Earlier this year, I watched A Fistful of Dollars and really enjoyed it. I’d hoped I would like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly just as much.
And maybe I would have . . . if it hadn’t been three hours long.
In the midst of The Civil War, three men with varying levels of morality try to find a box with 200,000 dollars stuffed inside.
1. Okay, so it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this movie. I did. At least, parts — I definitely liked parts of the movie. But I also couldn’t stop staring at the clock because, my God, do I not feel this story justified a three hour film.
I knowing 70’s pacing is different from today’s pacing. I know westerns like their establishing shots. And I get that this movie is not just a western, but an epic western, which — in theory — is kind of cool. In reality, however, a three hour film is a long movie, and you need to have enough story to justify that kind of runtime. I don’t think The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has that kind of story. It would’ve been a better film if it was at least a half hour shorter, and frankly, I don’t think it would’ve been all that hard to find material that could be cut.
2. Also, I’m still waiting to find out what the hell qualifies Blondie to be “The Good.”
There are three main characters in this movie: Blondie (Clint Eastwood) is kind of a bounty hunter? Drifter? Gunslinging scam artist? Anyway, he’s not exactly Mr. Law & Order . . . which is only to be expected, if you’ve seen any other movies in the Dollars trilogy. Still, I don’t know if I can make the argument that he’s considerably more virtuous than our other players. We also have an assassin named Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) — also known as The Bad — and a mouthy little bandit named Tuco (Eli Wallach) — also known as The Ugly. Which just seems mean.
Sure, Blondie takes off his jacket at one point and puts it over a dying soldier, but it’s not like he leaves empty-handed: he nabs his signature poncho from the dude once he’s dead. And yeah, he seems to have a moment of pity for Tuco after overhearing a conversation between the bandit and his brother. But he also screws Tuco over pretty royally earlier in the film and kind of deserves all the retribution he gets. So . . . yeah, I’ve got nothing. Maybe we should call it The Bad, The Bad, and The Bad, a tale of gold, greed, and violent bromance.
3. Cause seriously, Tuco and Blondie totally have an awesome dysfunctional bromance where it’s like, hey, sometimes we try to kill each other, but other than that we’re buds.
I love it.
4. I do feel, however, that there’s a bit of a missed opportunity when Blondie is traveling with Angel Eyes. Their on-screen time together is very brief and nothing particularly important happens in it. I wish the two actors had the chance to play off each other a little more.
In general, actually, I find Angel Eyes to be kind of disappointing.
He’s set up to be a much more compelling character than he actually is — you know, he has a code and whatnot, or hey, maybe it’s just a convenient excuse for bloodlust, but whatever. It’s interesting. After a while, though, Angel Eyes quickly becomes just any other black hat, and he’s given really no time for characterization. I don’t blame Lee Van Cleef for that — his performance is totally enjoyable — but I wish The Bad got a little more to do because he feels kind of like a third wheel here between The Good and The Ugly.
5. On the upside, Tuco’s pretty awesome.
I enjoy the hell out of all his cursing and conniving. He looks like a very fun character to play; he’s certainly fun to watch. There’s this one part when he’s in a mission, trying to wheedle information out of a very ill Blondie, and it’s hilarious. Eli Wallach is pretty awesome in the part. Also, he apparently almost died, like, three different times trying to make this movie.
I want to be very clear: I will do nothing of the sort for my art. I take writing very seriously, but the day it causes me to almost lose my head via a train or drink a bottle of poison? I’m leaving writing behind to join the godamned circus.
6. The score, unsurprisingly, is also made of win. I mean, there’s a reason this shit is so iconic. I’ve been meaning to buy myself some Ennio Morricone for my hodgepodge of an iTunes library. Maybe I’ll do that after I finish this review.
7. The music isn’t the only thing that’s iconic about this movie. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly features one of the most well-known Mexican standoff scenes in cinema history. It’s a good scene. I don’t really have much to say about it other than that, but it felt weird not to mention it.
8. Finally, if I die — I say if because I’m still secretly hoping that I might be an Immortal who rocks out to “Princes of the Universe” while lopping off a few heads — I hope my bones are laid to rest in a cool ass cemetery like this. Unlikely, I suppose, because this isn’t a real cemetery. Still, I think the spiral pattern is kind of awesome. I particular like the circular arena in the middle of it — maybe they have ghost cage matches there? Ooh, story idea.
Blondie: “You see, in this world there are two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”
Tuco: “Don’t die until later.”
Angel: “That’s a tidy sum. But when I’m paid . . . I always see the job through.”
Blondie: “Six, the perfect number.”
Angel Eyes: “I thought three was the perfect number.”
Blondie: “I’ve got six more bullets in my gun.”
Tuco: “I must tell you the truth, Blondie. In my place, you would do the same thing. It’s all over for you now. There’s nothing anyone can do anymore. It’s my fault! Mine, mine! I’ll tell you one thing, Blondie. If I knew that my last hour had come . . . I swear, in my place, in your place, I would do the same thing. I would tell about the gold.”
