Starring: Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef
Director: Sergio Leone
Mood: If you don’t have time to waste on anything less than perfection and want a Western that will blow your mind on every level.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is THE Western that everyone says you need to see. People are obsessed with this movie.
My dad loves it. My fiancé loves it. My fiancé’s dad loved it. John Wayne fans love it, even though it’s a deconstruction of his version of the Old West. Hell, half the people who’ve joined my Facebook group listed it as their favourite Western. Even people who aren’t into Westerns at all have at least heard of it, and know the iconic whistle from the theme song.
- Fun Fact #1: Sergio Leone apparently instructed composer Ennio Moriccone to make that scene’s track sound like the corpses were laughing in their graves. You’re welcome. Now you can’t unhear it.
Anyway, all of this pressure made me refuse to watch this movie.
But now that I’m a famous person with a Western review website, I knew it was my obligation to my many fans to see the Dollars trilogy. I started with A Fistful of Dollars, and it was boring. Then I made it three years before being strong-armed into watching For a Few Dollars More. That movie was awesome, but all the credit goes to Lee Van Cleef.
Now the wait is over – and with perfect timing, as this movie came out exactly 56 years ago on December 23rd. I would like to publicly state that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is worthy of the hype. You REALLY need to see this movie.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is a prequel to the first films in the Dollars trilogy. It’s the story of three men who really like money and have no qualms about violence.
- The “Good”: Blondie (Clint Eastwood)
- The “Bad”: Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef)
- The “Ugly”: Tuco (Eli Wallach)
Blondie isn’t actually a good guy, and Tuco isn’t ugly. If anything, Blondie would be the least appealing of the trio, since Eastwood was wearing the same filthy poncho from the first two films without it ever being cleaned. In fact, Blondie kills 11 men throughout the movie, while Tuco kills six and Angel Eyes kills only three – so who’s the real bad guy?
Anyway. Blondie and Tuco have a traveling scam in which Blondie turns Tuco in for reward money, then shoots the rope so he can escape and they split the money. Tuco wants more than half because it’s his neck in the rope each time, so Blondie leaves him in the desert.
Not easily outdone, Tuco gets himself a gun and captures Blondie, gleefully marching him across the desert while riding along under a fancy parasol. But they encounter a runaway coach and a mortally wounded man, who tells Tuco of a cemetery containing buried Confederate gold AND tells Blondie the name on the grave marker. Then he dies. Now these two need each other to get super rich.
Meanwhile, the extremely sinister Angel Eyes has been searching for that same man who knew the whereabouts of the gold. The three cross paths, figure out each other’s motives, and it gets violent. Real violent.
Then it’s a race to the gold! They all desperately want it, none of them deserves it, but it doesn’t matter when you get to the most legendary standoff in Western movie history.
Let’s get this straight: Eli Wallach is the star of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Clint Eastwood was apparently concerned with the smallness of his role, and that Wallach would upstage him. Eastwood dug in his heels and refused to sign until he was given a significantly higher payout, a Ferrari, and 10% of the US box office earnings.
But you can’t be upstaged if you do a brilliant job. Even small roles can steal the spotlight, so Eastwood has no one to blame but himself for coming up short. Eli Wallach is EVERYTHING, and Sergio Leone later compared Eastwood’s acting to a block of marble or wax.
- Fun Fact #2: Leone allowed Wallach quite a bit of improvisation in his role, including the entire scene where he tests the guns at the shop (the storekeeper’s reactions are genuine), and when he said, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk!”
Wallach carries the first half of the film, and gives you an insanely memorable character. Leone chose Wallach for his comic timing – Enrico Maria Salerno was up for the role after playing the villains in the first two movies of the trilogy, but the role of Tuco needed something special.
- Fun Fact #3: Wallach himself was incredibly special. He was a heavily decorated war veteran, a Tony award winner, an Emmy winner, a BAFTA winner, a Grammy and Golden Globe nominee, and was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2010.
Wallach’s timing is flawless, his energy is unmatched, and the entire movie feels like a playground for his talents.
- Fun Fact #4: Wallach had three near-death experiences on set. He drank acid that was mistakenly placed in an unmarked bottle next to his drink, he had to lie down under a moving train that nobody knew had iron steps hanging down from every boxcar and could have decapitated him, AND the horse he was astride in a hanging scene spooked and galloped a mile while Wallach’s hands were bound behind his back, clinging for life with his knees.
Sure, it’s not great for a non-Latino guy to play a Mexican character. But at the time it was common for Jewish Americans to play a variety of ethnicities. Wallach doesn’t use any cringey stereotypes in his portrayal. And let’s be real – we’re talking about a “Western” shot in Spain, where literally an entire country is pretending to be something it’s not.
Lee Van Cleef gives you everything you need in a Western villain. My only criticism is that he’s not in it enough. Otherwise, this is a performance for the ages. In his first scenes, he makes you squirm in your seat along with his prey without a single word spoken.
- Fun Fact #5: Lee Van Cleef required a stunt double for a scene you wouldn’t expect – slapping a woman. Van Cleef is so against hitting women that he refused, even after the actor said she was fine with it. He was a big sweetheart behind those squinty glares.
Clint Eastwood gives you more effort than in the previous two movies, which was probably spurred by a need to stand out next to Wallach. I would even call his performance entertaining, which if you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know is a huge compliment as I’m not a big Eastwood fan. The relationship between Blondie and Tuco is a lot of fun to watch.
The impact of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly can be felt throughout cinema and beyond. The combination of Leone’s directing style, Moriccone’s score, the story, and the acting are beyond outstanding. They’re the cool kid that everyone wants to be – the it factor.
- Tons of Westerns have referenced scenes from this movie
- They’ve also borrowed from the characters and plot
- It inspired books including Stephen King’s Dark Tower series
- Numerous movies and TV shows have referenced the soundtrack
- The same is true of cartoons – you know a fight is about to happen when you see closeups of shifty eyes and hear that distinctive “Wah-ah-ah-ah-ah!”
- Bands including The Ramones, The Vandals, Motörhead, Metallica, Gorillaz, and even New Order have sampled or covered the theme song
The cinematography, and the lighting in particular, achieve heights not reached by the other movies in the trilogy. And even though this third installment had a cool million-dollar budget (A Fistful of Dollars was made on $200k, less than Eastwood’s paycheque for this movie), you still get that campy Spaghetti Western vibe from the badly dubbed dialogue on everyone besides the leads.
And if you love explosions, there’s an immensely satisfying scene in which a bridge gets exploded.
- Fun Fact #6: The bridge was mistakenly blown up before nearby cameras were rolling, due to a language-related miscommunication. The crewman responsible for accidentally triggering the incident was fired. All three cameras were destroyed in the blast. But the Spanish Army captain offered to rebuild the bridge and blow it up again, if the crewman would be rehired. He was, and everybody wins.
There’s nothing left to say except that I’m sorry I waited so long to watch The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. David, you were right, and now it says so on the Internet. It’s a f*cking awesome movie.