I’ve watched a lot of great movies for the first time as a part of this series of rewind reviews. “Avatar” was a marvel of visual effects, “Donnie Darko” was an eclectic and existential journey and “Die Hard” was a tense and thrilling action flick that earns its place as a classic. All of these films have something in common; however, they’re all relatively modern films.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to go back a little further and review a film that was released over 50 years ago. This is a film that defined its genre. It provided some of the most memorable movie moments and musical themes not only of its time, but in all of film history. The movie I’m talking about is, of course, the 1966 spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
As I’ve mentioned in my other rewind reviews, I really have no good excuse for having not seen this movie before now. It just never happened. So, with that said, let’s unpack what makes “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” the best movie I’ve watched for this series yet.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is directed by the king of spaghetti Westerns and master of his craft, Sergio Leone. The film is the third entry in Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” three loosely connected films that follow the same gruff nameless man played by Clint Eastwood. This cigar-smoking, poncho-wearing outlaw, referred to as Blondie in the third entry, has become one of the most recognizable western film heroes, even challenging the characters of superstar John Wayne, and for good reason.
Despite the simplicity of Blondie — he doesn’t do much aside from stand silently and give unnerving glares to anyone who looks at him — he was an absolutely thrilling character to follow. Even though the audience doesn’t know anything about who he is or where he comes from, it’s hard not to root for him. He’s the titular “good” of the film, and Eastwood’s performance in the role is nothing short of spectacular. Even though he barely speaks, and the dialogue he does have is short and to the point, Eastwood sells every line with his signature gruff and tough style. He carries himself with confidence and precision, making Blondie a character whose mystery strikes fear in those who oppose him.
As for “the bad and the ugly,” those come in the forms of the characters Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef). Tuco, the ugly, is a scoundrel who frequently finds himself crossing paths with Blondie. The two have even worked together to swindle and shoot their way out of some tough situations. Angel Eyes, the bad, on the other hand, is a gun-for-hire who has his eyes set on a hidden treasure of $200,000. Blondie and Tuco are the only men with the needed information to find the fortune, and Angel Eyes intends on getting that information by any means necessary.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a three-way game of chess among these three men, all of whom want to claim the hidden money for themselves. Sometimes they work together to meet these goals, but more often than not, they’re trying to outsmart and outshoot one another. The dynamics among these three characters are what make this movie an absolutely thrilling experience. Each man has his own motivations, desires and reasons for wanting the others dead, which makes their deadly competition all-the-more gripping.
Leone often opts to build tension among the three men — not with words, but with simple menacing glances. Both Leone’s writing and the actors’ performances have packed immense emotion behind the eyes of each of these characters. This makes the extreme-closeups of their eyes darting from person-to-person all the more potent. These seconds of standoffs, despite not having a single line of dialogue in them, are some of the most electrifying moments of the entire film.
Adding to this energy is the absolutely superb musical score from Ennio Morricone.
The main theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is one of the most recognizable musical themes from any film ever made. Morricone builds on this theme by taking the melody and continuously twisting it and changing its tone to fit whichever character the film is focusing on, thereby creating numerous different motifs to bless the audience’s ears. However, Morricone’s score goes far beyond this single catchy tune. Toward the end of the film, Morricone provides numerous grandiose and exciting musical pieces that deserve just as much attention as the main theme. Morricone’s music is well-rounded, yet surprisingly simple, which is why it has had such a long-standing reverence in pop culture.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is an utterly stellar film that I believe everybody should watch.
I’m legitimately upset with myself that I haven’t watched this sooner. As I was watching the movie, I found myself thinking that this film could find its way onto my all-time favorite movies list, which isn’t an easy task. It’s more than just a fun 1960s spaghetti Western. From its phenomenal musical score, to the outstanding cinematography and the dusty atmosphere Leone crafts, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a perfect example of filmmaking as an art. It merges the adventurous nature of its genre with numerous brilliant filmmaking techniques — the result of which is a film that will undoubtedly continue to be remembered, even over 50 years after its release.