The Western is seen as a dead genre today. This is partially because of the lack of fascination with modern audiences with cowboys. That said, the golden era of the westerns ended long before it was considered dead, partially because filmmakers are more interested in the spectacle of film based on the amount of CG that goes into it. With that in mind, the idea that one of the best Westerns was made by an Italian staring a TV star, a spaghetti-western fixture, and Eli Wallach, who is our show-stealer, seems only slightly ridiculous.
The film stars Clint Eastwood as ‘The Man With No Name’ (OK, he’s called Blondie in the film), the Good in the title, a traveler who goes around looking to make money off of a good scheme. Lee Van Cleef is Angle Eyes, the Bad in the title, a murderous bastard who will kill at even the smallest provocation, unless doing so will hinder his own plans. And Eli Wallach is Tuco, the Ugly in the title, an obnoxious con man who always stumbles into trouble, yet can survive based on luck alone. After Blondie double-crosses Tuco, Tuco attempts to get his revenge. However, they run across a carriage with dead Confederate soldiers. In their dying moment, they tell Tuco the graveyard in which some gold is buried, but Blondie is the only one who hears which grave it is in. The soldiers were killed by Angle Eyes, who, by chance, run into the two and discover the graveyard, but not the grave. And the film is essentially a series of double-crosses and betrayals and treasure-hunting for a three hour run time.
However, let it never be said that Sergio Leone did not know how to tell a visual story. Easily, the greatest strength of the film is it’s visuals. If this film was ever cropped to fit a TV screen instead of being in letterboxing, it would be an insult to not only the film, but the people watching it. Every frame of this film is expertly crafted to show as much of the story as possible. This is important, as dialogue is only a slight factor in the film. There is dialogue, some memorable bits as well, to tell this story, but long stretches of time goes without any, which means that seeing everything caught on camera is incredibly important. The film’s score needs no introduction, especially the theme. Easily one the the best scores in film.
When looking at the film as a series of parts, it shouldn’t be great. Eastwood is cool, but his acting is detached. Wallach is the true star of the film and he chews up all the scenery he can get ahold of. The script is competent for telling the story. The film is three hours. The war sentiment seems to be thrown in awkwardly. However, none of this matters as the film goes on. This film is greater than the sum of its parts, and the sum of those parts are enjoyable all on their own.
Directed by Sergio Leone
Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach