The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

May 7, 2010
A vast desert wasteland stretches out into the horizon. A lone wolf cries out in the distance. A rough gunslinger enters the screen in a close-up, no cuts or edits being made whatsoever in the process. Thus begins The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, Sergio Leone's magnum opus, my favorite film of all-time, and a candidate for the greatest film ever made. Everything that was set up in Leone's two previous films mount up into the summit of Leone's talent, as he makes the greatest film of his career. In every single way, this film is simply perfect and showcases exactly what Leone's style consists - long wide shots and cinematic close-ups. It's the be all and end all of Westerns, a film that's just as emotional as it is is uncompromisingly violent. From its characters to its fantastically directed visuals to its unforgettable sequences and score, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly is a timeless classic that can easily be classified as being flawless.

As the title suggests, the film revolves around three central gunslingers in the Old West. The Ugly would be Tuco Ramirez, a petty bandit who wouldn't lose a night's sleep if he stabbed you in the back. Tuco is so dirty, in fact, that some even call him "The Rat" because of his treacherous nature. We then have The Bad, a heartless killer known as "Angel Eyes", who's only interested in death and money. Finally, we have The Good, which would be our antihero from the previous films - The Man With No Name. However, this film seems to take place before the other two, as it shows our nameless gunslinger acquiring his signature clothing later on in the film. In the film, the three gunslingers compete against each other to find a fortune in Confederate gold amidst the violent chaos of gunfights, hangings, Civil War battles, and prison camps.

This film is all about character, and it's remarkable to see the drastic improvements here over the previous Westerns Leone made. This isn't meant to say those other films were lacking, because they're absolutely fantastic, but the focus on the characters is far more obvious. That, and these characters are all interesting to begin with, so the focus is extremely appreciated. The Man With No Name is, as always, the calm and collected badass who roams the West in search of money and adventure. He's not the cliche John Wayne-esque character who "fights for what's right". In fact, The Man With No Name (nicknamed Blondie in this film) is at his darkest in this film, as he at one point leaves a man in the desert wasteland to fend for himself - not necessarily a guy I'd call "the good guy". Still, the character embodies the feeling of the Western, and he's still one of the greatest characters in cinematic history because of the enigmatic nature of his personality. "Angel Eyes", or The Bad, is also a very interesting character. He's cruel, he's merciless - even shooting down a father and his son - and he's only out for himself. His character is a sort of twist on the Man With No Name's, as he could be seen as the person the Man would become should he become completely heartless/uncaring. The Ugly, Tuco, is a very big change form Leone's type of character, but in a great way. Instead of being a nameless gunslinger, we're given insight into this treacherous character's background, and he's given much more dialogue - that's humorous on top of that - than any previous Leone character. I won't give anything away, but once you find out about Tuco's background, perhaps you'll even feel for a guy as backstabbing as he is.

As if the characterization wasn't fantastic enough, Leone serves up amazing visuals to go along with it. Every single frame, shot, pause, and edit is so perfectly executed in this film. The long wide shots of the terrain, for instance, just add so much atmosphere and mood to the film that it's hard to believe that such a wasteland could actually evoke feeling. Next, the cinematic close-ups are Leone's calling card, and it's easy to see why Leone loves them so much. Words are worth something, but images can sometimes be worth so much more. Each individual face is almost like a landscape, if you think about it, as each is lingered upon and vivid in a way that makes each face stand out on its own, creating a world that feels incredibly diverse as well as beautifully gritty.

If there's something an element of this film that's most identifiable with major film audiences, it's the film's score. Ennio Morricone again delivers on a unique-sounding and incredible score, filled with guitar twangs, flutes, haunting vocals, and more. Hum the main theme to The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, and you'll find that many people recognize the tune - even if they haven't seen the film! There are plenty of wonderful songs in here, with "Ecstasy of Gold", "The Trio", "Soldier's Song", and the main theme itself all lending great musical moments to go along with the film. Plenty of films have had great or fitting scores, but few have ever felt like they fit the film like a glove.

Despite the film's three-hour long runtime, everything seems to go by so naturally for the film. It's not dragged out or cut up, but each minute that passes serves to only further engulf the viewer into this fascinating, violent, and cinematic Western world. There's arguably only one scene that seems a bit too long, but this is meant to serve a purpose within the story while also bringing up a certain atmosphere of pain within the film.

And who could forget to mention the incredible amount of build-up to the film's gunfights? They leave the viewer hanging on his/her seat as the music stops, or builds up depending on the sequence, and the gunslingers involved stare each other down in the most stylistic way you could imagine. The film is violent, but it doesn't focus on the violent act itself. Rather, the film focuses on the build-up to that violent act, and it's the tension in the atmosphere that really separates this film's style of action into a category all its own.

The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly is everything you'd expect out of a perfect film. Everything about it is flawless - characterization, visuals, score, pacing, etc. The film ends a gritty Western trilogy with a bang, and every aspect of it screams of Leone's style. It's simply amazing and that's why it's this writer's favorite film of all-time.





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