Cowboy Marathon – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

After doing a couple of dirty deeds Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is out on the look for a man that knows about a lot of loose confederate gold.  Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Blondie (Clint Eastwood) are partners in a con and eventually decide to go opposite ways.  Tuco doesn’t like how their partnership ended and so he’s out for revenge against Blondie.  While out enacting this revenge they find out about the Confederate gold, but each only knows a part of the story as to exactly where the gold is.  Insert Angel Eyes and you have a race to the finish with each man trying to get the gold and the information while leaving the other two in the dust in the process, all while the civil wars continues to drag on.

I entered this marathon only three weeks ago with the preconception that Westerns were generally a complete and utter waste of time.  I’m not even half way through the marathon and I’m already ready to apologize publicly to all you lovers of the genre who’ve had to listen to my constant bickering.  After watching this film, which most consider to be the greatest of the genre, I must concede that I spoke out of turn.  This film is brilliant.  I love the first two films in the trilogy, but this is definitely the best of the lot.

Not only was Sergio Leone able to bring in another brilliant character this time around, i.e. Tuco, that’s just as enjoyable to watch as all the others we’ve seen so far, but he’s increased the scope and grandness of the film by introducing the civil war backdrop.  At first I was worried that the war would interfere with the film’s hopes and dreams to kick ass more than its predecessors, but by the time the film was thirty minutes in and we had finally been introduced to all three of our main characters I had no more fears.

What makes this movie so special for me now is that it proved to me that you can have a film basically about three really badass characters with a story that engages you.  One of my biggest problems with films, like the kind that Michael Mann directs, is that they like to give this macho character(s) that is all powerful and is able to overcome any obstacle, but it ends up faltering usually when we ask it to give us a somewhat gripping story.  Here we get it all: acting, story, characters, direction and action.

My only real problem isn’t so much a problem with the film, but really a problem with the film’s misrepresentation.  This is the third and final chapter in the Man With No Name trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few More Dollars (1965), The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966).  However throughout those films Clint Eastwood, and eventually Lee Van Cleef, play different characters in each film.  Deep down Clint is generally the same person, except with slight changes from film to film, but Van Cleef is definitely a completely different person from A Few Dollars More to The Good The Bad and The Ugly.  This isn’t really a criticism as much as an observation of something I never really noticed.  These films are really only related to each other by their lead actors, director and genre.  It’s as if Sergio Leone was creating his own western movie playlist for people to enjoy in the theatre, or at home.

I also want to take note at the obvious reference that Quentin Tarantino was making during the opening sequence in Inglorious Basterds with Col. Hans Landa’s interrogation of the dairy farmer.  It’s so obviously a reference to the scene at the beginning of the film when Angel Eyes comes to interrogate the man about Jackson and what name he’s currently going by.  It’s so obvious, from the music used (which Tarantino took from this film’s score) to the dead stare that Angel gives the man.  The only thing that differs is a few minor details to how the conversation ends and how long Tarantino decided to hold the tension in his version.

The movie is straight up brilliance from start to finish and deserves no less than the royal treatment.  If you’ve never seen a western before and need a film to inspire you to start watching them this is the one.

IMDB says 9.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes says 98%

I say 10/10

  • Univarn

    I’ve probably watched this movie 30 times I love it so much (which is why it’s my #2). One of the things Leone does so brilliantly here is in developing the character of Tuco. It’s the only character we get to know any backdrop of, and it’s the only one we get to sympathize with. And he’s perhaps one of the least sympathetic characters in the film.

    Admit it the shot after Tuco opens the grave, finds the gold, and looks up, the camera pans up to show him staring right through a noose is just brilliant cinema. I love that shot.
    *End Spoilers*

    As for your observation on Man With No Name Trilogy. Basically they’re just connected in style, presentation, talent and the fact that their lead has no name. Sort of how director’s have War Trilogies which aren’t really connected except for subject matter.

  • Andrew Robinson

    Well I understand the triology, it’s just unlike most of these kinds of trilogies (all I can think of is Park Chan Wook’s Revenge Trilogy) this one had the recurring actors, and Clint Eastwood even had basically the same dress in all the films… kind of misleading to anyone who doesn’t know.

    And yes, that shot is brilliant. Didn’t expect that to happen at all