The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) – A Movie Review

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is the third movie in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy.  As in the second movie, “For a Few Dollars More,” Lee Van Cleef joins Clint Eastwood.  And to round out the three eponymous characters we have Eli Wallach.  Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are the Good the Bad and the Ugly in that order.  Eastwood is a nameless bounty hunter and con-man.  Lee Van Cleef is a killer for hire that goes by the name of Angel Eyes.  And Eli Wallach is a Mexican criminal named Tuco.

Eastwood’s racket is to capture criminals for the bounty but when the town gets ready to hang the criminal Eastwood shoots the rope just in time allowing the criminal to escape and Eastwood then sells him all over again in the next town.  After several iterations of this Eastwood takes two shots to sever the rope and when Tuco complains about this treatment Eastwood dissolves the partnership leaving Tuco to walk seventy miles through the burning desert and swearing revenge.

Meanwhile Angel Eyes is helping a man locate some stolen army gold that was hidden by a man named Bill Carson.  But then he decides he’d rather keep the money for himself so he kills his client.  He finds out Carson is in the Confederate Army in Texas so he joins the Union forces and searches for Carson among the prisoners.

Tuco survives his trek through the desert and hunts down Eastwood or Blondie as he calls him.  Eventually he catches up with him and forces him to walk bareheaded in the desert until he is close to death.  But just at the point where Tuco prepares to shoot Blondie a Confederate stage coach filled with dead and dying men rolls up to Tuco and he finds Bill Carson dying but willing to tell him the whereabouts of the gold.  Carson tells him it’s buried in a certain graveyard but he withholds the name on the grave until he gets a drink of water.  But when Tuco gets back with the water he finds Carson dead and Blondie next to him.  Carson told him the name before he died.  Now Tuco brings Blondie to a Mexican mission for medical care for his sun stroke and the two men ride to find the gold.  But dressed in confederate uniforms they are captured by Union forces and taken to a prison camp.  By a coincidence Angel Eyes is at this camp and he knows Tuco and when he learns that he is pretending to be Bill Carson he has Tuco tortured to learn the location of the gold.  Tuco tells him the name of the cemetery and tells him that Blondie knows the grave name.

After several escapes and gunfights Tuco and Blondie escape from Angel Eyes and head for the cemetery.  On the way they run into a Union force that is waging a futile daily battle over possession of a bridge across a river.  Blondie is struck by the futility of all these men dying over a bridge that has no intrinsic value.  But it also occurs to him that as long as the bridge is there, they won’t be able to get past the Confederate forces to reach the cemetery so he dynamites the bridge and the two armies end the operation.

Finally, Tuco and Blondie reach the cemetery.  But before the gold can be dug up there is a three-way duel between Tuco, Angel Eyes and Blondie.  The form an equilateral triangle and blast away.  Blondie kills Angel Eyes and Tuco discovers that Blondie took the bullets out of his gun the night before.  So, Blondie reveals where the gold is buried and makes Tuco dig it up.  But while Tuco is rejoicing Blondie has set up a hangman’s noose over one of the grave crosses and force Tuco to climb onto the cross and put his neck in the noose.  After tying Tuco’s hands behind his back, Blondie leaves him suspended there and rides off with half the gold.  But when he’s half a mile away he takes his rifle and shoots the rope and Tuco is freed to scream epithets at Blondie as he rides away.

This is the most entertaining movie of the trilogy.  Although technically Tuco is as much a hardened criminal as Angel Eyes he manages to become a somewhat sympathetic villain probably because of the large dose of comic relief he adds to the film.  Angel Eyes is the sadistic villain but he also is an interesting portrayal by Van Cleef.  And Eastwood’s character is, as always, resourceful, cool under fire and damn lucky.  This movie is highly recommended for fans of westerns and action-adventure films.  And it has a fantastic main theme song.

For a Few Dollars More (1965) – A Movie Review

This is the second movie in director Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy but Clint Eastwood actually does have a name in this story.  He’s called Manco.  This is the story of two bounty hunters.  Manco (played by Eastwood) and Colonel Mortimer (played by Lee Van Cleef) are killing outlaws and collecting bounties when they meet up.  After a contest to see whose marksmanship is better, they team up to take down “El Indio” and his gang.  El Indio is a psychopathic killer whose gang has just broken him out of prison by killing all the guards and the warden.  Indio has a pocket watch with a music box built into it.  When he wants to have a shootout with someone he says, “Draw when the song ends.”  And usually, he kills the opponent.  But the song is so long and annoying I think most of the victims decide to die of gunshot wounds rather than live with the memory of the boredom of that song.

