Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movies! - "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly."

With today's unfortunate passing of Eli Wallach, you'll probably find a lot of tributes to both him and his most famous work, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, all over the internet that are much better written than this one. For instance, go check out Roger Ebert's entry as part of his Great Movies series.

Still, I've been meaning to write about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ever since I bought the remastered blu-ray "Man with No Name" collection. I did write about it a little bit last week when I was telling about my inexplicable bout of sentimentality. Still, I've been hoping to write about some more movies this summer, in the tradition of "Movie-a-Day Month" from back in 2009. (Was it really that long ago?) I figured that Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western classic seemed like a good fit for that sort of a thing. After reading about Wallach (who played Tuco "the Ugly") I figured that I should just go ahead and write up a little something about my fondness for the movie.

I wish that I had some sort of nostalgic story to share with all of you regarding the first time I saw it. Unfortunately I don't. I'm not even sure exactly when I saw it for the first time, but I know that it was when I bought the special edition DVD with a gift card that I got for my birthday. I had only read about the movie before, and I figured that I'd take a chance on it. I found myself really liking it, and then I quickly sought out the other two movies in the so-called "trilogy": A Fistfull of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Neither one of those movies did a whole lot for me though. (Although I'll admit that when I recently re-watched them, I liked them a whole lot more. Still, they're both in a completely different league with the third film.)

What can be said about this movie that hasn't been said a million times before? Honestly, I'm not that well-versed in Westerns, and when I watch some of those old American ones, I find myself quickly losing interest. However, something about this film stood out to me. It's odd, because it feels like I'm watching some cheaply-made B movie, and yet it transcends the genre and its origins to be a real piece of art.

I once saw an interview with Clint Eastwood where the star said that the director, Leone, wanted to be like David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai). The influence is obviously there with this film, as Leone takes his time to set the scene. Nothing ever feels rushed, and while some directors might have pulled the camera away, Leone lets it roll and moments that might have felt trite (like when "Blondie" - Eastwood's character - shares a cigarette with a dying Confederate soldier) wind up involving the audience as any good film should. Don't be confused - You don't feel like you're watching a poor man's version of Lean. However, the influence is clear and blends with Leone's own style.

The only thing that's slightly off-putting is the audio. The film was originally made by an Italian company (and financed by Italians, Germans, and Spaniards) and filmed in Spain. The cast is an international one, and everybody dubbed in their lines after filming was done. When it comes to the English-speaking actors, it works okay - but with the Spanish and Italian speakers, it kinda takes me out of the movie a bit.

Anyway, there's so much that's great about this movie. Eastwood turns in a signature performance. Lee Van Cleef as "Angel Eyes" is menacing as hell. Tucco is a scumbag but hilarious. The music is brilliant. The three-hour runtime zips right by.

While I'd love to say that the remastered blu-ray is a revelation; unfortunately it's just a step up or two from the DVD. The movie looks faded, but perhaps that's how it's supposed to look. This is not a romantic picture of the West. It's a hellish landscape where only those who can handle a gun can survive. Still, I don't regret buying the upgrade, for if nothing else, it gave me an excuse to watch the movie again. It's certainly one that gets better with repeated viewings.

P.S. Like the artwork? Check out artist Kevin Graham's site.

No comments: