The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Director: Sergio Leone

Goddamn, no wonder I wasn’t enamoured of Leone’s films back in the days of VHS when I last saw them, they just don’t work that way. I don’t regret the investment in HD editions of them at all, especially after seeing this again (and it’s not like they were hugely expensive anyway). If For a Few Dollars More saw Leone leaping ahead from his first western, GB&U represents a further jump, and probably a more successful one in that some of the things I think he was trying to do in the earlier film, he actually succeeds at pulling off here. Such as the feeling of epic; the considerably greater length (178 minutes) doesn’t feel as long as the 130 minutes of FFDM sometimes did. In some ways, this is actually a kind of small story: basically, it’s three men on a quest for hidden riches. It’s just that, well, there are a couple of complications: the exact knowledge of where said riches are hidden are split between them (two know the money’s in a cemetery but not in which grave; one knows the grave but not which cemetery), and it’s also the middle of the American civil war. Indeed’s Leone’s introduction of the period setting and his gradual building on it as our “heroes” become mixed up in it in varying ways is one of the most fascinating things about the film. It’s a big backdrop, but Leone is totally in charge of it. Clint Eastwood is more “Clint” than ever, and Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef are able co-leads; all three bring just the right degree of black humour to the proceedings. And, of course, the whole thing is topped off by one of Ennio Morricone’s most iconic scores; “Ecstasy of Gold” in particular has always been a favourite piece of music, but seeing the visuals that accompany it as Tuco races around the cemetery makes it even more thrilling and moving. Hugely enjoyable stuff, and one of the most successful revisits I’ve had to a film I hadn’t seen in years for a very long time.

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