I have never been a fan of Westerns, Spaghetti or otherwise. As a result, I have seen very few, because the few that I have seen have not intrigued me in the least. I find them to be laden with machoismo cliche, gratuitous violence - and finally just plain boring.
But when my local artsy cinema advertised a screening of the legendary The Good The Bad and The Ugly, I was inexplicably inspired to go see it. I figured that if the theatre was so eagerly promoting the film, there must be something substantial to it which would subvert my presumptions about Westerns.
My boyfriend said that the film was kind of known as an "existential Western," which further piqued my interest. He said it was not your average Western, and I could tell from the little I had absorbed about it that it did indeed possess unusual merits that elevated it above the typical cowboys-n-guns fare that so pervades the genre.
And so I was very pleasantly suprised at how much I enjoyed the film, despite the fact that it does contain some machismo cliche and gratuitious violence. The difference here is, the film is a knowing semi-parody of all that. It doesn't take itself so seriously. The film is iconic and ironic, and features a soundtrack that has embedded itself into our collective psyches without us even being consciously aware of it.
The film is set during the Civil War and showcases Clint Eastwood as the mysterious Blondie (The Good), who collaborates with wanted men in order to get reward money. One of his partners, Tuco, represents The Ugly in the title. The Evil, or The Bad in the film is Sentenza, who thinks he knows the location of an abundance of Confederate coins.
These three main characters have fairly contrasting personae - Tuco is comedically high-strung, Sentenza is calmly calculating, and Blondie is cooly laconic. But the contrasts work to create an interesting synergy among them, and of course give the film a solid grounding in characterization. True, there do not seem to be multiple dimensions within each character, but the characterizations nonetheless distinguish the film from other Spaghetti Westerns in that these are stock characters with a twist, which is how the film manages to overturn expectations. Eastwood's persona is more of a caricature than anything, though not a cartoonish one; rather, he mocks the archetypal cowboy character with his smirking stoicism.
The violence is the movie is rather sparse until one particular episode, which rivals the infamous Quentin Tarantino penchant for disconcerting torture scenes. Indeed, this scene likely set a precedent for shocking violence in films. I am not enamored of violence in films UNLESS it serves a concrete purpose...and even then I am not enamored of it, but at least I ascertain its inclusion. So the violence in many Westerns to me is pointlessly titillating, and I am grateful, at least, that director Sergio Leone did not infect his movie with persistent violence. And I do understand that violence is an inextricable aspect of Westerns, which is why I repudiate most of that genre.
The film's lingering meditative scenes, ironic characterizations and nuanced humor, plus its inventive stylization and haunting film score, all work symbiotically to create a mystique-filled movie that nonetheless has plentiful dimensions of verisimiltude.
The only reservation I have about the film is that it does become a bit mired in the Civil War/Confederate coin quest...these scenes could have been edited for more taut construction, as they tend to drag out tediously at times.
Overall, however, I would deem this the hippest of all Westerns, even if I have not seen that much of the genre. But its highly reputable stature is well-deserved...it's one bad-ass film whose only real vice is some ugly violence. Otherwise, it's all good.