The title, the theme song, the lead actor. Few things represent a movie genre more than The Good the, the Bad and the Ugly represents the Western. John Wayne would come pretty close, but it’s his entire western filmography that gives him that reputation, not one particular movie that springs to mind. But even people who have never seen this movie, the title, the music and the lead actor would be likely to spring to their minds when westerns comes up. So what makes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly such a quintessential, mind springer of a western?
Tuco (Eli Wallach) is the Ugly, a Mexican outlaw plying his trade in Civil War America. With a $2,000 bounty on his head, he’s captured by Blondie (Clint Eastwood), the Good. But he’s not so good, because soon Blondie and Tuco have a lucrative partnership where Blondie delivers Tuco to small town authorities, collects the reward, then helps Tuco escape, so they can split the money and run the scam on the next town.
Meanwhile, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), the Bad, is on the trail of a former confederate soldier who knows the location of $200,000 in stolen gold. Through a series of double crosses and attempts to one up each other, Tuco and Blondie also learn of the gold and its location. Tuco knows the cemetery it’s buried in, while Blondie knows the name on the head stone of the gold filled grave. Now they need each other and their combined knowledge if the gold is going to be theirs before Angel Eyes gets to it.
Clint Eastwood might be the bigger name, and his photo might dominate the posters and DVD covers for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but this is way more Tuco’s movie than Blondie’s. Wallach gets more screen time and his character gets a lot more to do along the way. We learn about Tuco, his past, how he came to be the bandit that he is. Whereas Blondie is just there to be the strong, silent, badass type.
This was the third spaghetti western collaboration between director Sergio Leone and Eastwood, and they really did build on everything they’d learned and set up in the previous two outings. It would be close to a decade a since I’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, so my memory of them isn’t that great. But I don’t remember them being as layered or complex or grand as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
This is an almost three hour epic that never drags or seems padded out. The simple story of these three dudes in search of a butt load of gold could have easily been slight or clichéd or simple. But the three actors, and the characters they get to play, make The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, so much more than your average western, and so deserving of its long running time.