Also titled Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo
Directed by Sergio Leone
Screenplay written by Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Mickey Knox
Based on the story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
His name is unclear, but he goes by Blondie (Eastwood) as he pairs up with wanted men in a bounty hunting scam. When Tuco (Wallach), one of his accomplices turns into an enemy, he finds himself at the wrong end of a gun. Only after the two stumble across reports of hidden gold do they realize that they need one another. Meanwhile, Sentenza (Van Cleef), another gunman has been in search of the gold as well. Now, in the midst of the Civil War, the two men are racing to find the gold before the gunman can find it, or them.
This third film in director Sergio Leone’s (Once Upon a Time in the West) Dollars trilogy follows up A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Despite being the third movie produced, it served as a prequel to the other two movies. The screenplay and story came from a group of writers that included Agenore Incrocci (Big Deal on Madonna Street), Furio Scarpelli (For Love and Gold), Luciano Vincenzoni (For a Few Dollars More), and Sergio Leone. In addition, the American version of the screenplay was aided by screenwriter Mickey Knox (The Godfather: Part III). The film stars an incredible trio of talented men in Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Lee Van Cleef (High Noon), and Eli Wallach (The Magnificent Seven).
With the success of For a Few Dollars More in 1965, United Artists was anxious to capitalize with a third movie in the series. Ultimately, the story came from a number of sources, blended together by Sergio Leone. Leone ultimately removed much of the writing of Incrocci, Scarpelli, and Vincenzoni, settling for his own additions. He later commented that the three main characters were all partially created from his own life. He would say:
“[Sentenza] has no spirit, he’s a professional in the most banal sense of the term. Like a robot. This isn’t the case with the other two. On the methodical and careful side of my character, I’d be nearer il Biondo (Blondie): but my most profound sympathy always goes towards the Tuco side…He can be touching with all that tenderness and all that wounded humanity.”
Ultimately, the story is one of the best screenplays ever written for a Western. The characters all have unique sensibilities that create conflict and tension throughout the film. The movie also has a sense of honesty and the reality of war built into it as well. The dialogue, although very minimalistic, delivers just the right amount of grit and strange humor. The story also features a complex series of twists and turns that keep it interesting and unpredictable throughout the movie.
The acting in this one is also great. Eastwood does a great job keeping his role mysterious and simple. The quiet and determined nature of the role is something he would bring to numerous roles moving forward in his career. This time he was opposite two incredible actors with Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef playing up two unique and powerful characters. Eli Wallach does an incredible job in this movie. His ability to take a criminal and give him some sense of humanity is quite interesting. Lee Van Cleef, on the other hand, does an incredible job playing a cold and calculating killer. These contrasting roles, like the title indicates, bring out the story wonderfully.
The score for this movie is one of the best ever written for a Western. Ennio Morricone put together a powerful driving score that just seems to affect every moment of the film, but never taking over completely. Morricone created a theme for each of the three main characters, using different instruments to set them apart. The score was so successful that it reached number four on the Billboard pop chart, and remained on the chart for more than a year. Here is an example of the music made for this film.
Sergio Leone did more to revitalize the tired genre of the Western in the 1960’s than anyone else. His films are violent and simplistic on the surface, while carrying much deeper meanings within. He would state that, “the west was made by violent, uncomplicated men, and it is this strength and simplicity that I try to recapture in my pictures.” In addition to his meticulous work habits, Leone was also known as a difficult director to work with. This would be the last film that he worked on with Eastwood.
The visuals in this movie are wonderful. Italian cinematographer, Tonino Delli Colli (Once Upon a Time in the West) was brought in to work on the movie. He made sure to make more use of light and shadow than had been done in the previous films in the series. The result is a movie that feels more complex in its visuals, and captures this unique vision of the West that Leone was reaching for. Along with the sets, costumes, and the locations chosen, this has wonderful visuals.
The success of this film is hard to measure. At the time of its release, the movie was commercially successful, but gained little positive feedback from the critics. In retrospect, Roger Ebert would attribute this to the fact that is was “a spaghetti Western, and so could not be art.” As time has passed, this film continues to be recognized as one of the great Westerns ever made. Quentin Tarantino has called the movie “the best directed film of all-time.” The film continues to rise on top film lists of major publications as critics have begun to appreciate the art and style of this one.
This is one of my favorite Westerns. The styling, the violence, and the underlying wit all come together wonderfully. Leone asks very little from the viewers in this one, keeping things simple without being too obvious. The score and the visuals just add to this masterpiece. I would recommend this to anyone who loves Westerns. If you’ve seen it, I would suggest taking another look at this movie. It’s got a definite repeat value that has kept it popular for more than forty years. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.