In the years between the “Rawhide” television series of the early 1960’s and the “Dirty Harry” film series of the 1970’s, Clint Eastwood made his mark on popular culture playing the ‘man with no name’ anti-hero of the Spaghetti westerns. The genre got its name from the fact that the movies were filmed almost always on location in Italy and were directed by and starring a cast of unknown Italian or European actors. They were made on a low budget but always high on action. Although Eastwood first became famous playing a cowboy on “Rawhide”, it was not until he teamed up with legendary film director Sergio Leone that he hit the jackpot.
They worked together three times in the “Dollars Trilogy” which included “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). Of all the Spaghetti Westerns, the most iconic is arguably “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and is by far the most entertaining.
Although not original in its concept, it was inspired by Akira Kurasawa’s Samurai films, the genre managed to mutate itself into a totally new concept of film-making, which revolutionised the way Western’s were made. Sergio Leone built up the momentum in the first film of the trilogy, which was improved upon during the second film and reaches a perfect crescendo in the third.
In “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, Clint Eastwood plays a mysterious wanderer called Blondie, “The Good”, armed only with his quick fire pistols and loads of machismo, who crosses paths with two other dubious characters during the American Civil War. The first low life that he tangles with is Tuco, or “The Ugly” (played by Eli Wallach), a bandit wanted by just about every county in the Wild West. The two come up with a scheme and decide to work together. Their plan is for Blondie to ‘capture’ Tuco, hand him over to the authorities, collect the reward money and just before his planned execution; Tuco will escape with a little help from Blondie himself.
Although the plan sounds ingenious at first, after a while the two rogues have a falling out. Blondie decides to ditch Tuco and move on to other more profitable enterprises. Tuco on the other hand vows revenge on what he feels is a backstabbing. He hunts Blondie down and takes him on a death march through the searing heat of the open plains. Just before his former partner breathes his last, by a strange circumstance, a mysterious carriage containing dead Confederate soldiers comes along. Tuco goes to investigate and finds out that one soldier is still barely alive. The soldier tells Tuco that $200,000 in Confederate gold is buried in a cemetery, but falls unconscious before he can tell the name of the grave where the gold is kept. Tuco rushes for water to revive the soldier, only to come back and find out that he has died, but not before imparting the name of the grave to Blondie.
So now the two former partners have to work together to get the gold. Though the circumstance of their alliance has now changed, they still can’t stand each other and will have to put aside their differences for the treasure. Add to this party another scoundrel named Angel Eyes, “The Bad” (played by Lee Van Cleef), a ruthless mercenary who also finds out about the buried treasure. Though he is a sociopath compared to the other two, he does share their greed for the gold and decides to hunt for it as well. All that’s left now is a battle of wits, quick drawing pistols and loads of luck for one individual to get away with the treasure.
Although the film was initially criticised for the way it glamorised violence and for the lack of acting chops from its lead stars, it is now widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Westerns ever made. Sergio Leone managed to breathe new life into a genre that had seemed to bore many film-goers. The film incorporates thrilling gunfights, colorful characters and awesome locations to form a rip-roaring piece of entertainment that lasts for nearly three hours.
Sergio Leone’s volatile personality and visionary direction comes across again and again in scene after scene, perhaps never better than the three-man gunfight scene towards the end of the movie. Add to this Ennio Morriconne’s unforgettable theme music, which pops up throughout the movie to thrill audiences, making the film even more cooler than it already is.
Clint Eastwood being the main star really makes his mark as an icon of manliness in the movie. Though his acting is not what you would call Oscar winning, his commanding screen presence and generally macho personality will inspire just about anyone to wear a belt with a six shooter. Eli Wallach is also terrific as Tuco, and manages to create a character that is not only ruthless, but also quite lovable. Though repulsive to look at, he still manages to come across as an endearing anti-hero in his own right. Credit must also be given to Lee Van Cleef for his performance as the evil Angel Eyes, who, as the name suggests, pierces his unfortunate prey with his devious stare and even more chilling shooting.
Sergio Leone did make one more classic Western after this movie, “Once Upon a Time in the West”, which was superb as well. Yet “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” has its own particular charm, which sets it apart from other Spaghetti Westerns. It’s a great film that probably captures best all the romantic notions one has about the Wild West. If you like your movies to have simple plots, good guys and bad guys settling scores with gunfights and generally get inspiration for being a tough macho man, then this is the film for you.
Raza Ali Sayeed is a journalist at Dawn.com
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