Friday, 13 June 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Blessed with one of the most famous musical themes in cinema, and Sergio Leone's sun-drenched visual direction, this is not a film that is short on style.

It's a style it needs though, because at over two-and-a-half hours in length, it stretches its plot - three rival gunslingers are all after the same cache of money, but each knows only part of the details of where it is - until it is like one of those t-shirts that's been washed so often the neckline's gone all loose and wrinkly.

The film introduces the characters in reverse order of the title: the unfairly-named "Ugly", is Tuco, a bandit with a price on his head.  The "Bad" is Angel Eyes, a merciless killer who is initially the only one of the three who knows the gold exists (and who gets far too little screen time for my tastes).  Finally we have the "Good", though this seems a generous term for a man whose introduction to the film is running a scam that cheats small towns out of thousands of dollars.

Through a series of coincidences - coincidence is another thing the script stretches to the point of deformity - the three men encounter each other and begin a series of alliances and betrayals that will continue all the way to the final credits.

There are many good set-pieces in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it ultimately has a pretty satisfying ending.  So it's easy to see why it is a highly regarded film, but as you may have gathered from my comments above, I'm not entirely sold on it.  It's considerably longer than it needs to be, with several scenes drawn out to the point where I became impatient with them, and the degree of happenstance required did not merely strain my suspension of disbelief, but snapped it quite sharply on at least two occasions

Still, if you have any interest in the technique of film-making, you should see this movie.  Sergio Leone does more to tell you about a person or a scene without a word of dialogue than some directors can manage with ten pages of exposition.  There have been few people as talented in the art of visual story-telling as he was.

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