This movie’s reputation does not precede it in one key sense. Namely, this is a bizarre film. Of all the far out stuff I watch it therefore takes something special for me to proclaim such. Maybe, if we are well-informed, we expect weird when we sit down to view Holy Mountain. With The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly we probably just expect another Spaghetti Western.
Not only does the film under review perhaps epitomize the genre, but it also sets itself apart with a story which must be seen to be truly appreciated. I will, of course, try to avoid spoiling the drama by giving away too much.
It will suffice to discuss a few general points. Why do I say this film is bizarre? We can start with the title(s). If we translate directly, we would get The Good, The Ugly, The Bad. Not quite an arresting turn-of-phrase. Therefore, we ponder the usual translation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
There are several important concepts wrapped up in this title alone. First, the direct translation and the “axiomatic” translation (respectively) transpose the word order. If we were thoughtless, we would ignore this minor detail. But since this film relies so heavily on a strange (subversion of?) moralizing, we cannot pass over even this aspect.
The literal translation would (literally) have us place “ugly” somewhere between good and bad (or good and evil if we are feeling particularly Nietzschean).
For those of us who root for the underdog (myself included), we might start off rooting for “ugly” (or “the ugly one”).
In the axiomatic translation, “ugly” is an afterthought (so to speak). It is last in order.
I’m not sure if the Sermon on the Mount was in the back of the minds of the producers of the film (wow…), but we wonder whether the first will be last and the last will be first.
One thing is certain: the greyscale of life is fully on display in this Technicolor teaching piece. What is weird (bizarre) is the lesson being taught. It is horribly (gloriously?) muddied.
The good is not good. The ugly is also bad (above and beyond ugly). The bad is, well, bad…
But if bad is only bad in relation to good (Hegel?), then the bad isn’t so bad…
In other words, it doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot to be good in this world.
And so…presented with this trio of characters, we are unsure who will “win”…indeed, has anyone really excelled in their typecast?
I should mention that, in my opinion, ugly is not so ugly. All three of these mugs are a little rough around the edges.
In fact, the first face we see in the movie is the one we might assume to be Ugly. He is not. The real Ugly is merely not-traditionally-handsome (I suppose). We should also consider the mannerist interpretation: an ugly manner vs. a refined sensibility. It could be argued that Bad (here) is much more refined (though he tortures Ugly…literally). Ah, but NOT literally. Rather, he has someone do it for him. Now, isn’t that the height of refinement???
I will give away one thing. Good is really Good at least once in this film. A dying soldier…bleeding to death…and Good gives him his coat. But not only that. No. Good gives him a few puffs on a cigar (which, as it turns out, helps him transition more peacefully to the next world). It is the most touching moment of the film. To be sure, this is not a Hallmark movie. It’s a rough, win-at-all-costs affair. A bit like real life.
And who is the real STAR of this film? As fate would have it, the most interesting and entertaining character is Ugly (Eli Wallach). Eastwood is great as always. Lee Van Cleef is great. But Wallach is beyond great! He’s disgusting. He’s hilarious. He’s endearing. He’s vicious. He’s cruel. He’s greedy. He’s human.
Sergio Leone once again outdid himself. Greed may have never been portrayed in all of its dizzying rush better than when Wallach goes sprinting with joy and anticipation in search of a grave (a long story…). Morricone’s music is at least another order of magnitude better here than in his previous collaboration with Leone and Eastwood.
This is a damn good film. Happy viewing!