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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Extended Version Collector's Set

MGM Home Entertainment

Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach,
Aldo Giuffre, and Mario Brega

Written by Age-Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, and Sergio Leone
Directed by Sergio Leone

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Review by Clarence Beaks                    

Murder. Armed robbery. Arson. Perjury. Bigamy. Shooting his wife and children. Kidnapping. Extortion.

A lifetime of transgression that'll net the captor of said acts $2,000. The man who loosed these sins on the world is Tuco Benedicto Pacifico, a squat bandito brought to sputtering, fidgety life by Eli Wallach, and it's perhaps only in a Sergio Leone western that he'd not only be in on the profits of his own infamy, but emerge as the tale's most undeniably sympathetic character. And in a bit of prescient one-upmanship of his co-star, Clint Eastwood, Wallach's character, a known killer of women and children, is burdened with nary a whit of compunction with which to win the audience's affection. He's ingratiating by way of his gleeful, largely unchecked amorality, like a sun-baked, Tex-Mex Tommy Udo.

Fans of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) unfailingly point to Wallach's Tuco as the star of the show, and, in MGM's newly restored version of Leone's long-truncated classic, this character has scurried even more prominently to the fore, overshadowing the iconic likes of Eastwood's laconic Blondie and Lee Van Cleef's brutal "Angel Eyes"; an understandable indulgence since Leone had already given these actors their chance to shine — Eastwood with his star-making turn in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Van Cleef impressing as the haunted bounty hunter in For a Few Dollars More (1965). But this emphasis does skew the film's moral compass in a more cynical direction than in any other Leone work, rendering it a corrosive epic of venality in which, as many critics have noted, there is precious little separation between its trio of archetypes. They're all on the grift; it's just a question of who and how many they're willing to kill to reap a windfall. When the sum rises to $200,000 worth of gold, nothing less than the raging westward expansion of the American Civil War will stand in their greedy path.

*          *          *

After the animated opening credits, which amusingly conclude with Leone's name being blasted out of a cannon, the director stages a rather literal "in your face" introduction (juxtaposed, of course, with a wide-angle shot of a dusty village street) of "The Ugly," Tuco, getting rousted from a restaurant by a band of vigilantes. Though Tuco will serve as the audience's way into this world, if only by virtue of sheer loquaciousness, Leone, in one of the film's characteristically counterintuitive segues, moves to a lengthy settling of affairs between "The Bad," Angel Eyes, and a condemned rancher in which the latter will futilely attempt to outbid the price placed on his head in order to have this ill-favor returned on his adversary. Angel Eyes, in a gesture that really doesn't make him all that worse than his yet-unseen counterpart, fulfills the terms of his first engagement, but, in pocketing the rancher's offered cash, he makes good on the second offer, too, when relaying word of his success to the first party.

When Leone finally catches up to "The Good," Blondie, it's to depict him gunning down the group of vigilantes pursuing Tuco so that he may continue to benefit from their ongoing con-job — a town-to-town hustle that consists of Blondie turning Tuco in for his slowly elevating reward, then, at the very last second, shooting him free from the gallows. When Blondie realizes that Tuco will never fetch more than $3,000, he cuts the hapless fellow loose far out from town, leaving him to hike back to civilization with suddenly dimmed prospects.

Now, all three men are looking for their next payday, which arrives in the form of a $200,000 cache of gold coins hidden in a remote cemetery. This is Angel Eyes's quest at first, but Tuco and Blondie are soon embroiled in it when they chance upon a runaway horse-drawn carriage of dead Confederate soldiers ferrying the barely breathing concealer of the fortune. At the time of this discovery, Tuco has gained the upper hand on Blondie, whom he is sadistically marching through a smoldering stretch of desert for his own vengeful amusement. But when Tuco runs off to fetch water for the dying soldier, who has told him the location of the treasure, Blondie manages to ascertain the name under which is buried; thus, forcing Tuco to whisk his nemesis off to a nearby mission for recuperation.

It's in this segment that Leone applies the most poignant shadings to Tuco's character, as the charitable operation is overseen by his older brother, Pablo (Luigi Pistilli), whose enrollment in seminary was a sacrifice that drove the younger Tuco (unavoidably, in his calculation) to the opposite moral extreme. Their confrontation is telling; Pablo addresses his brother as a lost soul and a wastrel son, while Tuco teems with righteous justification for his inexorable slide into criminality (watch Tuco's briefly pained, then seething reaction to his brother's delivery of "It seems you had a wife once.") This episode is viewed, unbeknownst to Tuco, by Blondie, who, seemingly transformed by his desert ordeal, regards his partner with a heretofore unseen measure of pity and slight camaraderie.

