The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The third part of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western ‘Dollars trilogy’ receives a new print re-release ahead of its predecessors A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (their digital re-release comes in September). As stupid as this may seem there is commendable logic at work here. Made in 1966, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is undoubtedly the masterpiece of this trilogy. It’s a Chianti and tomato sauce stained epic parable that signalled the riches that lay a head in Leone’s equally brilliant 1968 film Once Upon a Time in the West. It was also the point at which Leone came into his own, leaving his contemporaries behind on the far off plains of Cinecittà. The previous films seem like stylistic workouts by comparison, albeit ones where a naturally gifted filmmaker was trying to figure out how to hide his left-wing diatribes and anti-capitalist messages in bloody, slow-build revenge tales that would please the international drive-in crowds.
Set during the American Civil War, the film follows the fortunes of a questionably ‘good’ gunslinger (Clint Eastwood), a ‘bad’ hitman (Lee Van Cleef) and an ‘ugly’ bandit/outlaw (Eli Wallach) as they go in search of bounty and buried gold. In a desertscape too desolate for Indians or good men, Leone works his magic and craft, one honed by exposure to both the cinema of Americana and more European sensibilities (John Ford, Luchino Visconti and Vincente Minnelli being the most prominent).
With its Ennio Morricone soundtrack, elemental themes, nihilistic heroes, labyrinthine plots, keyhole surgery close ups and macrocosmic vistas (to say nothing of the now clichéd triangular shoot-outs) this is Leone working at the top of his game creating ‘pure cinema’ as only genius can. Leone even makes Eli Wallach, then noted as one of America’s greatest method actors, endure a morbidly funny hanging crucifixion. Really, what more do you want? It is little wonder that Quentin Tarantino considers this to be his favourite film ever.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 1 Aug.