I’m going to tell you why, in my opinion at least, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Let’s start, with the big draw. The Good. Clint. By 1966, when the movie was released, Clint Eastwood had been a huge star for the best part of 10 years. He had made his name on the TV show Rawhide, playing Rowdy Yates. This success had led him into the movies and starring roles. As has happened throughout the history of performance, if an actor is a success in a particular genre, typecasting soon follows. Eastwood’s great skill in the Western field is that he rarely repeats a performance despite characters perhaps being similar.
He may always be synonymous with playing Western Gunslingers or “Cowboys” (though Dirty Harry fans may disagree) but he always brought something different to the parts, the skill of a great actor… and make no mistake, Eastwood is a great actor. Less is more and boy, does he provide. This is not even Eastwood’s greatest western role. The Outlaw Josey Wales’ personal vendetta and own brand of justice is a far more rounded and earthy character, but all fade in insignificance to Will Munney, in Unforgiven. This it could be said is Eastwood’s greatest role ever. The patience and dedication to wait 12 years until he felt he was the correct age, look and worldly wise to play the part, and the years of consideration that made up the role, really are incredible.
The Good,The Bad and The Ugly, was the third outing in the Spaghetti Western Trilogy by Sergio Leone. In A Fistful of Dollars he played Joe, a young prototype of Blondie (the character he plays in The Good…). Although he hits the ground running there is a youthfulness to him, and perhaps more vulnerability, than The Man with No Name has in the third outing. Although titled The Good, he has his flaws (the same can be said for The Ugly who also shows in counterbalance a light side, but more of him later).
Blondie swaggers through the film, barely moving a facial muscle beyond a sneer. He epitomizes cool, as whenever he appears Ennio Morricone’s enduring theme can be heard. He barely speaks throughout but he doesn’t need to. It has to be remembered, Blondie is an outlaw, he is a criminal and the plot, without too many spoilers does revolve around theft, so we mustn’t be too drawn to empathizing with the bounty hunter too much.
Returning too from A few Dollars More is Lee Van Cleef, whose old school grit and acting skill brings a real sense of danger as Angel Eyes, on his own mission of personal gain, he poses the very real threat. His character also ties in superbly one of the backdrops of the story. The Civil War. This great chapter in American history can be sensed, but not until Van Cleef’s character evolves do we really feel a sense of what the war may have been like but what it may have been like to be a part of.
The most surprising and therefore one of my favorite elements of the film is The Ugly, Tuco. Eli Wallach brings pathos, humanity, humor, and probably the greatest sense of person to all the lead characters and in the movie he is brilliant. A character actor whose roles include parts in The Magnificent Seven, Godfather part III, and Genghis Khan show the highly rated skills Wallach brings to Tuco, who as I said really is the closest to the center and the heart of the film.
For a film branded a “Western”, this movie is exhilarating, desolate, grand in scale but magnificent in detail, bloody, there is a sense of a buddy movie at times, it has historical elements and a social commentary that is just as valid today, it’s heartwarming (see the mission scenes), its funny and the amazing end sequence is often copied but never repeated, Mexican standoff found its definition here.
If you haven’t seen it, don’t be put off by preconceived notions of the genre, you may be pleasantly surprised, if you have seen it then I have no doubt, you know where I am coming from.