Enjoyable but a lot longer than it needed to be.
Payback’s a bitch. Especially if it takes place in the desert.
20 thoughts on ““When You Have to Shoot, Shoot. Don’t Talk.””
Was it really three hours long? I barely noticed. Unlike the first “Fistful of Dollars” movie where, as the plot got more and more convoluted, I couldn’t wait for it to end. However long “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” may be, it has a logical progression and very clear sections to it. There’s no weird storyline whereby we spend the whole movie in one small town with our protagonist making some extremely unwise attempts to play the two sides off against one another.
I’d say that Angel Eyes is given enough characterisation. Part of his appeal is, like with Blondie, that he’s enigmatic. And Van Cleef plays him as such a scary figure too. There’s a mystery as to how he became the unrelenting badass that he now is and too much characterisation would erode that mystery. You just find out enough to know that he is not one to be trifled with.
I haven’t seen The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly for several years but I remember liking it – just not more than A Fistful of Dollars – I loved about it what you disliked. I suppose I might have liked it a bit more just because I didn’t see it until after that Bruce Willis remake set in the 1920s. Also the lack of a plodding, point to point to point plot progression was kind of a plus. It was like a good bottle show.
Wait — there’s a remake with Bruce Willis? Seriously? What is this movie?
It’s called Last Man Standing – and I guess could be said to really be a remake of Yojimbo of which A Fistful of Dollars itself is a remake.
It’s set during Prohibition and has Willis playing two rival bootlegging gangs off each other. It wasn’t a terrible movie, really, but it’s no Fistful…or Yojimbo I guess.
Yeah, we’re at opposite ends here. I didn’t find A Fistful of Dollars to be particularly convoluted, and I liked watching Clint trying to play the two rival gangs against each other. And actually, I don’t feel like I need a lot of details or anything about Angel Eyes, certainly not anything like a biography. I just feel like after the first twenty minutes, he doesn’t really have that much to do. The torture scene is okay, I guess, but I feel like any other faceless bad guy could have just stood in for him for most of the film, and I would barely even have noticed. Which is too bad — I like Van Cleef well enough. I just think he deserved more actual screen time.
I second Last Man Standing. Also, when I was a kid I thought The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly should be called The Morally Ambiguous, the Slightly Less Bad, and the Unlucky.
Ha! Love it.
I like your comment. I love how deceptively simple the plot is, and how the pace builds atmosphere and character.
And maybe I would have . . . if it hadn’t been three hours long.
Reminds me of when I saw Dances with Wolves without realizing it was the extended cut. I’m pretty sure it was about four hours. I liked it, but man…not that much!
God. I thought Dances With Wolves was long when it was only THREE hours.
I know you didn’t put it on your list, but I think you’ll prefer For a Few Dollars More once you get around to it one day. IMO, it’s the best of the trilogy. Eastwood and Van Cleef share some amazing scenes in that movie. Plus it’s not three hours long.
I’ll probably watch it at some point. Not this year, I don’t think, but I like the spaghetti westerns enough, I think, to give it a try. I’m particularly glad to hear that it’s under three hours. 🙂
It’s 90 minutes, all of it gun battles. It’s quite a change from the others. 😉
I can think of worse things. 🙂
First, I don’t like Sergio Leone’s sexism. Women are beaten and punished far too often in his movies.
That aside, this is one of my all time favourite movies. The music, the acting, the camerawork, the bromance, the protagonist (Tuco), the pitch-perfect comedy, almost everything! I love this movie.
I think we all like problematic films and creators sometimes. 🙂
And most of all, watching the protagonist I realized that he was quite a bit like me. He often talks and acts on impulse, he’s outgoing, a bit clumsy, misunderstands subtle signals… And that’s totally part of who I am!
Next time watch it with all clocks away.
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” title just has a fabulous ring to it. At some point I realized there’s no point quibbling over how good, bad, or ugly the characters were. It doesn’t matter that Blondie isn’t all that good and Tuco isn’t all that ugly. This is one of the few movies I’ve watched three times, and I’ll probably watch it again. Sergio Leone is an absolute master of faces: the close-ups of dirty, sweaty, frightened, or drunk faces convey a world of fear, agony, despair, ironic cynicism, and other emotions, often with little or no dialogue. It’s interesting that a European chose to put this story in New Mexico, an irrelevant backwater of the American Civil War. The insignificance of the New Mexico campaign, and all of the pointless pain and death it caused for the participants, add to the anti-war feeling that permeates the war-related scenes. This in turn subtly suggests the utter insignificance of the key players and their petty concerns, as well as the complete immorality of the pain and death they inflict on the victims of their greedy and cruel actions.
Sad Hill Cemetery, the scene of the stand off does exist still. 49 years after filming the movie, the cemetery was rebuilt. If you’re interetsed, the reconstruction was recorded in the documentary Sad Hill Unearthed (2017), by Guillermo de Oliveira.