Indo is planning to rob the El Paso bank and Mortimer convinces Manco to join Indio’s gang and act as the inside man to allow Mortimer and Manco to finish off the gang.  The plan sort of works.  Manco manages to kill three of Indio’s men during a diversionary operation and Mortimer is able to gain Indio’s confidence too by helping Indo open the stolen safe using powerful acid to dissolve the lock.

But when Manco and Mortimer try to steal the bank money from Indio they are caught and beaten savagely in advance of their deaths.  Then a bunch of weird stuff happens that has Indo and some of his lieutenants murdering each other to increase their share of the loot.  As part of this plan Indio allows for Manco and Mortimer to escape and they finish off killing the gang.  By the finale it’s just Manco, Mortimer and Indio.  This sets up the duel between Indio and Mortimer.  We discover that Indio murdered Mortimer’s brother-in-law then raped his sister causing her to commit suicide.  The musical watch was stolen by Indio from the sister.  With a little help from Manco the duel is run fairly and Indio is killed.  Then Mortimer tells Manco that he can have all the bounties for Indio and the rest of the gang.  Mortimer just walks away, apparently finishing his stint as a bounty hunter and Manco loads the bodies on a wagon and takes the bank’s money along too.  It’s not at all clear whether he is going to return the money, which is much more than the bounties on the gang, or keep it.

This is a very enjoyable action film.  Eastwood and Van Cleef shoot a lot of bad guys.  The bank heist is a good chapter and little touches throughout the story keep the audience’s interest throughout.  There are several very humorous situations between the “partners” including a scene where Mortimer proves to Manco that a long-barreled gun trumps a Colt .45 even if the pistolero is the fastest draw around.

Indio is such a despicable psychopath that making his death the climax of the movie seems like a reasonable scenario.  But unfortunately, the whole musical watch thing is just too annoying.  It happens I think three times and by the finale I just wanted Mortimer to shoot Indio as soon as the watch started playing and then shoot the watch just to end the torture.

I think this second installment in the trilogy is even better than the first (A Fistful of Dollars).  Van Cleef is a welcome addition to the atmosphere providing a sort of older brother for the Eastwood character.

Highly recommended.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – A Movie Review

“A Fistful of Dollars” was Clint Eastwood’s first spaghetti western with director Sergio Leone.  As it turned out it was an unauthorized western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo.  These spaghetti westerns were produced in Europe and cost only a fraction of Hollywood movies and so could make a profit with a much lower box office.  Leone featured Eastwood as “The Man with No Name.”  He was an anti-hero who drifted from place to place and although of ambivalent morals he always ended up on the side of the less powerful.

In this story the stranger (Eastwood) shows up in the Mexican village of San Miguel and learns that two criminal gangs, the Rojos and the Baxters are in competition for control of the town.  The stranger offers his services as a gun fighter to both gangs and by playing them off each other he slowly whittles away both gangs.  There is a sub-plot about a family that is being victimized by the Rojos.  The wife has been taken as a concubine by one of the Rojos while her husband and small child are hostages.  The stranger manages to free the wife and aids the small family to escape San Miguel.  For this he is tortured by the Rojos to learn where the woman has gone.  The stranger manages to escape and the Rojos, assuming that the Baxters helped him, burn down the Baxters’ house and shoot down the whole gang as they flee the burning building.

The stranger is helped to escape the town by the undertaker hiding him in a coffin.  He heals up and returns to save his friend Silvanito who is being tortured by the Rojos to find out where the woman has gone.  The stranger faces off against all the remaining Rojos and with the help of a sheet of steel plate hidden under his poncho he shoots them all dead and frees his friend.

So, what’s the verdict?  The acting is minimal, the characters are cartoons.  The story is straight forward and transparent.  But it is altogether an enjoyable hour and a half of pulp fiction.  Good vanquishes evil.  Violence gets splashed all over the screen and the stranger leaves town just as he entered it.  A man with no past or future living by his wits and his gun.

As a final note, the film this was based on, Yojimbo, is a much different film because of the cultural and aesthetic differences between a Leone western and a Kurosawa samurai film.  But it is a great picture in its own right.  And if you enjoy Kurosawa’s films it is a good one.  If you’ve never seen one before then start with his “Seven Samurais” first.  It’s an excellent film.

“A Fistful of Dollars” is highly recommended for fans of the western and anyone with a simple taste for action.