Classic ‘spaghetti western’ powerful and captivating

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

(Italy, 1966)
Directed by Sergio Leone

Review by Angus Luff

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 Italian/American Western film that follows Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a hardened gunslinger, and Tuco (Eli Wallach), a loud mouthed, short-tempered outlaw, as they work a deal to use Tuco’s bounty to get cash around the west. But, just when their deal ends, they find a carriage running in the desert with all the passengers dead except one known as Bill Carson (Antonio Casale). The dying passenger tells Tuco of money buried in a cemetery, but as Tuco tries to get water for him, he tells Blondie the name of the grave it’s buried under before dying. Because only Tuco knows the name of the cemetery and only Blondie knows the name of the grave, they reluctantly team up to find the cash. Cold-blooded hitman Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is also searching for Carson’s money, and an adventure ensues to see which individual makes the journey out alive, who grabs the cash and who falls by the wayside.

The film has a simple, accessible plot, but Sergio Leone, Ennio Morricone and the crew make brilliant strides to captivate the audience with this journey. Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes aren’t likeable good people, yet they go through so much pain, suffering and sorrow that you begin to second guess who to root for, who to hate, who should win and who shall fall. The way the film plays around with relationships and truces between characters is spellbinding. You start to love and hate these characters the more they backstab each other, make truces, one-up each other and torture each other.

The film explores trust, hope and despair within its characters so well that it makes some films which try to tackle the same topics look embarrassing and weak in comparison. It is one of the most entertaining and captivating films in cinematic history, and with such genius and enthralling story and characters it becomes easy to see why the film has the reputation it does.

Music and direction are also big factors in my love for this film. Sergio Leone manages to get every crevice, nook and cranny of the west to look as dirty, gritty and real as possible. The claustrophobic, intimate, extreme close ups contrast with grand, wide shots – it’s impressive that one director can expertly master the two directorial opposites. The west feels alive, sometimes beautiful and dreamlike, but mostly cruel and unrelenting. The set pieces and standoffs expertly flow one into the next, as the film gains a rhythm and flow between scenes, locations and dialogue, so that the long running time never feels apparent, as Leone sweeps you into this incredible adventure.

The music from Ennio Morricone is a masterpiece in its own right. It’s brimming with adventure, hope, despair and energy – the film’s electrifying music never gets old, always feels appropriate, and has the same impressive variety in styles, as the directing has the same variety in its scope. The music has the power to make you feel so immersed in the conflict that you feel as though you are the third character in this story, with the characters, in the locations, searching for the cash.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a lot of things. It’s sometimes dark, sometimes light, funny, exciting, brutal, violent, suspenseful, hopeful, cynical, and while it might seem daunting and intimidating at first, as soon as you’ll see it, you’ll begin to understand the rhythmic, electric power this film has over everyone who has seen it. It’s one of those films that go beyond simple entertainment and become an indescribable experience that you’ll never forget. This film continues to soar through the sky, glowing as a testament to the power of filmmaking, never slowing down in its old age, as new films struggle to approach its excellence.

No matter what I say about the film, there will still be more to comment on, so rich in detail and emotion, that it easily wraps you in this believable and wonderful journey, and as soon as the film reaches its end you’ll be wanting to watch it all over again.

Running time: 177 mins
Available on MGM and Prime video channels

Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

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