Welcome back for the second monthly Spotlight Series from ItsJustAwesome.com! This week, to honor his birthday on May 31st, we’ll be reviewing 7 essential films starring everybody’s favorite outlaw: the inimitable Clint Eastwood.
Kicking things off in style, today we’ll be discussing one of Eastwood’s most iconic roles in the Sergio Leone classic, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966).
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly is the third, and arguably the most famous, installment in Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy. Throughout the trilogy, Eastwood’s character is never named– he is identified only by nicknames others have given him. In this film, he’s referred to simply as “Blondie” by his reluctant frenemy, Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach). Don’t let that fool you; what he lacks in personal identification and elaborate backstory, Blondie via Eastwood embodies a new kind of American cowboy. He is the clear protagonist of the story, but he is somewhat morally ambiguous himself. Unlike many of the more common cowboy archetypes we’re accustomed to, Blondie is not necessarily goodness incarnate. It’s more like he’s good…ish. He shows himself to be compassionate towards his fellow man on more than one occasion, BUT he is also a bit of a mercenary, and has no problem with shooting first and asking questions later. It’s a fascinating combination of traits that makes Blondie much more an anti-hero than a traditional hero, and this type of role would become the trademark of Eastwood’s career.
Sergio Leone loved his sprawling, Western epics, and GBU is no exception. Clocking in at a whopping 2 hours and 58 minutes, this is not a brief film. It manages, however, to captivate the viewer’s interest right from the opening credits, aided spectacularly by an amazing original score from Ennio Morricone. Truly, this movie has one of the best, most iconic scores of all time–right up there with The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, The Third Man, and basically everything penned by John Williams. The music is almost a character in and of itself, and it supports the rest of the film with unforgettable panache. Listen to the clip below, and I guarantee you’ll immediately recognize the main theme, even if you haven’t seen the actual movie:
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly is set against a backdrop of the American Civil War, and focuses on the tenuous partnership between Tuco (the “Ugly”) and Blondie (the “Good”), who each possess one half of a secret. Before dying, a fugitive named Bill Carson bequeaths an enormous cache of stolen Confederate gold to Tuco (a tidy sum of $2,000), which he has buried somewhere in the desert. Unfortunately for Tuco, Carson only tells him one piece of the puzzle to the gold’s location– he tells Blondie the other. Realizing that neither of the two outlaws will be able to find the gold without the other, they warily strike up an alliance. Along the way, they encounter a brutal, sociopathic Union officer known as Angel Eyes (the “Bad”, played by Lee Van Cleef), who is also attempting to track down Carson’s illicit fortune. Tensions mount as the bizarre trio essentially race each other to the remote cemetery where the gold is buried, culminating in a three-way duel and one of the best movie endings I can recall seeing in quite some time.
This is a great movie, despite some minor stylistic quirks inherent to Spaghetti Westerns. For instance, because it was filmed in Spain and Italy with mostly non-English-speaking actors, much of the dialogue is actually dubbed over in English. It’s a bit jarring at first, but surprisingly it doesn’t really bother you for long. The story, the cinematography, the Ennio Morricone score, and even the gunfighting scenes are all so well-done that it’s easy to let yourself get sucked into Leone’s world, forgetting all about the weird dubbing.
It goes without saying that Eastwood’s performance here is a classic…but I’ll say it anyway, because it is. His trademarks are all there: the squint (apparently a sexy, sexy byproduct of his horse allergy mixed with the ever-present cigarillo), the laconic wit, the gravelly voice, the quiet confidence. Eli Wallach does chew his share of scenery as Tuco Ramirez, but it’s Eastwood’s picture from the get-go. If you haven’t already, check this movie out– it’s a much snappier take on the Western, and it’s easy to see why the “Man with No Name” trilogy is credited with reinvigorating the entire genre.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back again with Eastwood’s first foray into the world of directing: Play Misty For Me (1971). Be sure to join me for that one, because who would want to miss Eastwood dodging the knife-waving antics of a deranged Jessica Walter?!