Archive for December 1, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Movie Reviews, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

In a desolate ghost town during the American Civil War, bandit Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez (“The Ugly,” Eli Wallach) narrowly shoots his way past three bounty hunters to freedom, killing two but only badly wounding the third. Miles away, Angel Eyes (“The Bad,” Lee Van Cleef) interrogates a former soldier called Stevens (Antonio Casas) about a missing man named Jackson who has taken on the name “Bill Carson” (Antonio Casale) and a cache of stolen Confederate gold. He brutally guns down Stevens and his eldest son after the interrogation, but not before Stevens pays Angel Eyes to kill Angel Eyes’ employer, another former soldier named Baker. Angel Eyes later collects his fee for Stevens’ killing from Baker, and then shoots and kills him too.

Meanwhile, during Tuco’s flight across the desert he runs into a group of bounty hunters who prepare to capture him when they are approached by Blondie (“The Good,” Clint Eastwood), a mysterious lone gunman who challenges the hunters to the draw, which he wins with lightning speed. Initially elated, Tuco is enraged when Blondie delivers him up to the local authorities for the reward money of $2,000. Hours later, as Tuco awaits his execution, Blondie surprises the authorities and frees Tuco by shooting the execution rope; the two later meet to split the reward money, revealing their lucrative money-making scheme. After Tuco’s bounty is raised to $3,000, the two repeat the process at another town before Blondie, weary of Tuco’s incessant complaints about the dividing of the profits from their scheme, abandons him in the desert, keeping all of the money. A livid Tuco manages to make it to another town and rearm himself with a revolver. Some time later in another town, Tuco enlists three outlaws to come with him to kill Blondie. As the three men break into Blondie’s room, Blondie shoots and kills all three of them, but to Blondie’s surprise Tuco climbs up through his back window and aims his gun at Blondie in the middle of a skirmish between Union and Confederate troops. As Tuco prepares to kill Blondie by fashioning a noose and forcing Blondie to put it around his neck, a cannonball hits the hotel and demolishes the room, allowing Blondie to escape.

Following a relentless search, Tuco captures Blondie using the same scheme with another partner (Tuco doesn’t allow Blondie to shoot the rope this time and the unfortunate “Shorty” is hanged) and marches him across the harsh desert. When Blondie finally collapses from dehydration and heatstroke, Tuco prepares to kill him but pauses when a runaway ambulance carriage appears on the horizon heading their way. Inside, while looting the dead soldiers, Tuco discovers a dying Bill Carson, who reveals that $200,000 in stolen Confederate gold is buried in a grave in Sad Hill cemetery but falls unconscious before naming the grave. When Tuco returns with water, he discovers Carson dead and Blondie slumped against the carriage beside Carson’s body. Before passing out, Blondie says that Carson told him the name on the grave. Tuco takes Blondie (both disguised as Confederate soldiers) to a Catholic mission run by Tuco’s older brother Father Pablo. Tuco nurses Blondie back to health, and the two leave, still disguised. They inadvertently encounter a force of Union soldiers (whom they take for Confederates due to thick coatings of grey dust on their uniforms). They are captured and marched to a Union prison camp.

At the camp, Corporal Wallace (Mario Brega) calls the roll. Tuco answers for Bill Carson, catching the attention of Angel Eyes, now disguised as a Union Sergeant stationed at the camp. Angel Eyes has Wallace viciously beat and torture Tuco into revealing Sad Hill Cemetery as the location of the gold, but Tuco also confesses that only Blondie knows the name on the grave. Angel Eyes offers Blondie an equal partnership in recovering the gold. Blondie agrees and rides out with Angel Eyes and his posse. Meanwhile, Tuco, chained to Corporal Wallace, is transported by train to his execution. During the trip, Tuco tells Wallace he has to urinate and distracts Wallace long enough to grab him and jump off the train, taking the Corporal with him. He then beats Wallace’s head on a rock, killing him, and uses another train to cut their chain taking the dead Wallace with it, freeing him.

We next see Blondie, Angel Eyes and Angel Eyes’ gang arriving in a town that’s rapidly being evacuated due to heavy artillery fire. Tuco, wandering aimlessly through the wreckage of that same town, is oblivious of the bounty hunter that survived at the start of the movie (Al Mulock), who tracks and ambushes Tuco who is taking a bath in an abandoned building. Despite the surprise, Tuco shoots and kills the bounty hunter. Blondie investigates the gunshot, finding Tuco and informing him of Angel Eyes’s involvement. The two resume their old partnership, stalking through the wrecked town and killing Angel Eyes’ henchmen before discovering that Angel Eyes has escaped and left an insulting note for them.

