Top 50 Countdown – #12

-12-

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Year: 1966

Director: Sergio Leone

 

 “The Good”

clinteastwood1.jpg Clint Eastwood as Blondie, a super cool bounty hunter

“The Bad”

angeleyescleef1.jpg Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, a super bad mercenary

“The Ugly”

tucogbu1.jpg Eli Wallach as Tuco, a super talkative trickster

 

Leone’s nihilistic, survival of the richest view of the Wild West reached its peak in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a hugely entertaining picaresque adventure tale about a trio of cunning rogues searching for a hidden cache of gold during the Civil War. “I had always thought that the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ did not exist in any absolute, essential sense”, Leone once said, “and it seemed to me interesting to demystify these adjectives in the setting of a Western.” Clint Eastwood is “the good”, Lee Van Cleef “the bad” and Eli Wallach “the ugly”, but morally speaking there’s very little distinction between them; you could rearrange the labels without making much difference. After all, throughout the film the “good” guy, bearing no resemblance to the traditional Hollywood Western hero, cheats, steals, lies and kills out of pure, unadulterated self-interest. Shane, he ain’t. And Wallach’s Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez somehow emerges as the film’s most sympathetic character, despite having committed the following litany of crimes, as read by his would-be executioner:

tuco01df01.jpg “Wanted in fourteen counties of this State, the condemned is found guilty of murder, armed robbery of citizens, state banks, and post offices; the theft of sacred objects, arson in a state prison, perjury, bigamy, deserting his wife and children, inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, receiving stolen goods, selling stolen goods, passing counterfeit money, and contrary to the laws of this State the condemned is guilty of using marked cards and loaded dice…assaulting a Justice of the Peace, raping a virgin of the white race, statutory rape of a minor of the black race, derailing a train in order to rob the passengers, highway robbery, robbing an unknown number of post offices, counterfeiting and passing counterfeit money, promoting prostitution, intention of selling black fugitive slaves, hired himself out as guide on a wagon train, after receiving his payment in advance, he deserted the wagon train in the hunting grounds of the Sioux Indians, misrepresenting himself as a Mexican general in order to receive a salary and living allowance from the Union Army…”

Said Leone, “my most profound sympathy always goes towards the Tuco side…he can be touching with all that tenderness and all that wounded humanity.” Only Leone could make a greedy, gluttonous, garrulous little troll like Tuco a sympathetic figure!

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Leone was also interested in “showing the absurdity of war”, a theme which becomes particularly evident when Union and Confederate troops engage in a pointless battle over an insignificant bridge. Watching the carnage unfold Blondie says, “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly”, the key phrase of the film according to Leone. Even Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes, the baddest of the bad, shakes his head with a mixture of pity and disgust when he sees the wounded and maimed at a Union encampment. For Leone the actions taken by his three protagonists for purposes of private gain are child’s play next to the wholesale carnage resulting from warfare.

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Much of the film’s humor derives from how the Civil War keeps intruding upon the trio’s relentless pursuit of personal profit. In the end the only thing separating them from their coveted gold is this mindless battle and Tuco and Blondie respond by simply blowing up the bridge! Now with the inconvenient Civil War finally out of their way they are free to continue their quest for the gold, which ultimately leads to the quintessential Leone sequence: the now-classic survival of the quickest three-way showdown between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

good-showdown1.png       good-bad1.png       21-2.jpg

The trio square off in a circular arena (or do they triangle off?) and ritualistically stare each other down with all the drama and sense of anticipation of a corrida. As the first few notes of Morricone’s mariachi trumpet lament sound, Leone’s “dance of death” begins, slowly cutting back and forth between virtually abstract shots of glaring eyes, ready hands, and loaded guns. With Morricone’s iconic music keeping pace the tempo of the editing steadily quickens, getting faster and faster until the sequence builds to a remarkably intense crescendo and finally ends with a near-orgasmic spurt of potent violence.

This, my friends, is cinema.

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