“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig.”
I’ll admit, until recently, I had never watched a legitimate western movie—they just didn’t really appeal to me. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, directed by Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West, A Fistful of Dollars) and starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef, changed my mind. It tells a great quintessential western story while turning many of the tired tropes, like the good guy in the white hat, on their heads. The story draws you in and the characters are fascinating. The tone is fun with just the right amount of camp. After watching this, I actually want to go and check out some more classic westerns, and that’s saying a lot.
The plot follows three men known only by nicknames: Blondie (the good), Angel Eyes (the bad), and Tuco (the ugly). There are initially two stories that seem disconnected, but the three are eventually drawn together in search of a great store of gold. There’s gunslinging and betrayal, but also enough subtle humor to keep things light and fun. I’ll admit, watching it, I had a pretty good idea who would walk away from the confrontation, but I had no idea how everything else would go down. The ending was just perfect. I don’t want to say more than that, but it was a great send-off.
When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.
Despite the black and white title, there’s very little to morally differentiate the three title characters from each other. The “good” guy is just as much of a scoundrel as the others, despite being much more likeable. The “bad” guy is probably the most principled of the three, despite being a stone-cold killer. The “ugly” guy is probably the most interesting and sympathetic of the three, and gets some solid character development. Sometimes behaving honorably pays off and sometimes it comes back to bite you. There’s no discernible code of conduct. It’s the wild west, and you have to be ready for anything.
The thing this movie does insanely well is capture a very specific and endearing tone, or vibe. The vintage cool factor is definitely there, and this movie has aged well. From the stylized opening credits to the instantly recognizable theme music to fantastic pacing, this movie makes me see why westerns were such a huge genre in American cinema, and it makes me want to check out other westerns.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is regarded by many to be the best western movie ever made, and for good reason: everything is done well, and there’s a lot to love about this movie. If you’re wanting to check out classic western films, this is definitely the place to start. If you like other western films, this is required viewing. And if you liked this movie, you’re in luck, because this is actually the third in a trilogy—you can also check out A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More to see more of Clint Eastwood’s character.
View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!
Director: Sergio Leone