The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo) is a 1966 Italian epic spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles. The screenplay was written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Leone, based on a story by Vincenzoni and Leone. Director of photography Tonino Delli Colli was responsible for the film's sweeping widescreen cinematography and Ennio Morricone composed the famous film score. It is the third and final film in the Dollars trilogy following A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). The plot centers around three gunslingers competing to find a fortune in buried Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of gunfights, hangings, Civil War battles, and prison camps.
Opening on December 15, 1966 in Italy and in the U.S. on December 23, 1967, the film grossed $6.1 million, but was criticized for its depiction of violence. Leone explains that "the killings in my films are exaggerated because I wanted to make a tongue-in-cheek satire on run-of-the-mill westerns... The west was made by violent, uncomplicated men, and it is this strength and simplicity that I try to recapture in my pictures." To this day, Leone's effort to reinvigorate the timeworn Western is widely acknowledged: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has been described as European cinema's best representative of the Western genre film, and Quentin Tarantino has called it "the best-directed film of all time."
Following a relentless search, Tuco ambushes Blondie and marches him across the harsh desert. As Blondie collapses from dehydration, Tuco prepares to kill him when a runaway carriage appears on the horizon. Inside, Tuco discovers a dying Bill Carson, who reveals that 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. As he passes out, Blondie says that he knows the name on the grave. Tuco takes Blondie, both disguised as Confederate soldiers, to a Catholic mission, allowing Blondie time to recover before the two leave, still disguised as Confederate soldiers when they inadvertently encounter a force of Union soldiers, who capture and march them to a Union prison camp.
At the camp, Corporal Wallace begins a roll call, and Tuco answers for Bill Carson, catching the attention of Angel Eyes, a Union Sergeant stationed at the camp. Angel Eyes has Wallace torture Tuco into revealing Sad Hill Cemetery, but 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 while Tuco, being escorted by train to his execution, escapes. Blondie, Angel Eyes and his posse stop at a war-ravaged town to rest. Across town, Tuco aimlessly wanders through the wreckage, oblivious to the bounty hunter (Al Mulock) who tracks and ambushes Tuco. Despite the surprise, Tuco kills the bounty hunter. Blondie leaves to investigate the gunshot, tracking down Tuco and informing him of Angel Eyes's involvement. The two resume their old partnership, skulking through the wrecked town and killing Angel Eyes' henchmen before discovering that Angel Eyes has escaped.
Tuco and Blondie track down Sad Hill Cemetery when they discover a great battle brewing between massive Union and Confederate forces, separated only by a narrow bridge. Eager to disperse the standing armies, Blondie and Tuco wire the bridge with dynamite. During the process, the two trade information, with Tuco revealing Sad Hill Cemetery, while Blondie saying the name on the grave is Arch Stanton. The two detonate the bridge and take cover as the two armies angrily resume their battle. The next morning, the Confederate and Union soldiers have disappeared. Tuco abandons Blondie to retrieve the gold for himself and stumbles upon the sprawling Sad Hill Cemetery. Frantically searching the sea of makeshift tombstones, Tuco finally locates Arch Stanton's grave. As he digs, Blondie appears and offers him a shovel. Moments later, the two are ambushed by Angel Eyes, who holds them at gunpoint. Blondie kicks open Stanton's grave to reveal only 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, calculating alliances and dangers in a famous five-minute Mexican standoff before suddenly drawing. Blondie shoots Angel Eyes, rolling him into an open grave, while Tuco discovers that Blondie 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. Blondie forces Tuco atop a grave marker and wraps the noose around his neck, binding Tuco's hands before disappearing with his share of the gold. As Tuco screams for mercy, Blondie's silhouette returns on the horizon, aiming a rifle at Tuco. As Tuco screams in rage, Blondie fires and severs the noose rope, dropping Tuco face-first onto his share of the gold. Blondie smiles as the livid Tuco screams at him, before turning and riding into the frontier.
Leone built upon the screenwriter’s original concept to “show the absurdity of war...the Civil War which the characters encounter, in my frame of reference, is useless, stupid: it does not involve a 'good cause.'" An avid history buff, Leone said, “I had read somewhere that 120,000 people died in Southern camps such as Andersonville. And I was not ignorant of the fact that there were camps in the North. You always get to hear about the shameful behaviour of the losers, never the winners.” The Betterville Camp where Blondie and Tuco are imprisoned was based on steel engravings of Andersonville. Many shots in the film were influenced by archival photographs taken by Mathew Brady.
