Wow. So, yeah. With The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone proves not only that is he not a crock (as if anyone doubted it), but he is a master of the craft. This is entirely predictable with just the opening credits, which has jumped to my top ten opening sequences ever. Although it is only an animated sequence, Leone's use of sound and Ennio Marricone's incredible composition is absolutely brilliant. This is easily the best use of my newly acquired surround sound system, and reminded me of why I installed it in the first place. In my review for the previous film, I stated that For a Few Dollars more essentially one-ups A Fistful of Dollars in every way. It is more than fair to say the same for The Good, the Bad, and Ugly. Leone takes the trilogy to places that I never expected it go.
We start off with who one might mistake to be Colonel Douglas Mortimer, as he is played buy the same actor (Lee Van Cleef). That is, until he shoots an unarmed man in the face. Heartbroken, I couldn't believe the Colonel would do such a thing! What madness happened between the 2nd and 3rd films? Was the Colonel driven into darkness like Colonel Kurtz? Actually, although Van Cleef has indeed returned, the Colonel hasn't. Instead, he is playing a self-centered, evil bastard by the name of Angel Eyes (or, the Bad). Van Cleef feels so at home playing this character that one can't help love to hate him. Like method actor Daniel Day-Lewis, it is difficult to imagine him playing anyone other than a despicable, tasteless villain, even after just viewing the previous film of the trilogy, which he was quite brilliant in. He just seems at the top of his peak here. Tuco (Eli Wallach), the Ugly, is a reckless thief and killer who basically does whatever he wants. It is clear from the start that he cares for no one but himself, and will do whatever it takes to profit from any given situation, no matter what the cost. What makes him interesting as a character, other than being a killer with nothing to lose, is that he is really the 'comedic relief' of the film. He has most of the best lines, as he is always mocking and taunting Angel Eyes and the Stranger, much to their dismay. What makes Tuco interesting to Angel Eyes and Blondie is that he has $2000 on his head. Tuco makes it clear that he shouldn't be taken lightly, because he brings down and humiliates the Stranger more than we have ever seen, torturing him for hours on end. As a character, the Stranger, now known as Bright Eyes (or the Good), is Clint Eastwood-y and badass as always, but who's complaining?
So there are two opposing hitmen, and a thief with a lot of money on his head. It is easy to make out what the plot could possibly be. However, at the midpoint of the film, Tuco and Blondie hear word of a buried, endless treasure. Suddenly, not unlike the previous film, we take an unexpected turn not just in the plot, but in the genre as a whole. It is now a rat race for said treasure, and it is through the travels that the three of them endure where the film goes to places it's never been before. Mind you, this film is set during the Civil War. First, the three are intertwined in a Union prison camp, which is unsettling enough for the viewer, because it feels as if Eastwood walked onto the set of another movie. Because two genres, the western and historical, are colliding here. It isn't until Tuco and Blondie find themselves in the middle of an intense battlefield, with a proportion in size comparable to the likes of Glory, where the film clearly reaches for the sky and potentially becomes an epic.
With the Dollars Trilogy, Sergio Leone set a new standard not just for westerns, but for filmmaking in general. It is a rare occurrence when every film in a trilogy surpasses the one before it in almost every plausible way, and this trilogy has done it. There are just so many things to be loved and admired here that it would be insulting to call oneself a watcher of movies and to not have seen any one of these films. The trilogy has recently been remastered and rereleased just last year, so there really is no excuse not to see them. So if you haven't, or just haven't seen them recently enough to remember what all the huzzah is about, do yourself a favor and clear about nine hours of your busy, busy schedule to shun yourself from society and check them out. And turn the volume up. Loud.