Top 50 - #6 - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Craig guessed it, so here goes...

We see a desert. Sand, mostly. Then, all of a sudden, our eyes jump from background to close-up as one of the ugliest faces you've probably seen slides into the frame from the side. Later in the scene, a man jumps out of a broken window, meat in hand.

Later, a boy is getting water from a well when, with ominous Morricone music playing, a small dot appears on the horizon, and gets bigger and bigger as it approaches. The boy runs inside. A man appears in the doorway, walks in, eats some food.

Once upon a time in the West is the film most often regarded as a masterpiece, and when people talk about it one of the things they mention is the opening scene, and how long it takes before the first word is spoken. Once upon a time was clearly meant to be a masterpiece, but I think that the less serious-minded The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the real masterpiece. Here also, it takes forever for the first word to be spoken: Leone always was a visceral, visual director,

For every good scene in Once upon a time I can easily think of a similar, better one in GBU, as I'll call it from now on. Take the introduction of Henry Fonda as the villain: it's great, absolutely, but does it rival the gradual reveal of Blondie? First we see his hat, his gun, his hands, we hear his sarcastig voice and then finally, see his face. The hanging scene? I'll grant that it's more poignant than anything in GBA, but it's not by far as funny as the successive hangings here, and there's no rivaling the last one for an ending.

Finally, I think GBA is more succesful because its morality is more muddled, less black and white. "the Good" really isn't all that much better than Angel Eyes, "the Bad", maybe just a little more compassionate, and I've always thought Tuco, "the Ugly", is the heart of the film. His scene with his brother is amazing, and his love/hate relationship with Blondie anchors the film, makes it about more than just three men who want money. Also here, it's not words that express it, but imaged: Blondie finally handing Tuco his cigar. Muddying the moral waters even more is the cival war, which suddenly makes what three men do so much less important. The scene jars a little with the rest of the film, but I love it, and I think it's what Blondie and Tuco do for the general that redeems them.

This film is 3 hours long, but that fact still surprises me, because while this is a deliberate movie, it never feels slow or long, and when I watch it time flies. The plot is intricate, but easy to follow, and the power keeps shifting: who has the information, who has the gun, who has the upper hand?

You can't talk about Leone's spaghetti westerns, of course, without mentioning Morricone. The score is amazing, and integral to the feel of the movie, to its texture. Just listening to the music brings back images. The amazing opening titles. The scorching sun. Weathered faces. And, of course, close-ups of eyes, tense and prepared, waiting for the guns to go off.

Recently, my love for and knowledge of westerns was called into question. My gender was the main reason, the guy even admitted to it. But I dare anyone to say now that I don't love westerns. I'm seeing The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on Monday, and I can hardly wait.

Next up: a movie named for two guys which really is all about a girl...


cjKennedy said...

Just for the record, one of my favorite things in the world is being right. It doesn't happen very often so I have to make a huge deal out of it when it does. I have no idea what your next movie is however, so my glory will have to burn bright and die young.

Anyway. GBU rules in so many ways it's hard to even talk about it. Once Upon a Time in the West is the movie I'd talk about at a cocktail party if I was trying to look all smart and attempting to convince a bunch of non-Western fans that Sergio Leone kicks all kinds of ass, but like you my heart is with Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco.

This is a rare movie that I loved when I was a kid, but holds up now that I'm older and take movies more seriously.

And really...one of the Best Movie Themes Ever.

The Civil War sequence does seem kind of out of place, but you're right that it does help redeem Blondie and Tuco. I also think it sort of puts a twist on the epic scope of the movie. What I mean is that, when the movie starts, it's all about the three main characters in a kind of epic quest in an iconic landscape (even though we all know it's filmed in Spain and not the American West). But when we get to the civil war, the struggles of these three characters are suddenly, in one sweeping camera shot, reduced to ant like proportions in the big picture of humanity and history.

When they finally go about their business, the rest of the movie has a very different feeling to it.

Lanchka said...

I first saw this movie at UCLA with a guy whose mom had died a few years ago. After we watched it, he asked me what I thought and I said that it was terrible. Then he said it was his mom's favourite movie. I felt really bad. But I think I got it mixed up with The Quick and The Dead and I couldn't understand why it wasn't funny, because for some reason I was convinced that it was supposed to be a comedy.

Anyhoo. Based on your review, I'm actually ready to give this movie a second shot :-)

Hedwig said...

I totally agree that the civil war scene also serves to put things in perspective, showing that these three men really don't matter as much as they think they do, and even showing that their acts pale in comparison with the destruction and pain caused by war.

and @ Lani, I can understand, though this film is often funny, a comedy it is not. Let me know what you think if you see it again!