Monday, January 24, 2011

#28 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

"When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk!"

Allow me to preface this review by saying that I freakin love Clint Eastwood. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t. And what’s not to love? He’s cool, rather dashing, and just has a gravitas in his performance that just exudes badassery. Even watching films such as Gran Torino in which he’s acting as an old man, he’s still able to carry this swagger of a man who can easily beat you down, and both he and you know it. The movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is the third in a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, encapsulates this persona stupendously. Even though for most of my life I rather disliked the Western genre, and was loathe to watch westerns, this movie has shown me fully and completely what I have been missing out on. It is a supremely great film.

The film opens with an introduction of the three primary characters of the film. Tuco is introduced first as he single-handedly takes down 2 assailants before jumping out of a window and riding off into the sunset. Tuco is the Ugly. Next we are introduced to Setenza, who rides to a poor farmer’s house looking for information. After giving up the information, the farmer tries to buy off Setenza – attempting to get Setenza to kill the man who hired him. Setenza takes the money, and then kills the farmer and his son. He then rides off to his employer, and kills him for good measure. Obviously, Setenza is introduced as The Bad. Finally, we are introduced to The Good, played by Clint Eastwood. His introduction scene begins with a scene of Tuco riding through the wilderness, before being attacked by two bounty hunters, seeking to collect the substantial reward on his capture. Clint Eastwood, whose character has no actual name, kills the bounty hunters, and takes Tuco in himself. Eastwood collects the reward, and then rescues Tuco before he is hung. It turns out that this is a scam that Eastwood and Tuco have been performing for some time. Eastwood has had enough of it, however, and so leaves Tuco to die in the middle of a desert. Meanwhile, we find out that Setenza has learned of a large treasure of 200,000 dollars, hidden by a confederate officer. Setenza begins searching for the officer in the hopes of getting the money for himself. Tuco manages to walk the 70 miles through the desert back to town, where he steals himself a gun and vows revenge against Eastwood, who he calls Blondie. Tuco eventually catches up to Blondie, who evades a hanging at the hands of Tuco, but is soon caught again and this time is sent through the desert by Tuco. Just as Blondie is about to die, he is saved by the arrival of a wagon manned by the officer who buried the treasure, who is now on his death throes. The officer tells Tuco where it is buried generally, in a graveyard, but doesn’t tell him the specific grave, which he ends up relaying to Blondie. Having a sudden change of heart, Tuco disguises himself and Blondie as confederate officers and rides to a monastery to find medical care for Blondie. After some time, Blondie and Tuco ride off, but are soon captured by Union soldiers (they’re still disguised as Revels), and sent to a prison camp which is headed by Setenza. Setenza beats the information on the cemetery out of Tuco, and leaves him to die, and then makes an agreement with Blondie to split the treasure 50-50. Tuco gets away and rejoins with Blondie, and the two backstab Setenza, and go off to find the treasure for themselves. They reach the cemetery, after Tuco backstabs Blondie once again, and the three are then confronted by Setenza, who has been following them. The three of them then have a final showdown to determine who gets the loot. Blondie kills Setenza, and reveals that the night before he had taken Tuco’s ammo, and so makes Tuco dig up the treasure for him. Tuco strikes gold, but before the loot is divided, Blondie sets up Tuco to be hung. Leaving Tuco standing on a gravestone, hovering between life and death, Blondie rides off into the sunset with 100,000 dollars, Tuco screaming, “BLONDIE” as he departs….JUST KIDDING! Blondie comes back, and, one last time, shoots the rope holding up Tuco, leaving Tuco to his share before departing once again.

