Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Il Buono, il Brutto, Il Cattivo; western, Italy / Spain, 1966; D: Sergio Leone, S: Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov

The Bad is a hired hitman, Setenza, who is searching for Bill Carson. Two bandits hire him to kill the other, but he kills them both. The Good is "Blondie", while Tuco is the Ugly. Both of them work as a team: "Blondie" "hands over" the wanted Tuco to a Sheriff in a town and gets a 1,000 $ bounty, but shoots at the rope that was supposed to hang Tuco and helps his escape. Repeat the scharade again and again. But one day "Blondie" is fed up and leaves Tuco in the desert, so Tuco seeks revenge and later forces "Blonde" to walk across the desert without water. Just then a stagecoach with Carson appears: before he dies, Carson tells "Blondie" the location of the graveyard where he hid his secret treasure. Now Tuco needs "Blondie" again, but they are arrested by the Union soldiers. Sentenza goes after them to find the treasure. Tuco escapes, "Blondie" joins him again and they kill Sentenza's people. The name of the grave is just "unknown". They find a trove filled with gold, kill Sentenza and split the money. But before he leaves, "Blondie" ties up Tuco's hands and leaves him hanging on a noose. Later, "Blondie" shoots at the rope from a distance, thereby releasing Tuco.

With this very good western, director Sergio Leone completed his "Dollars" trilogy and achieved a great success, getting praised for managing to actually make art out of pulp, the so called 'Spaghetti western': "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" went on to become a legend that is even mentioned today, Clint Eastwood became a star and patron of cynical good guys, while the direction is powerful and absorbing, filled with black humor (the way Tuco enters a gun store and shoots at three targets: two tops fall off, but then Tuco jumps at the ground and the last top of the cardboard falls as well), though cold. The heavily ambitious "Good" lasts for almost 3 hours and it is interesting to see how Leone used a lot of neat tricks to enrich it, like the titles in the exposition placed for every of the three title protagonists: "Good" for Eastwood, "Bad" for Wallach and "Ugly" for Cleef, or the gigantic camera close ups of their faces which already started to establish themselves as the director's trademark: they can be the best appreciated in cinemas, not on small TV sets, because the viewer is in awe and feels insignificant when he or she watches a head 10 times bigger than a normal human on the big screen. The theme of greed and its structure are tight, but still some of the protagonists seem antipathetic, a few deus ex machina moments are obvious, whereas some torture and depiction of violence irritating. Also, the civil war battle sequence slows the movie down in the last third. A slow burning and hypnotic exercise of the western genre, which works as a cynical dismantling of some of its American cliches: instead of showing idealistic heroes, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" depicts antiheroes, showing the Wild West as it was, namely full of vile, selfish people who are hardcore capitalists, thinking only of gaining money, even through theft and swindle. Not for everyone's taste, Leone's highlight is nonetheless a quality film with cynical humor ("When you can shoot, shoot. Don't talk!", says Tuco to a babbling rival whom he just shot from a bathtub).

Grade:+++

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