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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

October 13, 2006

Traditionally Hollywood westerns had a straightforward narrative structure, the straight as arrow hero, usually the town sheriff, the bad guy, an outlaw, and a lovely heroine. Of course Injuns were always shown as nasty savages, Mexicans were bumbling idiots and Black guys who were they?. John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda , Gary Cooper were some of the biggest stars of the Westerns.
Until in 1966 an Italian director called Sergio Leone turned the Western on it’s head, to create a class or rather I would say a cult of Westerns called “Spaghetti Westerns”. To be honest The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was not Sergio Leone’s first work, it was in fact the last of a trilogy starting with a Western version of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, followed by For a Few Dollars More.
But The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly would remain the most defining movie in Leone‘s career. The movie is about The Good( Clint Eastwood) , who actually has no name as such. He is a bounty hunter and a drifter. He shares a love hate relationship with The Ugly guy “Tuco”( Eli Wallach), a totally crooked criminal, who calls him as Blondie. The modus operandi is simple, Blondie, turns over Tuco to the authorities, get’s his share of bounty money. At the time of hanging, he shoots the rope used to hang Tuco, and the two share the money. The two keep on playing a cat and mouse game with each other.
The story takes a twist when Blondie learns of a hidden treasure worth 200,000$ from a dying soldier. Blondie knows one half, Tuco the other half, and so they have to work with each other. And to make things worse, they have to contend with one of the meanest killers in the West, The Bad a.k.a Angel Eyes Sentenza( Lee Van Cleef), now a high ranked officer in the Army who wants his share of the money.The movie is many things which a conventional Western is not. Unlike a conventional Western, where the lines between good and evil are clearly defined, here its totally blurred.
Both Blondie and Tuco are crooks of the first order, only difference being Tuco is much more crass. All the 3 guys are after the treasure, and none have any scruples. The Good is only in name, as Blondie keeps on releasing a criminal after he has captured him, while the Ugly might have to do with Tuco’s mean nature. But one cannot forget the 3 characters around whom the movie revolves. Again most of the action is fast in nature, unlike the long drawn gun fights we have in Westerns. Also all the 3 characters are totally scruffy in nature, with stubbles and a down beat look.

What makes the movie a memorable experience is it’s sheer visual imagery. Panoramic landscape views and wide screen shots. Nothing to beat the climax sequence, the first where Tuco runs through the graveyard looking for the treasure, and the final face off sequence. The way Leone intercuts the visuals of the characters, guns drawn, waiting to pull the trigger, is simply one of the best sequences you will ever see in a movie. As also the love hate relationship between Blondie and Tuco.
One more fascinating sequence is where the soldiers fight over a bridge during the Civil War. The movie is not the conventional slam bang actioner. Rather it unfolds very slowly, and there are vast stretches without dialogue. But whatever dialogue is there cracks with with. One simple example , Tuco is cornered in a bath tub, by another guy who has a score to settle with him. The guy breaks into a dialogue about how he had been searching for Tuco, and how he finally found him. Tuco listens, picks up the gun, shoots him and now comes the best dialog“When you shoot, shoot don’t talk”.
The movie is also embellished by excellent performances.
Clint Eastwood as The Good, shines with a charismatic, laid back portrayal in a role which would define his screen persona.
Lee Van Cleef radiates enough menace as The Bad guy, and when he flashes those steely eyes of his, you are thankful that he is not staring at you.
But the scene stealer is The Ugly a.k.a Tuco a.k.a Eli Wallach who comes up with a bravura performance. As the ruthless, dense criminal, he is so endearing that he actually makes you fall in love with his character. One of the best scenes would be in the desert, where he takes sadistic delight in torturing his pal Blondie. But the minute he comes to know that Blondie holds the key to the treasure, he gets concerned, and tries to revive him. Just watch how he changes his expressions in just a few minutes.

And of course, the musical score which will live with you, long after the movie is over. Ennio Morricone’s theme music, with its hyena like cry and war cry style, is superlative. Of course two other scenes also have a great BGM, the final sequence where Tuco hunts for the treasure, and the showdown in the graveyard.
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