DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece
Ugly or Bad?
Apart from the title being incorrectly punctuated, the Sergio Leone classic western cannot be judged by any normal standard of movie-making.
It is singular, both hilarious and horse opera bouffe. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is amazing, now restored and digitally remastered. It never looked better. It is 3 hours of utter charm.
The film starred Clint Eastwood, but he was outshone in every moment by Eli Wallach’s Tuco the Rat. It is a performance that comes once in a lifetime of great acting. It is so over-the-top and looney that it works as perfection. There is some question as to which is the Ugly one. In trailers, it is Lee Van Cleef, and in the movie the word is placed over Wallach’s image.
Scenes are historically inaccurate, overlong, and seem to be in some fantasy world that is not the real west. It does not matter one whit.
If the scenes were not epic enough (Tuco in a bubble bath with guns) or Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes shooting kids, you do have Clint’s nameless character with a nickname of “Blondie,” which Eli Wallach seems to relish.
Scene-stealing should be added to the list of crimes that Tuco commits (the litany includes murder, rape, and cheating at cards).
We have not even touched on the iconic music that dots every panorama and desert viewpoint. The plot has something to do with three mercenaries with no morality and ethics seeking a gold treasure in someone’s grave.
The climax may be the longest stand-off shoot-out in the history of movies with three gunslingers facing off for six minutes.
There may well be deep messages conveyed here, but all that is secondary to the delight and mirth of showing the American Civil War as a dirty business. Indeed, all the major actors have flies on them. We do learn how Clint took that iconic serape off a dying young blond man who looks like a younger version of him.
This film is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.