The Western may exemplify a particularly American style of myth-making, but movies dealing with Western themes and stories were popular in many other countries as well. The earliest example of this type may well be the short “Repas d’Indien” (“Indian Banquet”) shot by Gabriel Veyre for the Lumière Brothers in 1896, while the strangest manifestation may be so-called “Osterns” (“Easterns”) made in the Soviet Union. When it comes to mastery and critique of the Western mythos, however, none did it better than the Italian screenwriter and director Sergio Leone, and Leone was never better than in his 1966 epic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. If you only see one spaghetti Western in your lifetime, this is the one to see.
There’s nothing like a good dose of schadenfreude to brighten your day, so let’s just spare a minute or two to contemplate how big-shot critics got it wrong about a film now considered a masterpiece. The Variety staff review called it “a curious amalgam of the visually striking, the dramatically feeble, and the offensively sadistic,” Renata Adler wrote in the New York Times that Leone’s film was “the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre” and Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin called it “The Bad, The Dull, and the Interminable.” Today, of course, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is recognized as not only the definitive spaghetti western, but also as a truly great film independent of genre.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was Clint Eastwood’s third film with Leone, and his third time playing “The Man with No Name”—although actually his character is called Blondie in this film, and he’s the “Good” of the tltle. Lee Van Cleef plays the mercenary Angel Eyes, the “Bad” of the title, while Eli Wallach plays the comic bandit Tuco,” the “Ugly” of the title. The time is 1862, during the American Civil War, and the location is New Mexico. Blondie, Tuco, and Angel Eyes team up to try to find some stolen Confederate gold, but each is chiefly loyal to himself, so there’s a lot of betrayal in this quest. There’s also a lot of highly stylized violence, and while I’m not normally a fan of violent films, it’s easier to take in this film because it’s clear that Leone is criticizing rather than celebrating the violent behavior of his characters.
There’s so much to love in the technical aspects of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that it’s hard to know where to begin. The theme by Ennio Morricone is a classic, as is the entire score, and of course the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences completely missed the boat by not even nominating him for Best Score. In fact, the Oscar of 1967 went to Elmer Bernstein for Thoroughly Modern Millie, which I’m *sure* everyone remembers today as well as they do Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Tonino Delli Colli’s widescreen cinematography is magnificent, with the Burgos region of Spain making a plausible stand-in for the American Southwest, but he also excelled in the strategic use of odd angles and extreme closeups. Perhaps most impressive is the iconic look of the film, which is all the more remarkable when you consider the costume budget was so meagre that there were no duplicates of anything. Clint Eastwood has said that he took his costume back to his hotel room every night for that reason, because if something happened to his iconic hat or serape, that was it—there were no replacements. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is distributed by Kino Lorber on Blu-Ray on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD (warning: the latter will not play on all DVD players). This release is loaded with extras, including an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, the making-of documentary “Leone’s West” (20 min.), a 2-part featurette about Ennio Morricone ‘s music (20 min.), the featurette “The Leone Style” (24 min.), a short documentary “The Man Who Lost the Civil War” about the historical background for the film (15 min.), a featurette about the 156 minutes of film that disappeared between the Italian premiere and its release in America, deleted scenes, vignettes, image galleries, and a collection of trailers and other promotional materials.