While Leone developed Vincenzoni’s idea into a script, the screenwriter recommended the comedy-writing team of Agenore Incrucci and Furio Scarpelli to work on it with Leone and Sergio Donati. According to Leone, "I couldn’t use a single thing they’d written. It was the grossest deception of my life." Donati agreed, saying, "There was next to nothing of them in the final script. They wrote only the first part. Just one line." Vincenzoni claims that he wrote the screenplay in 11 days, but he soon left the project after his relationship with Leone became strained. The three main characters all contain autobiographical elements of Leone. In an interview he said, "[Sentenza] has no spirit, he's a professional in the most banal sense of the term. Like a robot. This isn't the case with the other two. On the methodical and careful side of my character, I’d be nearer Blondie: but my most profound sympathy always goes towards the Tuco side...He can be touching with all that tenderness and all that wounded humanity.”
The film’s working title was The Two Magnificent Tramps and was changed just before shooting began when Vincenzoni thought up The Good, the Bad & the Ugly which Leone loved. The Italian title, Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, translates to The Good, the Ugly, the Bad.
The Franco regime approved production and provided the Spanish army for technical assistance; the film's cast includes 1,500 local militia members as extras. Eastwood remembers, "They would care if you were doing a story about Spaniards and about Spain. Then they’d scrutinize you very tough, but the fact that you're doing a western that’s supposed to be laid in southwest America or Mexico, they couldn’t care less what your story or subject is."
Wallach was almost poisoned during filming when he accidentally drank from a bottle of acid that a film technician had set next to his soda bottle. Wallach mentioned this in his autobiography and complained that while Leone was a brilliant director, he was very lax about ensuring the safety of his actors during dangerous scenes. Wallach was endangered in another scene, where he was to be hanged after a pistol was shot and the horse underneath him was to run away in fright. While the rope around Wallach's neck was severed, the horse was frightened a little too well. The horse rode off for about a mile with Wallach still on top of the horse and his hands bound behind his back. The third time Wallach's life was threatened was during the scene where he and Mario Brega jump out of a moving train. The jumping part was fine, but Wallach's life was endangered when his character attempts to sever the chain binding him to the (now dead) henchman. Tuco places the body on the railroad tracks, making the train roll over the chain to sever it. Wallach and presumably, the entire film crew were not aware of the heavy iron steps that jutted one foot out of every box car. If Wallach had stood up from his prone position at the wrong time, one of the jutting steps could have decapitated him.
The bridge in the film was reconstructed twice by sappers of the Spanish army after being rigged for on-camera explosive demolition. The first time, an Italian camera operator signaled that he was ready to shoot, which was misconstrued by an army captain as the similar sounding Spanish word meaning "start". Luckily, nobody was injured in the erroneous mistiming. As a result, the army rebuilt the bridge while other shots were filmed. As the bridge was not a prop but a rather heavy and sturdy design, powerful explosives were required to destroy it. Leone has said that this scene was, in part, inspired by Buster Keaton’s silent film, The General.
An international cast was employed, and actors performed in their native languages. Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach spoke in English, and were dubbed in Italian for the debut release in Rome. For the American version, the lead acting voices were used, but cast members were dubbed into English. The result is noticeable in the synchronization of voices to lip movements on screen; none of the dialogue is completely in sync because Leone rarely shot his scenes with synched sound. Various reasons have been cited for this: Leone often liked to play Morricone's music over a scene (and possibly shout things at them as well) to get the actors in the mood; Leone cared more for visuals than dialogue (his English was limited, at best); and given the technical limitations of the time, it would have been difficult to record the sound cleanly in most of the extremely wide shots Leone frequently used. Also, it was a standard practice in all Italian films at this time to shoot silent and post-dub. Whatever the actual reason, all dialogue in the film was recorded in post-production. The relationship between Eastwood and Leone had remained strained from their previous collaboration and it only worsened during the dubbing sessions for the U.S. version because the actor was presented with a different script than the one they had shot with. He refused to read from this new script, insisting on using the shooting one instead.
Leone was unable to find an actual cemetery for the Sad Hill shootout scene, so the Spanish pyrotechnics chief hired 250 Spanish soldiers to build the cemetery in Carazo near Salas de los Infantes, which they completed in two days.
Given that the Italian Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo literally translates to the English: The Good, the Ugly, the Bad, reversing the last two adjectives, advertisements for the original Italian release show Tuco before Angel Eyes, and, when translated to English, erroneously label Angel Eyes as "The Ugly" and Tuco as "The Bad".