Tuco and Blondie find their way to Sad Hill Cemetery, but it is blocked by large Union and Confederate forces who are separated only by a narrow bridge. Each side is preparing to fight for it, but apparently both sides have been ordered not to destroy the bridge. Reasoning that if the bridge were destroyed “these idiots would go somewhere else to fight”, Blondie and Tuco wire the bridge with dynamite. During the process, the two trade information, Tuco revealing Sad Hill Cemetery as the gold’s location and Blondie saying that the name on the grave is Arch Stanton. The two then take cover as the bridge blows up and the two armies resume their battle. The next morning, the Confederate and Union soldiers have gone. Tuco abandons Blondie (who has stopped to tend to a dying young Confederate soldier) to retrieve the gold for himself at the cemetery. Frantically searching the sea of make-shift tombstones and grave markers, Tuco finally locates Arch Stanton’s grave. As he digs, Blondie appears (now clad in his trademark poncho) and tosses him a shovel. A second later, the two are surprised by Angel Eyes, who holds them at gunpoint. Blondie kicks open Stanton’s grave to reveal just a skeleton. Declaring that only he knows the real name of the grave, Blondie writes it on a rock in the middle of the graveyard and tells Tuco and Angel Eyes that “two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. We’re going to have to earn it.”

The three stare each other down in the circular center of the cemetery, calculating alliances and dangers in a famous five-minute Mexican standoff before suddenly drawing. Blondie shoots Angel Eyes, who tries to shoot Blondie while he is down only to be shot by Blondie again and roll into an open grave, dead. Tuco also tries to shoot Angel Eyes, but discovers that Blondie had unloaded his gun the night before. Blondie directs Tuco to the grave marked “Unknown” next to Arch Stanton’s. Tuco digs and is overjoyed to find bags of gold inside, but is shocked when he turns to Blondie and finds himself staring at a noose. Seeking a measure of revenge for what Tuco has done to him, Blondie forces Tuco to stand atop a tottery grave marker and fixes the noose around his neck, binding Tuco’s hands before riding off with his share of the gold. As Tuco screams for mercy, Blondie’s silhouette returns on the horizon, aiming a rifle at him. Blondie fires a single shot and severs the noose rope, just like old times, dropping Tuco face-first onto his share of the gold. Blondie smiles and rides off as Tuco, who has his gold but no horse, curses him in rage by shouting “Hey Blondie! You know what you are? Just a dirty sonofabitch

REVIEW:

 In the tradition of great westerns, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly makes a name for itself with great storytelling, action shootouts, and one of the most memorable themes in all cinema.

They say this is a spaghetti western. To this day, I still don’t know what that means, so take it or leave it.

This is the final film in a trilogy by director Sergio Leone, that also included A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More.

As I mentioned, the  story here is great. One of the things that I love about westerns is how the story usually revolves around some vigilante/mercenary/loner who just wants to be left alone, yet gets dragged into saving a town/damsel/person for whatever reason. Yes, they are pretty much formulaic, but then, aren’t most genres?

I happened to watch the extended, original cut of this tonight, which clocked in at 3 hrs! I’m not one of those people who really cares for long films. My attention span can’t take it and I get ansy, but this kept my attention from the opening credits all the way through to the final showdown.

Having said that, there were some times that lagged. I would have liked for there to have been more gunplay, but that’s just me. Maybe I’m spoiled by my love for The Magnificent Seven, but I am of the belief that you can have your moments of drama in a western as long as the climax is the big payoff and you have plenty of showdowns on the way.

Don’t get me wrong, this film has it share of action along the way to the climactic showdown, just not enough for my taste.

There was a bit of the story that I didn’t care for, though, and that was the way that Angel Eyes seemed to disappear for about half of the film. Granted, at the time there were focusing on Tuco and Blondie, but it wouldn’t have hurt to keep the audience informed on what “the bad” was doing, as well as “the good” and “the ugly”.

If you’ve ever seen I Am Legend or Wall-E, then you are aware of how they go long periods of time without dialogue, well this film does the same thing. I think the first 20 min or so are without any speaking of any sorts.

The acting here is on par with the other westerns that I’ve seen in my day. A very young Clint Eastwood shows why he goes on to become a great actor and director. I’m not really sure why they called him Blondie, though. He was far from being blonde.

Eli Wallach is in 2 other western I’ve seen, The Magnificent Seven and How the West Was Won, both of which he lit up the screen with his performance. This was no exception, though I think he was a bit stronger character here.

Lee van Cleef’s character doesn’t have much to say, but then again, neither does Eastwood’s, but he is a presence on the screen that must be reckoned with. A sadistic, twisted villain who makes it known that he finished out the job he’s paid for, he was perfectly cast as “the bad”.

In conclusion, this is a great film that should be on your “must see before dying” list. This is a great example of how movies should be made, unlike many of the craptastic, overpriced, attempts that we see these days. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly deserves its place among the greatest westerns and films of all time. The buildup to the climax is worth it, let me tell you! You shouldn’t hesitate to check it out!

5 out of 5 stars

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