The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an unquestioned cornerstone in the western genre and cinema as a whole. It is pop culture icon and a good film. However, I fear reviewing it so close on the heels on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More is going to be difficult. I feel like I should be praising this film above and beyond those other two, but for some reason I’m thinking the other two have a lot more depth to their stories, and in regards to style, is pretty on par.
The plot is labyrinthine like the rest of them, but suffice it to say there are three guys after $200,000 in gold during the Civil War. The Good (Clint Eastwood) knows the grave the gold is buried in, and both the Bad (Lee Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Eli Wallach) know which cemetery the grave is in. The Good switches between alliances with the Bad and the Ugly in order to find the gold first.
The reason I’m struggling with this film is not because I didn’t like it or I didn’t think it was good. I thought both of those things. The reason is I’m having trouble figuring out what it gives you that the other two don’t. It is longer and it’s a bit more humorous because of the Ugly’s character, but other than that I really got nothing. I was a bit let down because I thought that as a prequel it would sort of explain the other two films more (you do see where Eastwood gets his iconic poncho from and that’s pretty cool, though not really enlightening in terms of character) but it didn’t really do that so much. I don’t really want to criticize the film on those terms though, because the films are sort of a loose trilogy anyway.
As I mentioned, it was nice to get a bit of comic relief. The film has a prelude of sorts, in which the Good and the Ugly run a con where the Good collects on the Ugly’s bounty, only to spring him free and repeat the stunt all over again. He shoots through the noose so he can go free, and the same actions are repeated again at the end of the film after the money has been discovered. In fact, I’m not really sure what to make of it, but there was a lot of repetition of situations in the film. First the Ugly strands the Good in the desert, and then the situation is reversed later when the Good strands the Ugly in the desert. Their con is repeated a couple of times in the beginning of the film, first for $2000 and later for $3000.
A main focus in my reviews of the previous two films was the ambiguity of Eastwood’s character; I find it interesting that it continues in this film even though he is explicitly labeled as good. Besides his label, the only way he can really be considered good (and this is a very weak case) is that for the most part he allies himself with the Ugly rather than the Bad. Nothing really sets him apart for the other two, in terms of morality. Over the whole trilogy, he shows the most promise in A Fistful of Dollars which is interesting to me somehow, in the other two he really just seems to be your average bad guy. That’s only really when you take the time to consider his actions after the fact; Eastwood’s larger than life screen presence has you rooting for him no matter what he does.
So while I may have been a little confused about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly‘s critical reception, I can’t deny it’s a good movie. It may not round off the trilogy in the way most would expect it to as nothing is really explained or wrapped up; it’s just another installment. It has everything that made the first two so great, and then some (as its running time is just over three hours). That wraps up the spaghetti portion of Western Wednesday, as next week I move on to McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
For Further Reading:
Roger Ebert’s original 1968 review