The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) Director: Sergio Leone
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo is perhaps the most famous “spaghetti western” of all time. It is the third and final episode in the Dollars Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, with A Fistful of Dollars (1962) and For A Few Dollars More (1965). Sergio Leone later asked Eastwood to work as the star of Once Upon In The West (1968), but he refused, angering Leone who criticized Eastwood’s acting. Most of the actors spoke Italian in the film, and were later dubbed over in English, excluding Clint Eastwood. The film was internationally produced in Europe and the United States, and much of the shooting took place in rural Italy and Spain.
The plot takes place during the American civil war, in the southwest. It follows three gunslingers as they seek $200,000 of Confederate gold buried in the ground, while trying to avoid the Civil War battles of the New Mexico Campaign in 1862. The audience learns of each of the three primary characters: First, “Angel Eyes” (a.k.a. The Bad) who is hunting down the confederate gold for a man named Bill Carson, killing those who stand in his way. Second, Tuco, a Mexican Bandit (a.k.a. The Ugly), is constantly finding himself in trouble. The film actually opens with a brief scene where two men approach an old pioneer town when they come upon a third man (the audience believes they will duel) when suddenly at the last moment they enter a building, shots are fired, and Tuco escapes having shot the three men. Another cowboy, “Blondie” (a.k.a. The Good, wearing a signature Poncho, which Eastwood later gave to a friend in Carmel who owned a Mexican restaurant where it hung for years), rescues Tuco from some bandits, only to turn him into a local sheriff for his $2,000 reward, but also frees him so they can move from town to town claiming the reward and saving Tuco from the noose. Eventually, Blondie gets tired of Tuco’s whining and abandons him without water in the desert. In seeking revenge, Tuco tracks Blondie to a town being vacated by Confederate troops and tries to force Blondie to hang himself, but Blondie is rescued by a bombshell from Union forces which destroys the building, allowing him to escape. However, again Tuco catches Blondie and forces him to march through the desert where he nearly dies of dehydration, however a stage coach filled with dying Confederate troops comes upon them, and one (named Bill Carson) speaks the location of the burial site of the $200,000 in gold – he gives the location to Tuco and the name on the gravestone to Blondie. Thus, the two must travel together if they are to find the gold, despite their hatred of each other. Tuco takes Blondie to a nearby mission called “San Antonio” where his brother is a friar and they allow Blondie to heal. Together, they leave the mission in old Confederate uniforms they find, only to be captured by Union forces. At roll call in the Union prison, Tuco identifies himself as Bill Carson, however “Angel Eyes” is now disguised as a Union sergeant. He tortures Tuco for the name and location of the gold, but Tuco reveals that only Blondie knows the true name of the location. Angel Eyes makes an agreement with Blondie for them to ride out together to find it, while he handcuffs Tuco to one of his guards and sends him away on a train to be executed. Blondie and Angel Eyes arrive in a burnt out town, Tuco frees himself by leaping off the train with the guard and breaks the cuffs when an oncoming train approaches. He arrives in the same town as Angel Eyes and Blondie. Tuco is caught by surprise while taking a bath by a bounty hunter, whom he promptly kills. Tuco and Blondie resume their old partnership and kill all Angel Eyes’s men, while Angel Eyes escapes. Tuco and Blondie head toward the Sad Hill cemetery where the gold is said to be buried, but they are interrupted by Union forces who are in conflict with Confederate troops opposite them. A bridge divides them. The three cowboys decide to wire the bridge with explosives and blow it up, freeing them from the ensuing armies. In the ensuing chaos, Tuco crosses with a horse and heads to the cemetery to take the gold for himself, finding the grave of Arch Stanton, which Blondie told him was the location while they were wiring the bridge, in case they both died. However, Blondie shows up and tells him to keep digging, but then Angel Eyes shows up and demands that they both dig at gunpoint, however Blondie refuses because there is no gold. He says only he knows the true name, and that he will write it on the back of a rock, and they can duel for it. He places it in the middle of the vast cemetery. The film closes with a paranoid and suspicious shoot-out scene which builds the tension amidst large spacious views, followed by tight close-ups of faces and increasingly quick cuts. Blondie kills Angel Eyes in the famous three-person Mexican stand-off and then he slowly approaches Tuco, who realizes his gun has no ammunition, from Blondie. Blondie forces him to dig at the “Unknown” gravestone next to Arch Stanton’s grave, where the gold is buried. Tuco digs up all the gold, 8 bags full of them, but Blondie hangs a noose and makes him stand on the grave and ties the noose around his neck. He takes four of the bags and leaves, while Tuco fears for his life and screams after Blondie. Shortly before the end, Blondie shoots the noose, freeing Tuco as he once did in their various plots to claim money for Tuco’s arrests. The film ends with Tuco cursing Blondie while Blondie rides off into the distance.
While Hollywood Westerns were very polished and clean at the time, Spaghetti Westerns were more gritty, dirtier, more violent, and they often featured anti-heroes, like Clint Eastwood’s Blondie, who is clearly the “good” hero, but also he ironically kills the most people in the film (11 kills), while Tuco kills only 6. We are left to ask, what exactly is “good” about Blondie? The film challenges a number of stereotypes of the traditional western film, and it delivers masterfully.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is not only one of the greatest Westerns of all time, but also one of the greatest films of all time. The sweeping landscapes of Spain and Italy, styled as the American West, are extraordinary; the iconic soundtrack of Ennio Morricone is unforgettable; and the cinematography is as unique as it is powerful with its huge open views of the west, and the ability to slowly build interest and tension until something unpredictable happens. Throughout the movie the audience is intrigued and left guessing. The tone is lawless and greedy, amidst a backdrop of the great American Civil War, yet The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is playful and even picaresque. The film belongs on every list of great films.