Saturday, April 24, 2010
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and the power of shutting up
Title: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Genre: Leone with a budget
Notable for: The best damn theme music ever
Clint's subliminal message: "Hey, I've got a social conscience."
Andy proposed doing something bold and audacious to honor "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," so we went to KFC and got a couple of those new Double Downs to eat while watching.
Intelligent commentators say the Double Down represents everything that is wrong with the United States of America. It is a greasy slab comprised of two pieces of boneless chicken with bacon, cheese and sauce in the middle. Even many Americans consider the concept repulsive.
Luckily, we are not intelligent.
We pushed the "play" button and waited for that unforgettable theme music. Then we took bites. A person can do anything -- clip his fingernails or vacuum a rug -- and feel bold and audacious if that music plays in the background.
"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," is the last and most lucrative of Clint's three spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone. Despite top billing, Clint is overshadowed by Eli "The Ugly" Wallach. Wallach had more lines, more scenes and his character stole the show. Clint fared better than poor Lee "The Bad" Van Cleef, who is mostly invisible.
Clint is "The Good," but this description is a head-scratcher. Early in the film he marches Wallach, his uneasy partner con-man crime, into the desert and leaves him to die. This unnecessary and unexplained cruelty far exceeds anything bad he did the first two Leone films. So he does not seem particularly good.
The basic story is a gem. The three main characters are in pursuit of a fortune in buried gold. They endure various extreme hardships to find it. None of them is trustworthy but necessity forces them to form shifting alliances. At the end, they have a classic three-way showdown in a cemetery.
One minor complaint: Clint's so-called Man with No Name once again has a name and this time it is stupid. He is "Blondie." One character describes him as blond. Maybe in Italy Clint qualifies as blond, but not in the land of Double Downs.
One major complaint: Leone was finally given a budget and he used it to bloat the film.
Just as it reaches its climax, an excellent story is sidetracked by about a half hour of Civil War bullshit. Viewers at the time would judge from the trailer that this is a Civil War movie, which it most definitely is not. By the way, if you click the preceding link to the trailer, you may notice it confuses which character is "The Bad" and which is "The Ugly." It was a very poor model of accurate promotional material.
Civil War stuff is thrown in, by all appearances, so Leone can use his big budget to film a battle scene, blow up a bridge and let Clint fire a few cannon shots. Clint also mumbles something about the waste of war. The effort to give him and the film a social conscience is clumsy and unconvincing.
But what the hell? It's still a great film.
Clint's quiet loner character is taken to an extreme in this film. He never seems to string more than two sentences together. His version of a monologue is, "I have a feeling it's going to be a good, long battle." Usually his lines are more like "We better wait for nightfall" or "Yeah."
Critics took this as a sign Clint cannot act, but he was onto something big.
The big thing about silence was nicely laid out in the best line of the film, which was delivered by Wallach. A revenge-seaking lowlife sneaks up while Wallach takes a bath, pulls a gun and starts explaining intentions. Then Wallach shoots him dead with a pistol hidden beneath soap bubbles in the tub.
"When you have to shoot, shoot," Wallach says to the dead man. "Don't talk."
Real men don't confuse talk for action, and Clint knew it all along.
Next up: "Hang 'Em High."