|The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
1966 - R - 165 Mins.
|Director: Sergio Leone
|Producer: Alberto Grimaldi
|Written By: Sergio Leone
|Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
|Review by: John Ulmer
Sergio Leone is arguably the most visionary director of all time. Apparently, before he even had a written script he could picture exactly what was to be on screen and the camera's direction in leading his characters. It was Sergio's World - an alternate place in an alternate time that he was free to control. He controlled the audience and his story like no other director.
To me, his best film was the one that was on many critics' ten worst films of 1984 list: "Once Upon a Time in America." I love the finished director's cut, the cut of the film Sergio Leone himself wanted and pictured in his mind while filming the movie. Unfortunately, the editor of the film cut everything into a two-hour picture and messed up the timeline for the theatrical release in 1984 - the result was a disastrous motion picture that now, with the director's cut, stands as one of the best of all time. James Woods once said that one of the critics who named it the worst film of 1984 later named it the best film of the decade.
"Once Upon a Time in America" was Sergio's dream project, one that took him ten years to get on the big screen and ultimately killed him by sucking the life out of him, but "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1967) was undoubtably his most visual film. The extreme close-ups, the great way he lets the audience see nothing but what he wants - as far as he saw it, the audience should not wonder what is off-screen; whatever is within the frames is all there is. Compared to "Once Upon a Time" it seems a bit more corny and unrealistic - but it is a spaghetti western, and that is simply the point. It stands above the rest as the best spaghetti western of them all.
Leone is best remembered for his extreme close-ups. Director Quentin Tarantino once said, among many other things about Leone, his role model, that when he started out he knew not many camera directions, so when he wanted an extreme close-up in a film he'd shout, "I want a Sergio Leone on this guy!" Quentin Tarantino had such respect for Leone that he even suggested the title "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" to director Robert Rodriguez, the title, of course, a derivation on "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America," both films of Sergio Leone.
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," a.k.a. "Buono, il bruto, il cattivo, il," is the final film in the Dollars Trilogy - "A Fistful of Dollars," "For a Few Dollars More," and, of course, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." I have yet to see this film's predecessors, but I doubt they are much better than this film. It isn't really about anything per se - it's a showcase of art and camera techniques. It is a showcase for Sergio Leone and a great one at that. I have no real care about the themes or outcomes - I simply enjoy being controlled by a masterful director such as Leone. When there's a director who can literally push in and give the audience specifically what he wants them to see, without the audience feeling cheated, you know you have a great director, because there's a fine line between a selfish director and a visionary director. Leone has a bit of both, so indistinct that it is hard to notice. The same thing was done in Carol Reed's "The Third Man" (1949), and the same is done here. And it is pulled off without any objections from the audience.
Clint Eastwood is The Good - he rides around the desert kidnapping criminals, giving them to the authorities and claiming reward money, and then freeing the criminals before they are to be hanged. He meets Tuco (Eli Wallach), a.k.a. The Ugly, and does his routine - but The Ugly fights back and, ultimately, kidnaps good ol' Clint, taking him into the desert and practically torturing him in the heat.
Then The Good overhears where a stash of gold is hidden from a dying man. The Ugly wants the gold so much that he nurses The Good back to health so that they can go off on a wild goose chase and search for the treasure. But there is already another man searching for the treasure - Angel Eyes, a.k.a. The Bad (Lee Van Cleef), a man whose skills at gunfighting match those of The Good, a true marksman if ever there was such a thing.
There's a terrific scene towards the end of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," where three men have found the gold buried in a graveyard. At exactly the same time. They each have guns pointed at each other. They could all pull their triggers and die, or kill one of the three and the two could then take the money and split it. Leone zooms in with his extreme close-ups and truly gives the audience a sense of paranoia, a sense of what it would feel like in a circumstance such as that. Sergio Leone is a great director, perhaps the most visionary of all time, and now that his films are turning up again with their intended running times, the realization strikes and sinks in.
He's an even better director than we thought he was.