Friday, August 17, 2012

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/17/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Sergio Leone with a screenplay by Furio Scarpelli and Agenore Incrocci, from a screen story by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni and additional English translation by Mickey Knox, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly is the story of three different gunslingers searching for gold in the middle of the American Civil War. The film takes all of Leone's previous westerns and ups the ante in terms of storytelling and violence as Clint Eastwood reprises his role as the Man with No Name in the final part of the Dollars trilogy. Also starring Lee Van Cleef, Mario Brega, Aldo Guiffre, and Eli Wallach. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly is an outstanding yet visually-astonishing film from Sergio Leone.

A man named Tuco (Eli Wallach) is on the hunt as there's a bounty on him for $2000 as he's chased by three gunslingers and later another trio until he's saved by a mysterious no-named man called Blondie (Clint Eastwood). Yet, it's part of a scam they do to raise the reward as Tuco's bounty was raised to $3000 as the two eventually go their separate ways after Blondie leaves Tuco with his hands tied. Meanwhile, a man named Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is on a different mission where he gets information from a man named Stevens (Antonio Casas) about the whereabouts of a man who renamed himself as Bill Carson (Antonio Casales) as he kills another man (Livio Lorenzon) who is also searching for Carson. After getting information from a woman named Maria (Rada Rassimov), Angel Eyes continues his journey to find Bill Carson.

After taking revenge on Blondie by pulling a hit on him, Tuco finally gets his revenge after Blondie tries to pull the same scam on another person as he makes Blondie walk through the desert without water and a hat. The two then come across a running carriage full of dead Confederate soldiers where one of them is revealed to be Bill Carson who tells them about $200,000 worth of Confederate gold hidden in a graveyard. With Blondie getting the name of the grave, Tuco is forced to re-team with Blondie as they disguise themselves as soldiers where they seek refuge at a missionary run by Tuco's brother Pablo (Luigi Pistilli). With Blondie healed, he and Tuco make their way to the graveyard only to be captured by Union soldiers where Tuco claims to be Bill Carson as he's interrogated by Angel Eyes. After a beating from Corporal Wallace (Mario Brega), Tuco reveals the information to Angel Eyes yet reveals the other half is from Blondie who joins Angel Eyes to go to the graveyard.

After escaping the prison, Tuco meets up with a one-armed bounty hunter (Al Mulock) where he encounters Blondie and Angel Eyes at a small abandoned town with a group of Angel Eyes' men. After leaving Angel Eyes and re-teaming with Tuco, the two make their way as they encounter a drunk Union captain (Aldo Guiffre) claiming to enlist as they find themselves in the middle of a battle. Finally reaching the graveyard where the gold is, Angel Eyes catches up with them leading to a three-way duel for the gold.

Before the Westerns that Leone made, the genre had its formula of good guys battling the bad guys with a final shootout in the end. While Leone appreciated the formulas that were made from directors like Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann, and notably John Ford. He had an intense dislike for some of ideology and its Hollywood-like fashion where someone like John Wayne would save the day and come out with some unrealistic moral. From Leone's mind, there are no good guys or bad guys where in the end. It's every man for himself when it comes to certain things including money. This point of view was very interesting and it made more sense it feels more realistic. Yet, while Leone did appreciate the filmmaking techniques of Hawks, Mann, and Ford, he was also influenced by the work of Akira Kurosawa. The result of what Leone did with his westerns, notably The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly and 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West was giving the Western an operatic feel.

Three hours (even for its restored 180-minute version as opposed to the 161-minute U.S. version in 1967) is a lot to bring for a Western where in today's film world. Everything moves pretty fast and just cuts to the action without trying to understand things. Leone though, just lets a moment flow where its his directing that really shines. Thanks to a script that he wrote with his writers, Leone allows the audience to get to know the protagonists first in the film's first thirty minutes. Then, he lets the story follow through where it involves scams, distrusts, and greed. It's not that someone like Blondie, who is known as the Good, is trying to do the right thing but he's only doing it for himself just to make a living without any morals or compromises. The same goes for Angel Eyes aka the Bad and Tuco aka the Ugly. These are just three guys who are willing to do anything to get the prize, even if they have to scam one another.

