Logline: During the American Civil War, three men set out to find buried gold in a remote cemetery.
Review: Like horror, the western is a genre that easily falls into certain cliched trappings. It was a genre that emerged in the earliest years of cinema and one that was uniquely American. It presented a romanticized view of the American West with a clearly defined line between the good guys and bad guys. Emerging in the 1960s, the spaghetti western shattered those conventions by presenting a grittier, dirtier, and more violent depiction of the American West. Furthermore, the western was no longer uniquely American for spaghetti westerns were produced and directed by Italian filmmakers hence the name. The most famous examples of the spaghetti western are Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy, which includes A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1966), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West are the sub genre’s most perfect examples.
A Fistful of Dollars, essentially a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Yojimbo (1961), was solid but its sequel, For a Few Dollars More is a much better film. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the best of the trilogy, though and it is the one that feels the most epic. These films made a star out of Clint Eastwood and it is a joy to watch him in one of his earlier roles. Quentin Tarantino has named The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as his favorite film of all time. Its influence on Tarantino’s body of work is obvious especially in the director’s last film, Django Unchained (2012), a wonderful spaghetti western in of itself. There are no clearly defined good guys and bad guys in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly so there is definitely some irony in the film’s title. The characters are all deeply flawed and out for themselves.
It is difficult to imagine this film or any of Leone’s westerns without Ennio Morricone’s iconic score. The soundtrack remains one of my absolute favorites.
Leone is not interested in plot here but rather, a hyper stylization of the West. It is a beautifully shot film and an unquestionable masterpiece. It is hard to believe that Leone would top himself yet again with his next Western, Once Upon a Time in the West.
Great scene: The film’s finale is one of cinema’s most memorable. It begins with Eli Wallach frantically running around the cemetery to Morricone’s beautiful “Ecstasy of Gold” and is followed by what is perhaps the greatest showdown ever put to celluloid.