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Directed by
Sergio Leone
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Good Bad and The Ugly

Synopsis: At the end of the American Civil War, 3 gunmen, Tuco (Eli Wallach) , Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) and Blondie (Clint Eastwood) go in search of buried Confederate money.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
appears consistently in most Top Ten Westerns lists, and more than a few compilations of Top Ten Films. The third in a trilogy (it was preceded by A Fistful of Dollars, and For A Few Dollars More), Leone has perfected the epic style developed in the earlier films, making this not only the best of the three, but the paradigmatic "spaghetti" western. This slightly demeaning term is misleading for Leone is unquestionably a true auteur. His cinematic vision and control of his medium place him amongst a group of directors including David Lean and Akira Kurosawa (whose Yojimbo is the source of the Dollars concept who are masters of the large scale. And let’s not forget Ennio Morricone’s benchmark scoring for the trilogy, an essential aspect of their impact and thereby, fame.

The restored 3 hour version includes the 20 minutes of footage that was in the original Italian version, but was cut from the American release by its distributors there, United Artists. When it was originally released here, in 1968, a further 20 minutes were lopped off. Due to a peculiarity of Italian film making, which adds the soundtrack in post-production, the restored footage had to be re-voiced by Eastwood (now 70) and Wallach (who is in his 80s). Van Cleef’s dialogue had to be provided by another actor. This has been done very well, however, and there is only one scene, with Wallach, which I noticed as sounding distinctly different. Despite its length, the combination of a skilfully-developed narrative and its larger-than-life telling makes the passage of real time irrelevant.

Whilst being one of the great Westerns, I am less convinced that it is one of the great films of all time. For all its grandeur, there is a certain mismatch between its epic form and its content, which is the less-than heroic escapades of a trio of low lives. Style is here unmoored from meaning. In its latter stages, when we are treated to a massed battle scene, the film does justify its scale, but in a large part there is a disproportion of treatment which inevitably has resulted in innumerable quotations and parodies by lesser directors ever since. Unlike Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch, for example, or even Eastwood himself in Unforgiven, Leone does not tackle any broad moral themes. The result is that the film does not travel well beyond the specifics of its time and genre. Within those parameters it is a classic and for any self-respecting film-buff, the opportunity to see it in its true screening format should not be missed.




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