Leone's genius in the writing not brings enough time to savor the idea of the Western but also take a view of America (though he hadn't been there at the time) where the Old West had its code. Notably using the film's time frame to cover something like the American Civil War where a battle occurs between Union and Confederates where it actually happened. A battle in the West over territory where Blondie and Tuco witness it without any sympathy for the fact that soldiers are wasting their lives over land. The comment that Blondie makes is ironic to the point on what he's doing. It's one of the few moments of humor that Leone likes to bring out while also making it very intelligent about their own position.

While Leone lets moments of shootouts, battles, and moments of deception be shown on screen, he doesn't glorify it nor does he downplay it. Yes, we see a despicable man like Angel Eyes kill people and brutalize people including a woman. Here, his viewpoint of the West is gritty, disgusting, and with no morals. If Leone's accomplishment as a storyteller is potent, so does his achievement as a director. When it comes to creating shots or compositions, no one does with great movement and rhythm better than he does, especially to the Western genre. The way he moves the camera and go for long takes of a certain scene, he manages to create a moment where its awestruck.

There are some scenes where he will take a close-up of someone and then slowly pans across the area where it becomes a wide shot of a landscape. Using the same locations for the previous films in Almeria, Spain, Leone captures breathtaking scenery for his films. Even when he's presenting something like a shoot-out, there's a great moment where he takes a shot of a gun or a man's face and then cut to something like another man's face or gun and another. There, he creates a momentum and tension that builds up the excitement for the audience. In many respects, Leone's work for this is pure genius. Not just for the entirety of the Western genre but for cinema itself.

Helping Leone in his amazing, visual epic scope is cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli who does great use of using the sun to capture the heat of the West in many of the film's exterior scenes. The look of the film is crisp and true to the epic scope of the West. Art director/costume designer Carlo Simi does amazing work in not just capturing the decaying look of the abandoned towns but also the staging of the battlefield. The costumes from the Civil War uniforms to the cowboy clothing looks very real while Eastwood provided his own costumes by using the clothes he wore on the TV show Rawhide. Sound designer Gonzalo Gavira also does great work in capturing the sound of the winds and cannon whistles that brings a lot of the intense danger for the film. Finally, there's the iconic editing of Eugene Alabiso and Nino Baragli where they create a wonderful style of cutting that moves from perspective to perspective. Most notably, in the film's final shootout scene where the cutting is rhythmic to convey the intensity of the film.

Amidst a lot of the film's technical achievements, another iconic moment in the film that is so memorable is the music provided by longtime Leone composer Ennio Morricone. Film scores before Morricone, especially in a Western genre has always been orchestral driven to serve as an accompaniment or to convey a sense of action. Morricone went beyond that with the film's memorable opening theme with a riff that goes, woo woo-woo, waa, waa-waa. Using stuff like guitar melodies, trotting rhythms, and whistles, the score takes the audience to a ride where they know what's coming in the sense of action. Even in the film's non-action moments, the music is done with great sensitivity to convey the times as it features amazing, orchestral arrangements. Even on a scene like Tuco's torture, he uses the most subtle, melancholic piece of music filled with simple instruments that brings a sense of idiosyncracy and horror. The idea of a piece of music that is so beautiful to listen to with a scene of graphic violence is purely unconventional.

Another thing that is so special in Morricone's work is that it has an operatic feel. Playing up to the epic scope of Leone, the music has this sense of something is about to happen. There's a sense of climax to the music. Notably the famous cut called Ecstacy of Gold where Tuco runs into the graveyard to go find the gravestone where the gold is. The cut opens with this fast-paced piano track that is later accompanied by intense, arrangements of strings and then comes this operatic vocal from a woman. The music just sweeps up the moment that is beautiful in the way its builds this climatic momentum. What is more amazing is that Morricone made the music just before Leone was making the film. There, the use of Morricone's music to Leone's epic film is purely magical.

Finally, there's the film's big cast that includes such memorable small performances from Antonio Casas and Livio Lorenzon as the two men Angel Eyes kill to get information. There's also memorable roles from Al Mulock as a one-armed bounty hunter, Antonio Casale as the ill-fated Jackson/Bill Carson, Rada Rassimov as Jackson's girlfriend Maria, and Luigi Pistilli as Tuco's brother Pablo. With the exception of Al Mulock and the three main actors, most of the actors were Italian where their dialogue is dubbed yet they don't affect the performances since they're all well done. Mario Braga is excellent as the torturous Corporal Wallace who brings a great presence to his character, especially in Tuco's torture scene. Aldo Guiffre is also great as the drunken Union captain who has seen enough of war while drinking his way to glory.

