A Movie Review of the old 1966 Sergio Leone film.
Yes, this is the first time I've seen this film. I came across the title when I was browsing the web for some of the top rated movies of all times. And considering that the film came out before I was born, I didn't think it such a big deal that I never saw this film before. It actually lay untouched on my list of films "to-watch" before I finally upped and clicked the play button.
The first thing that struck me was realizing that this was actually the source of that well-known musical theme. I've heard it countless times before, whether in spoofs or in ringtones, mostly from western or cowboy afficionados. I knew it came from a movie somewhere, but I didn't really bother to check where it came from. The second thing that struck me was that Clint Eastwood, when he was young and in his prime, was really a handsome bloke.
The movie itself is a toss up between a comedy and an irony. It featured the antics of three characters, oft-identified enough in the movie as "the good," "the bad," and "the ugly," all of whom were thrown together by a strange twist on the trail of two hundred thousand worth of gold. Lee Van Cleef starred as Angel Eyes, the "bad," who wouldn't stop at killing or torture in order to get his hands on good money. As far as I can tell, he seemed to be the only character who actually pulled a trigger to kill other unarmed, supporting, albeit unfortunate-to-get-in-his-way characters. He did, however, keep to a strange code of finishing the job once he agreed to take it, even if it takes him back to killing the man who just paid him to kill somebody else.
Clint Eastwood starred as the "good," a.k.a. Blondie, the quiet and confident, and seemingly divinely protected, clever cowboy who got away with everything. He got his head stuck in a noose, practically dying of dehydration and sunburn on the desert plains, and yet he got away with all of it in his quiet, confident - one might say arrogant - style. Towards the end, I realized that the adjective "good" wasn't referring to his set of morals (though it did seem to apply perfectly to the "bad" Angel Eyes), but to the combination of talent and fortune that allows him to get the most of any situation. Riding away at the end of the movie, having taken care of any and all opposition and greedy former partners, with four heavy bags of gold, shared equally in order to prevent retaliation, you just had to say that this man really was "good!"
And finally, there was Eli Wallach, the "ugly" Tuco, who practically carried the movie's continuity with his personal history, his comic slapsticks and asides, and his unspoken yet ill-concealed desire for a reliable "partner." I have to say that of the three main characters, I disliked Tuco the most at the beginning of the movie, mostly on account of his overly exaggerated performance. Towards the end, however, one can't help but empathize with the man. He is the only character of whose difficult history we know a little something about, which doesn't make it a surprise that he is the only character one can empathize with. And yet, you just can't help but cheer him on. After what was apparently a hard life, and after having been swindled by Blondie and beaten to a pulp by Angel Eyes, you just wanted him to get something good, too, in the end.
On the other hand, there was the strange phenomenon of the war looming in the background. All three characters didn't seem to know what to do with themselves, caught between the two sides. Mostly they tried to outwit it, just so they can get on with going after the gold. There have been too many times when they simply shook their heads at the mass slaughter of men going off to fight each other wholesale. I thought it did a passable irony of it - you didn't know what to make of the war in the background because the characters themselves didn't know what to make of the war, other than to avoid it. Which, I suppose, is really the way most people treat war, wherever it pops up.
On the whole, I liked the movie. I found it yet another reason for combing through the archives of classic films to watch good and quality entertainment. There wasn't any more outright violent killing than there needed to be - a far cry from the unrestrained violence and bloodshed of modern day action films. Back then, in the old west, you got the feeling that people killed just to survive, and not because of a psychotic attachment to taking life. They killed thriftily - not wasting unnecessary bullets, and tried to make each shot count. The humor was silent yet potent, and when it got really ridiculous, like when the cannon call took out the wall of the building just when Tuco was about to hang Blondie, well, it was just so outrageous that you can't help but laugh.