THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY – A Cumbersome Classic

With cinemas on a slow and arduous return to normality, we’re experiencing a new love for the retro classics on offer at home and at “the pictures”. We recently asked Kernel newbie Sam to pick a classic to review. Being the youngest member of The Cob, he surprised all of us by selecting a spaghetti western classic feature from 1966! We’ve probably all seen the memes that have sprung forth from that final standoff (think: shifty looking closeups of eyes) and we all recognise that musical sting. So Kernel Sam saddled up and moseyed on down to check out this “talky”.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY was originally rated R18+ on its first cinematic release but when it was re-released in 2003, it was reclassified. So it’s now rated as MA15+. It’s available for streaming and home entertainment, and a small selection of limited cinemas are screening this film as a retro classic comeback initiative. It runs for 171mins.

The Grin, The Bad and The Ugly

BY SAM PHILLIPS

SYNOPSIS:

Starring Clint Eastwood (GRAN TORINO, UNFORGIVEN), Lee Van Cleef (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) and Eli Wallach (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, BABY DOLL), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY follows three men. One a professional gunslinger, one a determined hitman and one a wanted outlaw. They travel through the south of the US to claim a stash of $200,000. Set during the midst of the civil war, their journey is filled with murder, betrayal and revenge. As the three men work their way towards the glorious riches, the tension is raised ever higher. 

WESTERN AT ITS BEST:

If I were to praise THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY about one thing it would be its production value. The film was made for 1.6 million dollars, and thus was one of the most expensive movies of its time. You can clearly see this when watching the film. Every person that worked on it gave it their all. The scale and practical effects of the film are still mind blowing to this day. Everything seems authentic, and engaging to the point where you find it impossible to take your eyes off the screen. You can see over five hundred men on screen at some points during the scene of an ongoing confederate battle. The scene climaxes with the explosion of a bridge. The entire explosion scene was completed with practical effects. It makes for one of the most impressive scenes in the Spaghetti Western genre. 

The classic Eastwood “hero shot”

THAT ICONIC SCORE:

Even if you haven’t seen THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, you have heard its main theme. A simple motif meant to represent a coyote howl, accompanied by a flute, an ocarina and vocals. Each instrument represents the three men in the story. The score creates a sense of electrifying tension, churchlike calmness and violent danger throughout the course of the film. Composer Ennio Morricone passed away this July, and left behind a legacy of great music. The score for THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is perhaps his best.

THERE’S A REASON IT’S BELOVED:

Despite not garnering a single Oscar Nomination, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is the ninth highest rated film on IMDb. It’s become a classic since it was released. This success can all be traced back to Spanish director, Sergio Leone (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, DUCK YOU SUCKER). A perfectionist, Leone was responsible for the huge scale, and fantastic cinematography seen throughout the course of the movie. It’s reported that Leone worked everyone on the film to an almost torturous amount. He would shoot many takes for scenes that were completed on a first attempt. This ended in a famous falling out between Leone and Eastwood. Dozens of times throughout the film, Eastwood’s character is seen with a cigar in his mouth. Eastwood being a non-smoker hated this fact. He told Leone that if he didn’t get the next take right, he would throw-up. 

Paired with this incredible directing was the work of Costume and Set Designer Carlo Simi. (ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS). Also Makeup artist Rino Carboni. (RED SONJA, ARMARCORD) Together they provide some of the best visual aspects of the film. It was Simi who created the look of Blondie (Eastwood), the most iconic character in the Spaghetti Western Genre. Carboni most notably designed and applied the make-up for Eastwood. The most impressive application when the character has walked over thirty miles through the desert with no water or food. Blondie’s face is horribly cracked and dry. It’s realistic and believable and a prime example of the great work by Carboni.

