April 16, 2008

300 Words About: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Considered by many to be the greatest Western ever (spaghetti or otherwise), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo) is clearly still influencing filmmakers more than 40 years after its release. In 2007, we saw Hollywood usher in a new generation of Westerns (3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood), and watching Sergio Leone's classic recently, I found myself chuckling at the similarities. He so dramatically left a mark on the genre that it's nearly impossible not to accuse everyone of copying him. Consider, for example, how often we see extreme close-ups and freeze-frame character intros in contemporary films. Every element of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is seminal (e.g., the writing, acting, cinematography, score, etc. ), and yet it received not even one Oscar nomination. In fact, it didn't win any measure of any award - ever. I don't know what its eligibility status was as an Italian film, but its American competition in 1967 was stiff anyway: The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, to name a few.

Part of the genius of the film is its simplicity. It doesn't have twisting plot details or fancy special effects, and it's not meant to be a symbolic saga for the ages. Rather, it's an epic that finds its power in fascinating characters and an impossibly balanced blend of humor, action, suspense, violence, tragedy and adventure. We've seen versions of Blondie (Eastwood) show up in everybody from John McClane to Jack Foley to Jason Bourne. And Tuco (Eli Wallach)? He has almost no equal, though many have tried over the years. The ensemble cast is simply brilliant, but while it's perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film, you can't overlook the sweeping cinematography (it was filmed in Spain) or the iconic score by Ennio Morricone - easily one of the most recognizable ever.

If you were impressed with any Westerns from the Class of '07, do yourself a favor and take another look at The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's currently making the rounds on the United Artists 90th Anniversary festival/tour, which is suffering from absolutely terrible marketing - including the lack of a website that I can link to here.


  1. 3 words about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: I love it.

    Not exactly profound, I know, but it's not easy to come up with fresh things to say about your favorite movies.

    This was an important one for me because it was one of the first where I realized the 'entertainments' I loved as a kid were actually works of art in their own right. The realization came in college when I started to understand that movies could be art too.

    Man, what a great movie.

  2. I recently saw it for the first time and I loved it too.

  3. I'll just follow the leader and throw in that this is one of the best movies ever made. Fistfull of Dollars isn't in the same league, but is still classic as well. Taking into account that Eastwood is THE MAN in both the western (John Wayne made the same movie a hundred times and The Searchers) and the cop genre, and also an award-winning director (albeit in a number of overrated movies), is there any living film legend who has had a more impressive career ? I'll take Eastwood with Pacino, DeNiro and Nicholson right behind. The gap is even more evident due to that trio becoming parodies of themselves for the last fifteen years. In a completely unrelated note I rewatched No Country and There Will Be Blood this week, and the latter is the better movie. Tiebreaker---The ending. Second viewings pounded this point home hard.

  4. I know how to spell Fistful, I swear.

  5. Did you see this at the Edina last night? *sigh* I was devastated that I couldn't go.

  6. Always succinct, Craig - I love it. That would be a tempting word count for a post, but I don't know if I could get away with it. I certainly didn't add anything new to the discussion on it, but its influence on especially No Country and TWBB really stuck out to me. Yes, this would definitely be considered art, too. As would the two I just mentioned.

    Hmm, Nick - no "Ancient Film Review"? Could be good.

    Hard to argue with Eastwood's legacy, Matt, but I bet Clooney will have something to say about it in 15 years. Great point about those three, though. When was the last time any of them did anything redeeming? Seriously, it seems to be getting worse. Especially for Pacino.

    Come around on TWBB, eh? I'd have to see it again. I know it could be almost too overwhelming with repeated viewings, and it has the advantage of a tremendous last 10 minutes.

    I in fact did not see it there, Nayana, though I originally planned to. I hope to make it to one of those Wednesdays, that's for sure. Edina's in the wrong direction for me, though...

  7. I respect your take on the TWBB/No Country divide mnraul even though I went the other way. The thing is, I had to see each one four times before I really decided. I was ready to see NCFOM again right away after #4, but with TWBB, I was ready to put it away for awhile.

    Probably not a good indicator, but I had to come up with something. We can't have ties. This isn't soccer.

  8. I hsve an aversion to Westerns in general, but I've been under the impression this is one I shouldn't discount on those grounds. I will have to check it out.

  9. Well, Mrs. T, it's about as typically Western as can be, but if this one doesn't do anything for you than few will. I recommend it.

  10. I LOVE this film. It's in my top 10.

    I've seen it half a dozen times, but the most memorable one was absolutely seeing it after a particularly gruesome exam. Me and some friends had beens studying for it pretty much non-stop for a month (I failed anyway), and no movie could have been better to drag us away. It's epic, sweeping, funny, exciting, beautifully shot... And most importantly, it takes you to an entirely different world, where things like exam have no meaning, or might not even exist.

    I confess it's been a while since I visited your blog, but procrastination is a great way to catch up!

  11. I'm honored by your visit, Hedwig ( of As Cool As A Fruitstand)! I hope there's something that will bring you back often.

    I love your insight on the escapism aspect of it. Sometimes the Old West seems like another planet, and it's beautifully on display here, both physically and symbolically.

  12. Again, wow - no idea how you decided to write about this film, Daniel, but I am sure glad you did. Bashful to admit it, but I had never seen it before, so after reading this post I put it on the top of my Netflix queue, and boy am I glad I did. The DVD version they sent me was the 2003 restored and "extended English-language" edition (2 hrs 41 minutes total, with some odd technical sync issues).

    I was simply blown away. An amazing film, and highly entertaining. I was not expecting the epic range of the story and themes, in what is a pretty straightforward "classic Western shoot-em-up" package.

    I even watched most of it again for a second time with the commentary track on, which is expertly done by Richard Schickel, and that is absolutely fascinating too. He talks about History relating to the storyline itself, but also about the history of the making of the movie (in intense detail), and puts it all in perspective from the Civil War setting central to the film, to the post-WWII reality that director Sergio Leone wrestled with. Worthwhile for any fan of the movies for sure.

    Also, I agree whole-heartedly with mnraul that there is no more impressive living film legend than Clint Eastwood, AND in the unrelated note that There Will Be Blood is the winner.

  13. Cool. I initially picked it because it was the the first of the United Artists 90th Anniversary series, but also because I just saw it on AMC. The commentary must have been pretty amazing. I'm sure Eastwood would have some cool insights, too, though it doesn't sound like he's on it.


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