By the time The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly film was made in 1966, the world’s appetite for westerns had been completely obliterated. It was an oversaturated market, destroyed by bad movies, television, dime novels, and every other conceivable iteration of the genre. Take Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest, have Kurosawa reinvent it in Yojimbo, and then set it back in the wild west with a few relatively unknown actors to create a three-hour American Western in Italy, and you’ve got what sounds like a complete failure… But Leone wanted to reinvent it with a new kind of western, and what he created is simply one of the greatest films ever made. What he manages to capture is a story told with “widescreen image(s that paint) a great landscape…propel(ling) the story forward with radical editing techniques, often cut to the rhythms of Ennio Morricone’s score…Style drips from each frame like the sweat pouring down his stars’ faces” (Schneider).
I’ve already seen this movie. That sentence is somewhat misleading because I was probably around ten years old guzzling Pepsi and Doritos after school a hundred times and would catch snippets of it here and there. After this viewing twenty years later, and with a college education and an eye toward art and film that I didn’t have at that age, I can truly say it is an absolute masterpiece that I really never appreciated until now. The score, the inventive, bizarre, and utterly surprising editing choices, and the overall working of the film really made me aware of the beauty of what was happening on the screen for three hours that has so obviously influenced some of my favorite filmmakers including The Cohen Bothers, Tarentino, and many others.
In my opinion, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the greatest American novel – an opinion I share with many people. This movie reminded me a great deal of Twain’s book as it literally has everything American in it (which is why it is so bizarre that one of the most ‘American’ films was made about America in Italy by an Italian with huge swaths of dubbing, but whatever) and manages to build a road identity that explores race, war, relationships, danger, humor, environment, language, meaning, and a million other things on this wide-scale narrative that is so similar to Twain’s book.
I loved every scene. There is a certain Hollywood (although this isn’t Hollywood) magic about this film that easily cuts through every standard expectation about not only Westerns, but through the expectations I had about all films from the era (and earlier). The experimentation that Leone uses in editing, narrative structure, and employment of bizarre (for the time) choices in cinematography and music became standard after this film. Subsequent viewings of some of the scenes after this viewing (and, I must be honest, I watched the brilliant final ten-minute showdown at least ten times the following week) truly present an oft-imitated, remarkable vision that has yet to be captured on film again.
A masterpiece and a true pleasure to behold, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly is an addition to my Blu-Ray collection as a result of this project that I am incredibly happy to own.