Published on January 1st, 2004 | by Jay Richardson0
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Special Edition
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
Arguably one of the greatest Westerns of all time, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is, for anyone’s fistful of dollars, certainly one of the most memorable. Without speaking a word of English, Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns reinvigorated the genre, forging a stunning panoramic of the American West in Spain and Italy.
With a dusty sheen of iconographic cool that defied its budget and shaky dubbing, the film not only withstood the passage of time but has grown in stature, barely containing its own legend. A triumvirate of gunslingers crossing and double-crossing at every opportunity, Leone’s ultra-antagonistic protagonists are brilliantly captured by the three leads, with fortune constantly seesawing between a squinting, world-weary “Good” (Clint Eastwood), cruelly tortuous “Bad” (Lee Van Cleef) and the vile yet comically sympathetic “Ugly” (Eli Wallach). Each after a Confederate gold stash hidden in a soldier’s grave, they are reluctantly drawn into the American Civil War, its carnage adding a line of moral enquiry to their avarice. But the trio are gods of greed amidst a cannon fodder supporting cast, and everything builds towards a dramatic three-way climax of violence, the quick cuts and extreme close-up tension exacerbated by Ennio Morricone’s magnificent trumpet score.
Part of Leone’s achievement is the humour throughout, particularly the uneasy alliance between the ‘good’ Blondie and the ‘ugly’ Tuco. But it’s pure gallows, with violence permeating everything, not least a wordless first 15 minutes and the effortlessly ‘bad’ Angel Eyes. In a world with strong Catholic overtones but no God, he enjoys Satanic status as the angel of death, a killer who always finishes the job. No god except Mammon, as scores of men perish for a bridge and Tuco’s priest brother begs forgiveness from his murderer and rapist sibling. Blondie shows some compassion for a dying soldier by helping him smoke his final cigarette, but he’s only the lesser of three tunnel-visioned evils.
Of the DVD extras, the new scenes are notable chiefly for Eastwood and Wallach’s redubbing of their dialogue, their aging voices jarring uneasily with the action of their younger selves, neither detracting from or improving the studio cut. All of which leaves a beautifully remastered print and a fistful of top-drawer extras, including a great feature on Morricone and a chat-track by film historian Richard Schickel, whose book on Leone incidentally, I cannot recommend highly enough.