THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (DVD): The horse opera of death

 |   |  2 min read

Ennio Morricone: L'estasi dell'oro (The Ecstasy of Gold)
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY; THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (DVD): The horse opera of death

The reputation of the epic Western has been somewhat tarnished in recent years, but the tradition of outsiders and the lawless world they inhabited is an honourable one.

However, by the mid-Sixties, with the rise of the anti-hero and a more gritty kind of cinema, it took the Italian director Sergio Leone to re-invent the tired genre. With Clint Eastwood as the taciturn killer, Leone paced out the ground on the low-budget A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More. But his spaghetti Western masterpiece was the sprawling, episodic, dark, but often funny The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

With Eastwood as the emotionally impassive bounty hunter-cum-opportunist, Eli Wallach as the self-serving and treacherous "ugly", and the snake-like menace of Lee Van Cleef as "the bad", this was a Western composed with art-house elegance, dust on its face and -- surprisingly, given the amount of blood that is shed -- an anti-war message.

The trio are in pursuit of a buried fortune but as the tail-end of the Civil War rages around them there is much more going on than that. It is a Western grounded in context, both historical and in locale.

clinteastwoodWith the arid landscapes of Spain standing in for New Mexico and Spanish peasants chosen for their wind-bitten and sun-battered features as extras, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was unlike any other western before it -- not even Leone's previous work.

As with The Godfather, it is operatic in scope yet refined in its attention to historical detail. More than that, though, this is an exciting adventure of sudden gunplay shattering the long stillnesses, and conscience-free killers.

Here restored to the director's original three hours -- actually just a few linking scenes of little consequence put back in -- it is still captivating. It helps, too, that Ennio Morricone delivered a soaring score for the ballets of death and added idiosyncratic and memorable signature riffs throughout. Incidentally, that Essential Elsewhere soundtrack with extra material is a standalone item: epic and grand, intimate and romantic, or quirky and eccentric, depending on which track you pick. There is a tribute to Morricone among the extras on the DVD.

There are also amusing recent interviews with Eastwood, Wallach and others reminiscing about Leone (who didn't have a script), discussion of the film's style, a couple of unfinished scenes, and a doco about the historical context.

The interviews with Eastwood and Wallach -- who talk about the dangers of shooting with the Italian crew and their cavalier disregard for safety -- reminds you how unusual and difficult the film was to make. Eastwood jokes about how the Germans, Italians, Spanish and Americans could barely communicate with each other. And when they did they'd be arguing about who would pay for what.

Yet the result of this dysfunctional movie set is a timeless, epic western full of wit and invention. And one helluva good story. When would we see it's like again?

Well, a year later in Leone's darker, slower and more spacious Once Upon a Time in the West with Henry Fonda.

But that's another story.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

MAPP & LUCIA, a television series by STEVE PEMBERTON

MAPP & LUCIA, a television series by STEVE PEMBERTON

There is a wonderful tradition of English fops, snobs and upperclass twits. And from Oscar Wilde through Bertie Wooster to Monty Python, Margot Ledbetter on The Good Life and recently Downton... > Read more

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

Every generation thinks it invents the same two things: swearing and sex. Equally, in the Western world at least, for the past century or so every generation gets the soundtrack it needs. And the... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

UB40: Just another labour of love

UB40: Just another labour of love

It was a few years ago now, but UB40 were back for another New Zealand tour. Well pardon my lack of enthusiasm. It's not that, like most critics, I don't have much time for their MOR reggae. I... > Read more

Niue, South Pacific: The world according to Tony

Niue, South Pacific: The world according to Tony

There's a simple phrase for what Tony Aholima does. It's "sustainable living", but for him it's more complex than that. As a young man he left his homeland, spent three years... > Read more