Friday, July 1, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Good the Bad and the Ugly is a film that faces a lot of misunderstanding in popular consensus. It is a western, but takes place before that period and is really more of a civil war piece. It “stars” Clint Eastwood, but the film is more focused on Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, or “The Ugly.” It is a violent film (for it time) but it is essentially a film against the futility of violence and war.

As a Leone film, one would expect for it to be deliberately paced and a reflective, thoughtful telling, but this epic is always taking time to stop and focus on the devastation and impact of the war even when the very basic plot does not require it to. That basic plot consists of three characters all chasing after a hidden treasure in stolen gold. The two key pieces of information needed to find the gold are known only to two of the characters, and therefore they need to stay together and alive to claim it.

Along the way, the nearly three hour film constantly has them diverted from their quest by one side or the other of the forces engaged in the civil war, making the war an obstacle to their goal. In one particular scene, a battle is between them and their objective, a battle over a bridge. The fighting and killing that occurs twice a day, daily over the bridge could be avoided completely if the strategic bridge were gone, but both sides want control of the bridge and are willing to sacrifice thousands of lives rather than destroy it. Our characters make everyone’s lives better and easier by simply blowing it up.

In the end, the gold is buried in a cemetery, and what a cemetery it is. Spreading out as far as the eye can see in all directions it is a huge, make-shift cemetery with thousands of shallow graves, all needed because of the civil war forcing compatriots and families to fight each other. It all seems so wasteful.

Tuco, the Ugly, finally gets to the gold he has been seeking ever since his rather aimless thieving way happened to stumble upon the information leading him there, and we think he has accomplished something that will benefit. Instead, he ends up with the gold and no way to take it with him, nowhere to use it, and no foreseeable way he can benefit. The incredible efforts he has gone to find the gold, the killing he has done and the betrayals he has repeatedly committed were all rather pointless. Much like the fighting all around him in the world has seemed to be.

(The trailer below reflects an error on the part of the translators. The Italian title is really "The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad" but in changing the order for the English title they incorrectly introduce the trio in the trailer.)

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