Good/Bad &/or Ugly

DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece

Ugly or Bad? 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.


Spaghetti Western Throws in Meatballs

DATELINE: Another Ashcanister of Film

When we heard that in 1971 Lee Van Cleef, Gina Lollobrigida, and James Mason, teamed up for a spaghetti Western, we could not resist.

We thought we had seen all of Mason’s singular performances, even those he preferred to relegate to the “ashcan,” as he called it.

Apparently when the script for Bad Man’s River came to him, he was in particular need of cash. Producers feared he would not show up—but he flew in to Madrid a day before shooting.

Mason surely had better offers, but maybe he owed someone a favor. We could not explain it any other way. We know that Lollobrigida received $50,000 for her effort—and felt she was ill-paid for her efforts.

Mason later told press members that just because a movie is made in the middle of nowhere in Spain doesn’t mean someone in England won’t see it, especially if the Rank Organisation decided to embarrass the star.

The film is light and played broadly with an annoying balladeer who finally disappears. After an hour or so, James Mason shows up as one of the many husbands of Gina. The running gag in the movie is that she is frequently a widow, often cheating her spouse unto death.

The story revolves around the fact that all three principals are not to be trusted: well, we would never have guessed that.

Van Cleef seems to have been the subject of more plastic work than Gina. Mason may look youthful for the last time in his career. Perhaps this movie took it out of them.

The producers were at ends when Lollobrigida and Van Cleef clashed on set. To his credit, Mason was the epitome of professionalism. He just wanted to finish this ashcan candidate and get the hell out of there.

Escape from Escapism


In an age when superheroes and special effects seem to dominate the new movie fare, we turned to an old chestnut, circa 1981, and pulled out a plum: Escape from New York.

Directed by John Carpenter when Thriller was his métier and his films contained danger elements woven into the action. Who can forget Twilight Zone: The Movie?

Not only are the special effects primitive by today’s sense-surround noise, but the computers are positively pre-Internet. When a policeman uses his cell phone, it seems to be in a shoebox. Prognostications are not this movie’s strong suit.

The movie has a glorious cast, including Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, and Donald Pleasance as the President of the United States. Perhaps we forgot that Adrienne Barbeau was also featured; once the daughter of Maude on TV, she ended up as the director’s wife and found a career in his films.

In case you missed it, the film depicts the dark future of 1997 when Manhattan has been turned into a walled prison (complete with Twin Towers). Into this mess, Air Force One is hijacked by terrorists with the President hiding in escape pod, and he is unceremoniously dumped in Manhattan at the mercy of the merciless.

Only Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell resplendent in his Clint Eastwood rasp and his John Wayne eye-patch from True Grit) will go into the dead zone to save the President. He is no patriot; he wants a full pardon for all his crimes. If you trust Lee Van Cleef and Donald Pleasance in a 1980 movie, you also have brain cell issues.

Ludicrous and slow, the film seems positively Shakespearean by today’s superhero standards. It is also inadvertently funny, which helps.

We hesitate to call it a classic, but it is watchable and a throwback to real movie history.