Sergio Leone was the master craftsman of the Spaghetti Western, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is his masterpiece. His sequel to A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965) achieved almost mythical status.
The search by Clint Eastwood (the good), Lee Van Cleef (the bad) and the ineffable Eli Wallach (the ugly) for Civil War gold had a generation whistling the superb haunting score by Ennio Morricone.
Eastwood is icy, cool and quietly efficient as Blondie. He turns in accused criminals for bounty payments and frees them before they can be hanged.
Lee Van Clef may be as cool as Eastwood, but his Angel Eyes is slicker, smoother and altogether more evil (hence he dresses in black) – as demonstrated when he coldly shoots a wife and child.
Eli Wallach, as Tuco, is the most complex and sympathetic of the trio. He has an outlaw persona with traits of humanity that deliver him from being an entirely bad person.
In his moral ambiguity and charming pragmatism, Tuco is the wild card – the axis upon which the other two forces are balanced.
Tuco and Blondie, dressed in the stolen grey uniforms of massacred rebel soldiers, inadvertently give themselves up to a Union brigade whose blue uniforms have been made grey by the dust of the desert. They look like the undead on horseback.
The next thing our heroes know, they are interned.
At Betterville concentration camp (named after the very real and historically notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville in Georgia where thousands of Union prisoners died), we see institutionalised torture: Tuco is beaten by Wallace, a vicious thug, while a ragtag Yankee orchestra provides sweet choral music as cover.
Leone not only revived the Western movie, he took it to places Hollywood had never dared. He also made TV actor Clint Eastwood into an international superstar – and in the process, invented the character of the gun-slinging ‘man with no name’ who embodied the Western’s next generation: tough, morally ambiguous and clouded in a mystery unknown to the likes of Gene Autrey and John Wayne.
Leone used every last inch of his Cinemascope-enhanced frames, particularly in the final scene – the best shootout ever put on screen.
“In this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend.
Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”
Lee Van Cleef
Father Pablo Ramirez
Antonio Molino Rojo