Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Top 100 Films: #2
Overall Rating: 10/10

To try and summarize the importance of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly on the evolution of my perspective of film as more than purely an American based art form would be in vain even at my most articulate. Simply put, this film put the notion of greatness into my own zeitgeist and sent me down a path from which there was no turning back. It introduced me to foreign cinema, stylistic direction, the epic, classic movies, westerns, and was one close up draw jump from here to Kurosawa.

But no need to go there now, this post is about the mesmerizing style of Leone, catapulted by the charismatic crook Eli Wallach, ignited by the dynamic villainy of Lee Van Cleef, and launched into the stratosphere of legendary by the smooth, timeless Clint Eastwood. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (GBU) is a film unphased by aging or the growing trends of high octane entertainment. It survives the decades because it shaped the films of each of them. As influential as a film would ever dare be, and the kind of movie you can watch over and over again and constantly get something more out of.

It is perhaps best said that GBU is a film of nonstop minor escalation and deescalation wrapped around a larger, ever escalating primary plot. With each passing turn, each down time, each move, the viewer is privy to new insights to the characters, new ways of viewing the western as Leone viewed it, and somber morality tales to interspersed throughout the lot. The backdrop of the Civil War reminds us that violence is more than the never ending bloodbath of nightmares, it is the revelation of a man's inner being. It strips away at the heart of them, and delivers unto us their true form.

Are they a sultan of greed? A swindler of life? Or perhaps a compassionate loner with eyes full of gold? Maybe they're just a lowly captain tired of the endless nothingness at costs we dare not dream to imagine. Such is the world of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. And with that you mind find it hard to imagine, this is one hell of a fun ride.

GBU starts of slow. Three scenes, three introductions, three foundations for the entire film, with each character defined for us in their most basic sense. After all, once we know what we're dealing with, all that is left to us is the journey, right? That's where Leone gets his pay off. That's where he truly makes his mark. For Leone takes these characters to their brink of their archetypes, and in each shows us something more raw. Of course, there's no denying Tuco is Leone's caricature masterpiece. He's the full realization of the byproduct of such a world as the one Leone examines through this film's near three hour runtime.  The world of the west, put so eloquently by Tuco himself creates two kinds of people - priests or thieves, and those who opt for the inbetween pay the price.

So it is perhaps most noteworthy that while Tuco himself succumbs to the primal nature for greed, his compatriot in fate, The Man with No Name/Blondie, is a more subtle, and intriguingly complicated man. For without much thought you could easily label him as little more than another Tuco himself. He lies, steals, but above it all shows an awareness for the world in which he resides. As if he is playing his own game with those around him, the prize of which often comes out to be their life. In many respects he is a gatekeeper, a judge who acts in favor of the better man, but only when that man chooses to act so. That doesn't mean he won't drop you off at the next desert if he feels you've served your purpose. It just means that when push comes to shove, he'll always plan for the upper hand.

As a villain, Angel Eyes' iconic status rests entirely on the cold, sly snarl of Lee Van Cleef. Every bit the soldier he pretends to be, Angel Eyes is not a man of great wit or charisma, but instead relies on pure, unadulterated dedication to the task at hand. Once his direction has been set, one would need an army to deter him from his inevitable course. And for that reason, his sinister nature comes out in full. He'll torture a man as soon as friend him, and if you're not careful he'll leave you behind to save his own skin in a heartbeat.

So take those three, those lovable, cartoonish characters and wrap them into the world of Leone's one of a kind style. Just watch this movie for the way Leone uses the camera. Sure, we all know the closeups, but pay attention to what he gets out of them - especially the eyes. The amount of emotion he gets out of his main characters. The subtle facial twitches and quirks that give them a relatable life, where another director would stick for the warmth but distant medium shot. Look at the compositions of the shots, the blend of Ennio Morricone's magnanimous score, the prolific nature each camera movement takes. Each shot is setup to be a portrait of the film at large.

So developed that once you see a photo of it, the entire film begins to flash through your mind once again. You remember that music, the lines, the looks on each character's face as they match wits and guns against one another. The steadfast calm at which Blondie drew his gun. The shifty look of annoyance as Tuco tried to make heads or tails of a given situation. The way Angel Eyes laugh brought flames into those sharp, dagger eyes. It's all there, all memorable, and only gets better with time. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly may not be a movie you have to watch dozens of times to understand, but it is one that pays off no matter how many times you do.

Film Credits:
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Screenplay By: Sergio Leone, Furio Scarpelli, Agenore Incrocci, & Luciano Vincenzoni
Story By: Sergio Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni
English Version By: Mickey Knox

2 better thoughts:

Alex said...

Great post- your passion for the film really comes through in your writing! I've only seen the film once but I liked it a lot. I think Angel Eyes is my favorite though, Lee Van Cleef is just so badass.

I don't remember, have you seen THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD?

Paolo said...

I like Yojimbo and Leone's two Dollars movies but I can never get through The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Maybe its' the overt flashiness. I tried three times, making my friend tell me to just give up on the film.

Related Posts with Thumbnails