The Good, the Bad and the Ugly –

A character-building rite of passage for many a child, sitting on your parents’ knee, Sergio Leone’s Civil War action film is a revisionist Western, and a rare genre entry with a charged satirical intent always hidden in plain sight; I counted four separate terrestrial TV screenings in Britain while rewatching it this weekend. I’d seen this a number of times since my first TV viewing in 1979, where it’s amoral, who cares? show seemed like a natural next step in the wake of Star Wars’ Han Solo, but the lack of pan and scan and subsequent years were very beneficial to this epic. Can you make a truly great movie with no female characters or even any dubbed dialogue, and most of the cast poorly dubbed? Aside from the lack of female voices or representation issues among bandits, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack helps this film move past the objections, and even if the ecstasy of the other films in the Fistful of Dollars trilogy has faded, this film is still a master director in an absolute sense. current.

So what’s new to say here about a film developed under the much less iconic title The Two Magnificent Tramps? Quite a bit actually; I forgot that this is a prequel, set before the other two films that featured The Man With No Name, here identified as Blondie (Clint Eastwood). Blondie runs a fun scam with bandit Tuco (Eli Wallach), where Blondie turns in the varmit to the local authorities, collects the bounty and then shoots him through the noose during the hanging, giving Tuco the freedom to rinse and repeat the trick . “When you feel the rope tightening, you feel the devil biting your ass,” Tuco complains, so Blondie puts an end to the arrangement.

Tuco tracks him down and is about to kill Blondie when a runaway ambulance shows up carrying Ben Carson and a clue to the whereabouts of the missing gold. Aspiring screenwriters will note that this inciting incident takes place an hour into the film; conventional wisdom says we can accept this no later than ten minutes. Tuco knows where the cemetery is, Blondie knows which grave has the loot, and standing in the way, apart from each other, are his big bad Angel Eyes, (Lee Van Kleef). There’s also the small matter of a civil war that provides sudden bursts of context to illuminate their journey to Arch Stanton’s grave in Sad Hill Cemetery…

A synopsis can never capture the flavor of a film, but it is a pleasure to type, unexpected and ingenious in equal measure. “God is not on our side because he hates idiots too,” says Blondie, but who can blame our trio in a world gone mad? The three make their way through “the daily carnage…I have never seen so many men consumed so heavily,” says Blondie; like Apocalypse Now, this is a film where the experience of watching overwhelms the story. There is no point in taking sides, as Tuco does when he greets an arriving army in gray; their uniforms are covered in fabric and they are actually dressed in blue. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are a no-nonsense crew that shoots real bullets first, breaking into tables, hot tubs, cushions and windows, but there is a moral here; our hero Blondie takes the time to pet a kitten, cares for a dying soldier with tenderness and is a completely different animal than gabby Tuco or silent Angel Eyes. And while the only religious character referenced here is Judas in terms of betrayal, there is a divine light shining on Blondie; he is saved from certain death again and again by chance and luck, while the desperate Tuco misses his chance to be like his priest brother and repent for his ‘evil’ ways.

“Every weapon has its own tune,” Blondie concludes; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has the best, an extensive sense of Dickensian detail, from Tuco’s pink parasol and using the railway tracks to free himself from his handcuffs, to the soldiers dying in waves for a ‘ridiculous flyspot’ on a folder to Blondie’s abrupt farewell to his new partner “Sorry, shorty!” to Leone’s daring swing from pistol to cannonball. Eastwood never worked with Leone again, turning down the role of Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by the result, a stunning operatic version of male greed. It’s a man’s world, a man’s man in tGtBatU, with nary a woman in sight, but when you fight your way through a hell of machismo, which is Leone’s big idea, it’s only fair that it the bad guys are the ones who end up being bitten in the ass, and the good guys ride off into the sunset.