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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is one of those films everybody feels like they've seen even if they haven't. It's inspired numerous other movies, scenes from it have been parodied or re-created in several films and TV shows, and the theme song even went to #2 on the pop music charts. Proof of the film's power, though, is that it's survived all this activity and still seems fresh every time you see it.
Like so many spaghetti Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a tough-minded tale about changing loyalties and pure human greed. It follows the adventures of three men who are after hidden gold: a mysterious loner (Clint Eastwood), a bandit (Eli Wallach) and a bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef). Of course it's not quite that simple. Neither of the men trust each other--with good reason--and there's a little matter of the Civil War raging around them. Leone stated, "What do 'good', 'bad' and 'ugly' really mean? We all have some bad in us, some ugliness, some good. And there are people who appear to be ugly, but when we get to know them better, we realise that they are more worthy."
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the third film director/writer Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood, a cinematic trilogy of sorts that established the actor as a major star and put Leone on the international map. In fact, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly originally was intended to have the word "dollars" in the title to capitalize on the previous two films (A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More). They made a great impact in the U.S. because even though made over a space of several years the three films were released here in barely a single year (January to December 1967). Unfortunately, conflicts between Eastwood and Leone came to a head during the dubbing sessions for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the two never worked together again, though Eastwood has always been quick to point out his debt to Leone.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly had a budget of $1.2 million (more than the previous two films combined) with $250,000 and a percentage of some profits going to Eastwood. (Shortly before filming, Eastwood worked with the great director Vittorio De Sica for a segment of the anthology film The Witches, 1966.) Leone was always a history student and did extensive research into the period, using some of Matthew Brady's famous photographs among other documents in the Library of Congress. Leone claimed with some truth that his films were more accurate than most American-made Westerns (even if they were filmed in Spain). They aren't documentary re-creations, though, since you can find a few anachronisms like dynamite a few years before it was invented.
When shooting started, the film's working title was The Magnificent Rogues which didn't quite fit the three gritty, sometimes ruthless characters; screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni eventually came up with the famous final title (which is the same in Italian with only the order changed). Though Leone usually followed scripts very closely, Wallach's character was given more and more space as production progressed, something that couldn't have pleased Eastwood. In fact some of this uncertainty lasted into the final editing and dubbing stages when parts of the story were still being reworked by Leone. (Several filmed scenes, including a love scene with Eastwood's character and a local woman, were eliminated entirely.)
The mix of acting styles and Leone's epic visual sense are perfectly complemented by the music of Ennio Morricone. The composer worked on all but one of Leone's films (his first, The Colossus of Rhodes, 1961) and stamped his unique style so thoroughly on the genre that spaghetti Western parodies always try to mimic him. For the final shoot-out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Leone filmed to Morricone's pre-recorded music, a technique he would take much further in the next film, Once Upon a Time in the West. (Leone reportedly didn't like to be in the screening room with Morricone because the composer would laugh at everything, intentionally funny or not.)
In an interview with Gregory J. M. Catsos for Filmfax Magazine, Eli Wallach recalls the making of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: "It was a dirty, hot location. We filmed in Rome, Italy, and Almera, Spain. That was the most exhausting film I ever did. The studio had no concept of time. You'd go to work when the sun came up, and worked until the sun went down. We worked this way, six days a week, for four months. The living conditions weren't that good, either. They didn't have any trailers or air conditioning and didn't provide for the social amenities. One day, we were shooting out in the hot desert in southern Spain. After one scene, I said to the director, Sergio Leone, "I have to go to the bathroom, Where is it?" Leone pointed to the desert sand and shouted, "There!"
"Leone was very particular about how to make this film. He wanted it to have strong visual moments, and it did, likeme about to be hanged, or the closeups on the eyes. He used a lot of close-ups instead of dialogue....When I met Leone, he was wearing a belt and suspenders. I thought, "How unusual that is!" So I told him I wanted my character 'Tuco' to dress that way. Leone's answer was that he wanted me to play this scummy outlaw with "no holster for his gun!" I asked, "Where do I carry the gun, then?" He explained, "You'll have a concealed gun tied to a rope; a lanyard, around your neck." "So," I asked, "the gun dangles between my legs, right?" He said, "Yes. When you want the gun you twist your shoulders and then the gun will be in your hands." I asked him to show me how I could shoot a gun this way. He said "Like this!" He put the lanyard on, twisted his shoulder, and the gun hit him right in the groin! Undaunted, he said, "On second thought, just put the gun in your pocket." (Oddly enough, Wallach wasn't even the first choice for the role: Leone had wanted Charles Bronson who was already committed to The Dirty Dozen but would later appear in Once Upon a Time in the West.)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly confused most critics when it first appeared, getting mostly negative reviews ("dramatically feeble and offensively sadistic" according to Variety). There were even concerns about its length - whether audiences would sit through the whole thing and whether theatres could schedule enough showings in a day to turn a profit. But The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a popular success and its true value as a modern classic became recognized with such folk as Leonard Maltin rightly proclaiming it the "quintessential spaghetti Western."
Producer: Carlo Bartolini (assistant producer), Alberto Grimaldi (producer), Federico Tofi (assistant producer)
Director: Sergio Leone
Screenplay: Sergio Donati (uncredited), Agenore Incrocci, Sergio Leone (also story), Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni (also story)
Production Design: Carlo Simi
Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli
Costume Design: Carlo Simi
Film Editing: Eugenio Alabiso, Nino Baragli
Original Music: Ennio Morricone
Principal Cast: Clint Eastwood (The Man With No Name), Lee Van Cleef (Angel Eyes Sentenza), Aldo Giuffrè (Northern officer), Eli Wallach (Tuco Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez), Luigi Pistilli (Padre Ramirez), Rada Rassimov (Maria).
C-163m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Lang Thompson & Jeff Stafford