The acting in this movie is simply superb. Clint Eastwood is excellent, as is to be expected. He carries this affability that is quite fun to watch. He’s smooth and well composed, and is very confident in his abilities. At the same time, the other two lead actors are equally good. I really liked Lee Van Cleef who played Setenza. He just plays such a great villain. He’s not arrogant or haughty or dastardly. He knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it. I may not have said it before, but I really like genre savvy villains, meaning I like villains that DON’T do things such as leaving you out to die in the desert rather than shooting you on the spot, or believing your 1st lieutenant when he says that that sound you just heard was probably nothing. Setenza is a genre savvy character. When Blondie disappears after their teaming up, he assumes that Blondie is betraying him, and so sends his crew after Blondie, while making his own getaway. He was just a very cool character. I also liked Eli Wallach, who plays Tuco. I didn’t really like him at first, because he came off as annoying, and clingy, and not capable of taking care of himself. But later on in the film you begin to realize that Tuco is actually very badass in his own right. His interaction with Eastwood was very good, and watching their interactions was very entertaining. For the most part, the rest of the characters are Italian extras (hence, Spaghetti Western), and in general are not very good. One character I did like, however, was Aldo Giuffrè, who played the drunken Union Captain that Tuco and Blondie interact with towards the end of the film. He brought realness to his character that you just couldn’t help but feel sympathy towards, and I really liked that.

The directing in this film is superb. The film is set up as a deconstruction of the Western genre, that is to say, they take all the conventions, tropes, and characteristics of the genre, and exaggerate them to their fullest extent. This deconstruction is made very obvious from the very first scene which shows two cowboys walking towards one another through an abandoned town. This process takes a good ten minutes, showing them walking through town in all manner of funny and peculiar angles. Finally the two opposing forces stop, and they stare each other down for another couple minutes. The camera pans back and forth between close-ups of each actors’ eyes. Finally, the two cowboys do not attack each other, but advance together into a saloon, where we hear gunshots and a man jumping out of a window. After all of that, we don’t even see the fight. What I find even more impressive in this parody, is that the film still maintains a very serious and grave tone. It’s not explicitly funny, but when you think about the way in which the film is presented, you realize that it is very funny. Perhaps the most impressive scene of this film is the very famous “bridge explosion scene” in which Tuco and Blondie blow up a bridge separating Union and Confederate encampments, so as to get both armies out of their way. The bridge itself was constructed in full scale at very great expense, and Leone had only one chance to shoot the scene, and it is just simply spectacular. Another thing I love is the subtlety of this film. Plot elements often are not explicitly told to you. What’s very impressive is how well the characters are constructed in this film, and this is really where the subtlety comes in. Each of these characters has aspirations, pasts, and personalities that are very specific, and while they may not necessarily be apparent to a casual or passive viewer, when one pays careful attention, these elements become very apparent. I particularly like Tuco’s character, which is distrustful, resenting, haughty, and very arrogant. He doesn’t take well to backstabbing, though he happily will do it to anyone and everyone he interacts with. The motivations of these characteristics come mostly from his upbringing, which forced him into a life of crime, and though in some ways he is shown to be resentful of his selected lifestyle, he also likes it a lot.

There was really only one thing I didn’t really like about the film, and that was the pacing. The Film is 2 hours and 48 minutes long, and while I don’t particularly mind a long film, this movie goes on for the first hour without any semblance of a plot, which to me gets slightly aggravating, and though I liked what I was seeing, I found myself constantly checking the clock against the run-time. Once Eastwood and Tuco start out trying to find the treasure, though, the movie picks up in a very good way, and after that it was a much more enjoyable watch.

Overall this is just a superb film. It is a movie which I would gladly watch again and again. Sergio Leone just does a fantastic job, and Clint Eastwood is stunning. This is just flat out a cool movie. In spite of the long run-time of this film, it is very accessible. Now we enter the grand question: why is this film on the list, and more importantly for this film, why this film specifically, and not the other two? Having not seen the other two films of this trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More, I don’t think I would adequately make an analysis, though I will provide what thoughts I have. I think on the first part this film is on the list at all for the fact that it stars the pairing of Eastwood and Leone, and truly represents the Spaghetti Western genre. Now, as for why this movie was selected over the two, I can’t make any commentary on the quality of this film over the other two, though I will say that this film was selected over the other two because of its influence. I am aware of the other two films, but that comes more from having a dad who is a big fan of westerns. In that sense these films don’t have wide recognition, whereas The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, is an extremely well known and influential film; one that I would have heard of regardless of the film tastes of my father. Therefore The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was selected over the other two films because it is more widely known, and has more cultural influence than the other two, which regardless of whether or not they are better films, are less widely known. Whatever the rate, I am very happy I saw this film, and it will definitely warrant an enthusiasm for further viewing of western films as I work my way through this list.

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