave the film an original feel of how people would look during the Civil War era in the American West – strained and stressed men who were worn out by work and the sun.
The film is set in the southwestern theater at the height of the American Civil War. The film starts off a little slow introducing the three main characters: Angel Eyes aka the Bad (Lee Van Cleef), Tuco aka the Ugly (Eli Wallach), and Blondie aka the Good (Clint Eastwood). After all 3 men have learned of the secret, hidden Confederate gold and its whereabouts, the story picks up and the race for the gold is on. After encountering aspects of western society during this time period such as hangings, desert abandonment, runaway stagecoaches, and Civil War battles, the 3 men arrive at the destination of the Confederate gold: a Civil War cemetery. To determine the rightful owner of the gold, Blondie challenges Angel Eyes and Tuco to a “pistol showdown” and the last one standing takes the gold. Leone lengthens and draws this scene out to an extreme extent but does it very effectively. He starts with a wide shot of the three men, then establishes close-ups on eyes, faces, firearms, hands, and sweat testing the patience of his audience on how suspenseful and stressful this scene really is. This scene is one of the most well done and most well known in the history of cinema. In the end, Blondie gets off the first shot killing Angel Eyes. Blondie gives Tuco no chance to shot him emptying Tuco’s gun the night before, and then giving one of the most unknown but best quotes in the history of film, “You see, in this world there are two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns…and those who dig. You dig.” Blondie directs Tuco to dig at an unmarked grave where the gold is located. After a humorous scene where Blondie puts Tuco in a noose and from a distance shots him down, the two would split the Confederate gold.
Eastwood came in as a TV-snub that wouldn’t be cast by Hollywood directors. Eastwood would have to take his talent overseas to the services of Director Sergio Leone, who is the only director who would give Eastwood a chance to show his talents. The two never really got along, and by the third movie of the trilogy that being The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the two were on their last strings. Leone made the Man with No Name much bigger than a TV star; he made him into a movie star, a movie star who had to respond to no one. Speaking of the Man with No Name, Eastwood could also be known as the Man with No Vocal cord, not as catchy I have to say, as he has very little speaking parts in the film. Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, has the bulk of the speaking parts and gives an inspired performance. His character acts of a clown at some points during the film, but uses this act to deceive his enemies into thinking he is unintelligent when really intelligence is behind his actions.
Leone’s goal when directing this film was to portray the violence of war, specifically the American Civil War. Leone claimed that war was the most useless and stupid aspect that mankind has ever created. He stated that war had no good cause, no good value, and he wanted to convey that in his films. He wanted to include all aspects of war into this film by showing the suffering the soldiers had to endure during this horrible time in American history. The most effective part of this film to convey Leone’s feelings on war came at the scene of the Civil War battle. According to Leone, the battle was a pointless battle between Union and Confederate forces separated by a river with a bridge across the river. The two sides exchange cannon blows before both sides charge across the bridge to meet each other with heavy casualties. Even Blondie makes a quote during the battle, “Never seen so many men wasted so badly”, really a true statement about the characteristic of war. Another goal of Leone’s for his pictures was to convey the true meaning of the American West. He effectively mocked classic westerns by the way he showed how people were killed in his “spaghetti westerns”. Leone believed that simple, violent men made the American West, and that is the kind of west that he portrays in his westerns.
The film would be nothing without the art and sound that was instituted into the film by Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, who did the magnificent film score. I believe without the brilliant score, the film would not have been as high quality as it turned out to be. Consider the final showdown in the cemetery where Leone used masterful wide shots along with tight shots to add a certain mounting tension among the three men included with the musical score making the scene one of the best of the movie and in western-film history. Morricone gave The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly an unconventional score, not heard before in any classic western before. The score was original and uncommon for the 1960s, exactly what Leone wanted.
The film is an art filled, cinematic masterpiece, possibly the greatest western and directed film of all time. It portrays all aspects of the films directed historical references with clarity and precision such as the Civil War battle, the gunfights, and the military prison camps. The film opened in Italy on December 23, 1966, and opened in America on December 29, 1967, being highly criticized for its deception of war and violence just as Leone wanted. Overall, I give this movie a “thumbs up” for its perfect portrayal of the American West during the Civil War and the way director, Sergio Leone, made the film with crafty and compelling charisma never before seen in a classic western.