In two of the three main protagonists, we have two great actors of the Western genre. In the role of Tuco aka the Ugly, Eli Wallach gives a fantastic performance as a distrustful, talkative bandido who is willing to scheme his way to do anything. Even passing off successfully as a Mexican, Wallach brings an amazing presence of a man who isn't good but isn't bad either. Wallach brings a character who is likeable enough for an audience to enjoy despite his bad things. The late Lee Van Cleef is brilliant as Angel Eyes aka the Bad, with a presence that is eerie. Van Cleef has a look that is scary where you'll know, he's going to do something bad. Van Cleef is a veteran of the Western as he just brings all the ideas of a villain but brings a lot more to the table as he gives one of the best performances ever.

Finally, there's Clint Eastwood in the role of the Man with No Name aka Blondie aka the Good. Bringing that unshaven look to his face with not much dialogue to speak, Eastwood commands the film with great ease and a presence where it says one thing. He's the Man! Eastwood comes in with his stoic presence and one-liners where in comparison to the two other protagonists, his character is a faster and smarter gunslinger. While he has great scenes with Wallach and Van Cleef, Eastwood is a man with honor but only for himself as he has to remind Tuco that it's every man for himself. It's a very iconic role complete with a poncho, a brown hat, and a cigar, there's no one else who could play that as Clint Eastwood helped create the ultimate anti-hero as opposed to the traditional feel of John Wayne in the days before. There become a blueprint of what a gunslinger should be as Eastwood change the ideas of a Western protagonist.

The 2004 Special Edition Region 1 2-Disc DVD from MGM is by far one of the best DVD releases since its existence. To present this special edition of the film in its restored, near-three hour cut, MGM packages the film in a set that fans of the films and collectors can enjoy. Along with a booklet and four cards featuring different international posters of the film, this is truly one of the best DVD packaging to own since it offers so much to the film's fans. The first disc reveals the entire restored three-hour version of The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly in its fullest form with 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio plus remastered Italian audio and in the 16x9, 2:35:1 anamorphic ratio of the widescreen format that is truly intended for the film. Coming with subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Cantonese, and Mandarin, the only big special feature for the first disc of the film is audio commentary from critic and film historian Richard Schickel.

Schickel's informative documentary is filled with tidbits about the film including Eastwood's disaffection at the time when he was making this film as his relationship with Sergio Leone was starting to falter. It was mostly because Eastwood was tired of being in the Spaghetti Western genre and wanted to move on as did Leone where he would end up making one more Western, 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. Schickel talked about some of the restored scenes like Angel Eyes arrival at the Confederate camp, Tuco and Blondie's desert walk, a cave scene with Tuco, and an extended scene at the Union battle trenches.

Schickel said the cutting was due to length that would be the case for most of Leone's films in the U.S. where they would be cut without his full consent. That was also the case in an awful butchered cut for his 1984 gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. While Schickel's commentary can be boring at times yet it's informative and wonderful to hear since he is heard having a good time watching the film while talking about its reaction in the U.S. when it first came out.

The second disc of the special edition DVD is filled with loads of extras including five documentary shorts about the film, a deleted scenes section, a posters gallery, the original theatrical trailer along with trailers for films on MGM, and extra Easter egg interviews with Eastwood and Eli Wallach. Eastwood and Wallach are among those who are interviewed along with legendary Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi who was the producer for the film in its 1966 release. The first documentary is a 20-minute making-of retrospective on the movie called Leone's West with interviews from Eastwood, Wallach, Grimaldi, the film's English translator Mickey Knox, and film critic Richard Schickel. The doc features comments from Eastwood and Wallach about the way Leone would do the film while Grimaldi talked about how upped the budget a bit for an international breakthrough. The discussion on the doc is about the genre of the Spaghetti Western and how Leone turned it into a change for the Western by breaking rules with comments from Knox on the translation and Schickel on the historical impact.

The second documentary called The Leone Style is a 24-minute documentary featuring the same men from the previous documentary on Leone's film style. They discuss his work ethics and his ability to create a violent moment in a quick way or to show the brutality. Wallach discusses that since they didn't have stuntmen or anything in Italian productions, everyone had to do their own stunts. Eastwood talks about how Leone would create long shots that would last less than a minute just to savor a moment or build momentum. The third documentary is a 14-minute documentary called The Man Who Lost the Civil War about Confederate leader Henry Sibley and the battle he took that was actually documented in The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. The Peter Spier doc featuring narration by Morgan Sheppard chronicles Sibley's failed campaign to take control of the west against the Union's Edward Canby that ran all the way to parts of Colorado and New Mexico.

