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Blast from the Past: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

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What’s it rated? R (DVD, 1966)

I’ve watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly more times than I can count. And, similarly to how I feel about Tombstone: It never gets old. It’s good every time. 

This might be the longest Spaghetti Western in history, and maybe it’s too long, but it’s beautiful—frankly, looking into Blondie’s (Clint Eastwood) squinting blue eyes never gets old. He’s “The Good,” by the way. The scenes in the film are drawn out, much like the scenery it’s depicting. And as Tuco (Eli Wallach) bursts out the window of a small town saloon to run away from a shootout, I always get goose bumps as the motion stops and “The Ugly” scrawls across the screen in stinted cursive. 

Filmmaker Sergio Leone capped off the release of his trio of dollar Westerns shot in Italy starring Eastwood with this film, which hit American theaters in 1967. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) came first. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED ARTIST-MGM
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED ARTIST-MGM

Eastwood plays a steady-handed, unflappable, quiet man who has an odd relationship with his “friend” Tuco, a man on the run who doesn’t stop talking and is good at getting himself into trouble. Both are after Union Army gold buried in a cemetery. One knows the name of the cemetery, while the other knows the name of the grave it’s buried under. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), “The Bad,” the quintessential cowboy douchebag with a posse in tow, also knows about the gold—he knows the name of the cemetery as well, but not the grave. 

Leone switches between the three by taking us through vignettes of their lives leading up to the culminating scene in the cemetery. Tuco and Blondie go back and forth—sometimes they’re pals, sometimes Blondie’s got Tuco tied up, sometimes Tuco’s got Blondie tied up. And all the while, the audience is rooting for Blondie. He’s a hottie! What can I say?

In that famous cemetery scene, the three men stand across from one another, hands moving toward pistols, eyes trained on one another, squinting in the sunlight. The shots pan from man to man, hand to hand, and back again—continuing to close in. It never ends. Seriously, at a certain point, I always ask myself: “Is this a good way to build tension?” And then it keeps going again! 

But that’s the beauty of the movie. It’s long. It focuses on cinematography, that famous soundtrack, and the unspoken to push it along. It takes you to cowboy towns, hangings, the desert, army camps, a Civil War battle, a mission, and a cemetery. It slices in life-and-death moments, dying moments, living moments. 

My favorite moments take place in a town decimated by the Civil War: wall-less homes full of furniture and curtains. Angel Eyes’ posse camped out on one end of town, Tuco camped out in a bathtub on another, and Blondie is stuck in between. Cue up the gun battle, please!

It’s beautiful, just like the movie. Totally worth its 161-minute runtime. Every time.

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