The film was initially banned in Norway and did not have its premiere there until 15 years later, on October 8, 1982.
|International release dates|
|Italy||December 15, 1966|
|United States||December 23, 1967|
|Germany||December 29, 1967|
|Japan||December 30, 1967|
|Finland||February 2, 1968|
|France||March 8, 1968|
|Denmark||April 8, 1968|
|Sweden||April 10, 1968|
|China||June 13, 1968|
|United Kingdom||August 22, 1968|
|Pakistan||July 21, 1974|
|Philippines||August 7, 1977|
|Norway||October 8, 1982|
Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The rule is that the ability to see is limited by the sides of the frame. At important moments in the film, what the camera cannot see, the characters cannot see, and that gives Leone the freedom to surprise us with entrances that cannot be explained by the practical geography of his shots. There is a moment, for example, when men do not notice a vast encampment of the Union Army until they stumble upon it. And a moment in a cemetery when a man materializes out of thin air even though he should have been visible for a mile. And the way men walk down a street in full view and nobody is able to shoot them, maybe because they are not in the same frame with them.
Today, the film is regarded by many critics as a classic. It remains one of the most popular and well known westerns and is considered to be one of the greatest of its genre. It was part of Time's "100 Greatest movies of the last century" as selected by critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel. In addition, it used to be one of the few films which enjoyed a 100% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although the rating has since been changed to 98% due to the inclusion of a single negative review by Time Magazine on February 9, 1968, which was only recently added to the rotten tomatoes website on 11 August 2008, ten years after the fact, since Rotten Tomatoes debuted in 1998.
The main theme was a hit in 1968, alongside the Rolling Stones song, "Jumpin' Jack Flash". The soundtrack album was on the charts for more than a year, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard pop album chart and No. 10 on the black album chart. The main theme was also a hit for Hugo Montenegro, whose rendition was a No. 2 Billboard pop single in 1968. In popular culture, the American New Wave group Wall of Voodoo performed a medley of Ennio Morricone's movie themes, including the theme for this movie. The only known recording of it is a live performance on The Index Masters. Punk rock band Ramones played this song as the opening for their live album Loco Live. The British metal band Motörhead played the main theme as the overture music on the 1981 "No sleep 'til Hammersmith"-Tour. American thrash metal band Metallica has run "The Ecstasy of Gold" as prelude music at their concerts since 1985 (except between 1996-1998), and recently recorded a version of the instrumental for a compilation tribute to Morricone. XM Satellite Radio's The Opie & Anthony Show also open every show with "The Ecstasy of Gold".
The film was first released on DVD by MGM in 1998. The special features contain 18 minutes of scenes which were cut for the film's North American release, including a scene which explains how Angel Eyes came to be waiting for Blondie and Tuco at the Union prison camp. Because they were cut, the scenes had not been dubbed in English and were only available in the original Italian dub on the DVD release.
In 2002, the film was restored with the 18 minutes of scenes cut for U.S. release edited back into the film. Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach were brought back in to dub their characters' lines more than 35 years after the film's original release. Voice actor Simon Prescott substituted for Lee Van Cleef who died in 1989. Other voice actors filled in to dub for other actors who had since passed away. In 2004, MGM released this version in a two-disc special edition DVD.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary with writer and critic Richard Schickel. Disc 2 contains two documentaries, "Leone's West" and "The Man Who Lost The Civil War", followed by the featurette, "Restoring 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'"; an animated gallery of missing sequences entitled, "The Socorro Sequence: A Reconstruction"; an extended Tuco torture scene; a featurette called "Il Maestro"; an audio featurette named, "Il Maestro, Part 2"; a French trailer; and a poster gallery.
This DVD was generally well received, though some purists complained about the re-mixed stereo soundtrack with many completely new sound effects (notably, all the gunshots were replaced), with no option for the original soundtrack. At least one scene which was edited back in had been cut by Leone prior to the film's release in Italy, but had shown once at the Italian premiere. It is generally believed that Leone willingly cut the scene for pacing reasons and, thus, restoring it was contrary to the director's wishes. The 1998 DVD with the original US cut with the original mono soundtrack is still available in stores, although the transfer is vastly inferior to that on the restored DVD. (However, unlike the original DVD releases of the other two "Dollars" films, the transfer is anamorphically enhanced for 16:9 televisions.)
In 2007 MGM re-released the 2004 DVD edition in their "Sergio Leone Anthology" box set. Also included were the two other "Dollars" films, and A Fistful of Dynamite.
As well, additional footage of the sequence where Tuco is tortured by Angel Eyes' henchman was discovered. The original negative of this footage was deemed too badly damaged to be used in the theatrical cut, but the footage appears as an extra in the 2004 DVD supplementary features.
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