While the pair are now somewhat even in their mutual betrayals, Tuco must still undergo a scourging of sorts at the hands of Angel Eyes, who supervises his torture at a Union prison camp (Tuco has, unlucky as ever, been masquerading as the soldier known to Angel Eyes as the man who knows the location of the gold coins) while a pressed-into-service symphony and chorale drowns out his pained shrieks so as not to disturb the other prisoners (though they know damn well, through probable personal experience, what he's enduring). It's a sequence of exquisite cruelty; the musicians wince through the performance of composer Ennio Morricone's lovely melody, which Leone crosscuts with Tuco's savage beating (an exceptionally bloody bit of business).

Before the three principals reach their fated destination, Tuco and Blondie will bear witness to Leone's most brilliantly staged set-piece: an epic skirmish between Union and Confederate soldiers for control of a rickety wooden bridge. Before the fight commences, they confer with an alcoholic Union general (Aldo Giuffre) whose main concern is getting his charges drunk enough to perform valiantly on the field of battle. The cover which Tuco and Blondie will use to traverse the water without getting shot, while blowing the disputed passage to smithereens, is classic Leone.

Feeding off the rather insane achievement of this sequence, the director moves into the concluding graveyard sequence in full filmmaking swagger, whipping the audience up into a wild cinematic nirvana (again with Morricone's indispensable assistance) as Tuco sprints through the massive ring of tombstones as if willing himself to the final resting place of "Arch Stanton." What follows is the classic three-way showdown for the rights to the fortune, which would play as laughably absurd in anyone's hands, even an unabashed Leone disciple like Quentin Tarantino, who, though a burgeoning master himself, would be unavoidably forced to work a self-conscious anything-for-the-love-of-movies chuckle out of the arrangement. Not Leone. He means it. With the possible exception of the later Duck, You Sucker (1971), no film in his depressingly thin canon better exemplified his scathingly cynical worldview than The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In the end, the title is an obvious joke; when money's to be made, man, good or bad, is ugly to his core. Tuco's closing rebuke to Blondie is Leone's admonishment to the audience: "Do you know what you are? You're all stinking sons of… [cue Morricone's theme]!"

*          *          *

MGM Home Entertainment presents The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Extended Version Collector's Set in a beautifully restored anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that falls just short of Paramount's miraculous work on Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). To be fair, though, this was more of a challenge, as a good bit of the reconstituted footage was absent a usable English soundtrack, necessitating, among other things, that a much older Eastwood and Wallach provide ADR. The resulting Dolby Digital 5.1 track is therefore a remarkable achievement, with any occasional raggedness easily forgiven. Also included is the film's original Italian monaural audio, which is a neat curiosity.

Extras on this two-disc Collector's Set begin with a solid feature length commentary from Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, a noted Eastwood biographer who happily avoids doting on his friend in order to offer up valuable insights into Leone's work. The track is marred a bit by Schickel's incessant "um"-ing, but one grows accustomed to it early on.

Disc Two boasts a collection of featurettes, starting with "Leone's West" (20 min.), a nice retrospective on the production of the film bolstered by fond reminiscences from Eastwood, Wallach, producer Alberto Grimaldi and, in a surprisingly charitable mood, English dialogue writer Mickey Knox. Culling from the same interviews is "The Leone Style" (23 min.), which focuses on the director's creative process. For those new to the director's work, there are plenty of intriguing nuggets to be found, while the more well-versed will appreciate Eastwood's relating of how the bridge detonation went disastrously awry. "The Man Who Lost the Civil War" (15 min.) lends historical authenticity to the ill-fated campaign pressed by Gen. Sibley, which apparently was not the utter fabrication that many thought it was. "Reconstructing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (11 min.) is a fascinating glimpse into the difficult rescuing of Leone's original vision by Triage Labs, while "Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (8 min.) is a too-brief discussion of the legendary film composer's contribution to the picture.

There are three offerings under the "Deleted Scenes" heading, the first being an extension of Tuco's torture that was deemed too unsalvageable to make it to the final restoration; a pity, because it would actually add to the poignancy of the scene. There is also a mostly text run-through of the lost "Socorro Sequence" that depicted Tuco holding up a train station platform while Blondie bedded a woman nearby. Finally, the French trailer shows a snippet of this overlooked sequence, while also affording viewers a look at alternate angles of scenes from the finished film.

Rounding out the collection is a poster gallery, the original theatrical trailer, a booklet featuring Roger Ebert's terrific essay on the film from his "Great Movies" column, and five nicely reproduced lobby cards for the English, Italian, French, Japanese, and German releases.

— Clarence Beaks

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