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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

The last movie of the Dollars trilogy is a bit different then the previous ones. First of all, the title doesn't mention anything about dollars (I'm sure you didn't need to read this page to figure this one out). Yet it is still considered part of the series due to the appearance of Clint Eastwood, and the similarity of story (all three concern the acquisition of large amounts of gold by The Man With No Name playing two sides against each other). Secondly, the budget is considerably larger, and therefore, for the first time, there are huge sets with many people in them.

This movie is the most famous of all of Leone's work, largely because of the incredible Ennio Morricone score featuring the modulated screaming in the main theme that is the most instantly recognizable western theme of all time. There are only a few pieces of film scores that have risen beyond the films they are associated with to become part of our culture (the stabbing music in Psycho, for example), and this is one of a very select group. Morricone's theme was the attempt to recreate a hyena's cry, and while most people don't recognize a hyena, the pure energy and aggressiveness of the scream is a powerful motif in the film that Leone uses to good advantage, punctuating scenes with them throughout his film.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, concerns three people searching for two hundred thousand dollars worth of gold (coincidentally the cost to make A Fistful of Dollars). Clint Eastwood is once again the good guy (really only relatively good), called "Blondie" by Tuco, although he once more has no name. He learns the name of the grave under which the gold is buried, while under a forced marched by Tuco. He is the Good (Il Buono). Lee van Cleef is back, this time in the role of Angel-Eyes, a ruthless killer who relentlessly tracks down the first those who stole the gold, and then Blondie and Tuco after learning that they know where it is. He is the Bad (Il Cattivo). Finally we have the most interesting character of the bunch, a two-bit bandit with a criminal record a mile long, and price on his head by the name of Tuco, who is played by Eli Wallach. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery where the gold is buried, but only Blondie knows the name of the grave. He is the Ugly (Il Brutto). In Italian, the film is Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo, which translates to "The Good, The Ugly, The Bad", but the title was wisely switched around to sound better in English. Those who have seen the laserdisc version could be confused (as I was) by the trailer which labels Tuco as the Bad, and Angel-Eyes as the Ugly. Even though Tuco is bad, and Angel-Eyes is ugly, Tuco is more of a comic character, while Angel-Eyes is quite viciously evil. Those who know Italian say the trailer got it wrong.

The style of the film is almost but not quite Leone's peak. The final three way duel is, however, the best shoot-out in any of Leone's works, and in fact the best duel of its kind I have ever seen (the final duel in Barry Lyndon is probably the best duel of any kind, however). Morricone's music and Leone's editing create an emotional peak rarely seen in movies. For quite a few minutes, Leone simply flashes between shots of the duelists looking at each other and moving their hands slowly towards their guns, in an ever increasing speed, while Morricone's ecstatic music plays, the tension mounting higher and higher until finally it erupts in a blaze of gunfire.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly closes a trilogy of films about nothing more than the quest for money. After this Leone's films have a definite change in substance, dealing with a host of different themes, indicating a definite maturation of his work. Yet the simplicity of the themes of his early westerns is a beautiful thing; man against man against man, and may the fastest draw win. Nothing more.

This was the first Sergio Leone film avaliable in letterbox. Accept nothing less, or else you will miss seeing all three duelists in some shots of the final shootout.