Line ’em up, boys

YOU CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL:

So, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is seemingly a masterpiece, right? Well, no. Despite the critical reception of this movie, it has some major flaws that go ignored by everyone. Everyone except one man, Eastwood himself. Eastwood has stated that he didn’t like the finished film. He later reported that ‘It was bloated rather than expansive, and the only fleshed-out character was Tuco” (Wallach). I couldn’t agree with him more. 

Although it’s enjoyable, you soon realise that most of it is just Eastwood and Wallach wandering into different sets. These meandering scenes don’t meaningfully contribute to the overall product. A prime example is when Blondie and Tuco find themselves within a prison camp after claiming to be Confederates. The only important event in the scene is when Angel Eyes finally re-enters after learning about the whereabouts of the $200,000 from Tuco. Blondie joins up with Angel and for the next twenty minutes they are partners. Blondie then reunites with Tuco and betrays Angel Eyes. Leaving us where we started twenty minutes earlier. There’s no reason for the scene to be extended past the five-minute mark. It feels like a waste of time in the grand scheme of the film.   

Iconic Eastwood

NOT BAD, NOT GOOD, JUST UGLY:

The title of this section may hint at a major issue with this movie. No one outside of Wallach’s character feels at all developed. This issue applies especially to Angel Eyes (Cleef). Angel Eyes is barely in the movie, having no major appearances in the middle of the film. He is only really important in three scenes. His introduction, the prison camp scene, and the climax. Even in the climax, he appears last and dies first. It leaves you wondering why he was in the film at all. If his character was removed, the film’s pacing issues would be fixed almost entirely. The only consequence being that the title wouldn’t be nearly as catchy.

Blondie on the other hand has the opposite problem – he’s in the film too much. That’s not to say that the character shouldn’t exist. Just that he should be fleshed-out more to deserve the given screen-time. Granted, Blondie does have more character to him than Angel Eyes. Still, the only things we learn about him are that he’s a good shot, he’ll never give up information, and he’s calm and collected. In the scene where Blondie is walking through the desert without food or water, he’s still just as calm as ever.

The solution to fixing this character is to give him a vulnerability. For example, Tuco has strained relationships with his brother, and is confronted by him half-way through the movie. Tuco is given information that during his nine year absence, both his mother and father have passed away. The pain that this information brings him is evident, yet he still goes on, determined to ignore the information. If Blondie and Angel Eyes were given similar scenes, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY would be an appropriate title. As it stands now, just “The Ugly” is a much more suitable name. 

The Good, The Bad and The Closeup

THE MEXICAN STANDOFF:

After Tuco arrives at Sad Hill Cemetery where the $200,000 lies buried beneath a grave, this film becomes the masterpiece it’s renowned for. The swelling score as Tuco runs between the graves. The iconic reveal of both Blondie and Angel Eyes, followed by one of the most tension filled scenes in cinema history. The Mexican Standoff is a solid three minutes of just music, with the camera swapping between the eyes of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This climaxes with Angel Eyes being shot by Blondie, and the reveal that Tuco’s gun had been emptied. The last 22 minutes of the film is dedicated to the scene on Sad Hill, and once all is said and done and the credits roll, you can’t help but love this movie.

The famous standoff

THE FINAL SHOWDOWN:

After this, I look at the runtime, noticing how those three hours are now gone, and wondering to myself if it was worth it. After the adrenaline from that final scene had finally stopped rushing to my head, I came to a definitive answer. Yes, they were worth it. Despite all the flaws you could throw at this movie, it is still the most important western ever created. Everyone should watch this film, whether it be because they’re a fan of the genre, or just because they want to see some explosions. In my case, I watched it because I knew that it was going to be worth my time, and despite my criticisms, it was. So, is THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY disappointing? Yes. Is it good? Also yes.

KERNEL SAM’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL ELIE’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL EHAB’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL JASON’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Kernel Sam is both the youngest and newest member of Salty Popcorn. He spends every spare moment he can watching films. When he is not watching them he is talking about them. See more film discussions on his Instagram @sam_talks_movies or on his Youtube, Sam Talks Movies

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.

Privacy Preference Center