The 11-minute documentary on the film's reconstruction talks about the film's December 1966 premiere in Rome which ran nearly 178-minutes. Due to American time constraints, the film was cut to 161-minutes for the U.S. release which didn't please Leone very much despite its success. In 2002, MGM hired Paul Rutan and John Kirk to do restoration work for the film to match the original Italian film version from its premiere. Rutan and Kirk discussed several scenes that got restored but an extended Tuco torture scene didn't make it into the restoration due to its print where it suffers from negative film damage. They also talked about cleaning the film, remixing the sound, and getting Eastwood and Wallach to re-do their voices for the scenes that got restored while hiring voice actors for other scenes as well. Alberto Grimaldi comments on the restoration and is pleased that it's the version that he enjoys and that Leone would’ve loved it.

The fifth documentary is an eight-minute feature on composer Ennio Morricone and his contribution to film scores, notably with Leone. Film music historian Jon Burlingame discusses Morricone's contributions to film scores and his collaboration with Leone. Morricone prior to working with Leone had only done a handful of film scores but when he was hired to do score work for A Fistful of Dollars, the two enjoyed their work. Straying away from the symphonic context of traditional film scores, the two wanted original ideas. In The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, Morricone created concepts and pieces just before the film was made after reading the script. For Leone, the demos would give him musical inspiration as Burlingame says that the collaboration was magical. A 12-minute audio featurette on Morricone's score work is discussed by Burlingame who talks about Morricone's concept with film scores and arrangements. His relationship with Leone that spans longer than people seem since they went to the same children's school.

The discussion talks about how Morricone's score back in the 60s weren't considered true artistic triumphs in comparison to the Hollywood composers at the time. Yet, now that they're recognized and his score work for Leone along with films like Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, and Roland Joffe's The Mission are considered some of the best in cinema history. The celebrated and beloved composer still has not won an Academy Award which some says, gives the Oscars less relevance.

The deleted scenes section features three little clips of the material that didn't make it to the restoration or its final cut. One is an extended Tuco torture scene where despite its brilliance, due to the look of the film print, the clip doesn't look great though its explanation because of the film’s negatives were damage. It's still a great scene to look at it despite its appearance. Another is a reconstructed idea of a sequences known as the Sorocco Sequence where it was a scene after Angel Eyes' arrival at a Confederate camp and before Tuco's search for Blondie. The scene reveals Tuco's search for Blondie as he extorts money and fights a bartender while Blondie is scoring with a Mexican woman. Some of those scenes in that sequence appear in the French trailer of the film along with alternate angles of other famous scenes. Aside from the American film trailer that appears in its fullest form, there's a poster gallery of all the different posters from the world like Japan, Germany, French, Italy, and the U.S. The Japanese, French, German, and Italian posters do appear little special cards in full-color.

With some additional trailers for the other parts of the Man-with-No-Name trilogy along with some MGM releases. The second disc also includes Easter Eggs of interview outtakes with Eastwood and Wallach talking about small stories about the making of the film. The special edition DVD comes with an eight-page booklet of what's in the DVD along with the titles for the 32 chapters in the film. The booklet is led by an essay from famed Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. With many of the excerpts of his essay taken from his Great Movies column, Ebert talks about the film's brilliance and its impact since its release. Adding to the essay is the discussion of the restoration of the film and for its DVD where he thinks the film is considered a full-on classic.

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly is a phenomenal film from Sergio Leone that features an iconic performance from Clint Eastwood. Along with additional supporting performances from Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, it is definitely one of the great films of the western genres as it includes a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone. The film is also a great introduction for anyone who is interested in the works of Sergio Leone. In the end, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly is a tremendous achievement from Sergio Leone.

(C) thevoid99 2012

1 comment:

Chris said...

Saw it earlier in year and loved it, so many memorable scenes, visuals are indeed amazing. The suspense is maintained even with a three hour running time, which is remarkable. Eastwood as the the ultimate anti-hero, I hadn't thought of that. I just relistened to Ecstasy of Gold, haunting stuff!
Unusual the 3rd part of a trilogy is so acclaimed ?