Overview: Three men search for gold during the American Civil War. United Artists; 1966; Not Rated; 161 minutes.
Keep it Simple: The key to greatness might be simplicity. A lot of the time the movies that fail to age well are the ones that we can’t sum up in a sentence. If a movie can be sold quickly with a tantalising premise, we’ll always watch it. For example, if someone tells you to watch a movie about the crew of a spaceship being hunted down by a monster, or a lone cop fighting terrorists in a skyscraper, or a girl being possessed by demons and needs help from a priest that has lost his faith, then you’ll find yourself watching the movie. And when you do, you find that the logline you’ve been given is just a fraction of the whole. So how about a movie about three men who hate each other who are all looking for the same thing but need something that the other one has got? In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly you got the sum of those parts in the making of a whole story that is a Western full of humour, violence, and beautiful shots. The whole story has one of the best soundtrack that has ever been recorded. The whole story has three incredible central characters who are so good the movie is named after all three of them. The whole story has enough story for ten movies.
TV Show: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly feels like it could easily be a TV miniseries. There is the overarching plot of the search for the gold coins, but this plot is broken up into vignettes as our characters work together and against each other in their search. This is what makes it great. It is a group of great movies all together. Each one could be expanded out into its own film but instead just forms a part of a fantastic whole. There is a whole world that exists around these characters and throughout the movie we are given glimpses into it, and a sense of a vast history that we are simply seeing a little piece of, and it’s for our own imaginations to fill in the gaps. We’re left to speculate upon how Angel Eyes and Tuco know each other, or how Blondie and Tuco became business partners, and why Tuco committed all of the crimes he’s accused of; and the movie is the better for leaving us something to chew over.
Sum of Its Parts: As the film progresses, these little adventures have their own beginnings, middles, and ends before the next one begins. For example, the sequence with the drunk captain and the bridge he hates is a fantastic scene; it doesn’t really need to be in the movie, but it is so entertaining that we don’t care, and for a brief time the viewer is heavily invested in the cause of this poor, drunk soldier who just wants to stop the slaughter but is bound by duty to not blow up the bridge. The same could be said for the scene with Tuco’s brother. Yes, it doesn’t drive the plot, but it is so full of juicy character moments that it elevates the entire movie. These breaks in the film’s action also helps the movie feel quick and breezy even though it clocks in at a staggering two and half hours. It is constantly moving from place to place, scene to scene, so it never sags. It is always grabbing your attention and holding it. And this is helped along by the three leads. Lee Van Cleef’s villain is evil as sin. Clint Eastwood is peak Clint (my wife swooned when he came on screen). And Eli Wallach is just astounding. It is a credit to his performance that an unlikable piece of shit like Tuco is the best character in the film and the one you find yourself rooting for.
Overall: If you want to see where Tarantino learnt a lot of his tricks, look no further. The chapter format of his later movies owe a lot to Sergio Leone, as well as his use of these mini-stories to tell a bigger story abut greed, friendship of a given fashion, and the horrors of war.