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Eastwood classic western gets special treatment

Brandon Hollihan | Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Once upon a time, Clint Eastwood didn’t cry in his movies. He seldom spoke, and what he did say (“do you feel lucky … punk?”) would be remembered forever.Not only, however, is his part in the Spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of worldwide acclaim, but everything pertaining to the film has gone down as a work of art. And Eastwood isn’t the only hero to the film’s inception. The film, originally released in 1966, was re-released in a special edition DVD last year and befits a movie of this caliber.Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach complete a trio of sensational characters, and director Sergio Leone gives the film great purpose in its cinematics and storytelling. Ennio Morricone’s score, an instant hit, also adds to the entertainment on the screen.The three main characters of the film – Blondie (Eastwood), Angel Eyes (Van Cleef) and Tuco (Wallach) – jockey with each other in the search for a deceased soldier’s hidden fortune, all in the midst of the Civil War in the Southwestern territories. The War’s repercussions affect the characters, as they find themselves in different places – a Union Prison Camp, a monastery aiding wounded soldiers and a calamitous battle for a narrow bridge over a river.The cinematography, costuming and larger-than-life performances are crucial to creating not only an entertaining film but a film with underlying morality, as well. Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco kill professionally and excessively, as do the soldiers caught in the war. The difference is that while the three characters kill to protect themselves and proceed towards a greater goal, the bloodshed in the war seems almost meaningless. At one moment, as Union soldiers prepare to leave a town, Leone holds the camera still for a unflinching view of a thieving soldier’s plight under a shooting squadron, with Angel Eyes and some of his hired cronies looking on. The scene has nothing to do with the plot but is immensely meaningful to the director’s drive to portray violence as an alternative in which one finds little purpose.Greed is also a key theme in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The famous “Ecstasy of Gold” sequence at the site of the money is filmed chaotically with a climactic musical scoring from Morricone, as the bandit is almost driven mad in his search to find the treasure’s exact location.The special edition DVD is heavier on historical criticism with extra bonuses such as lost footage or film documentation. Film historian Richard Schickel provides commentary for the film, which is insightful but a tad boring. He’s more concise in the two documentaries regarding Leone’s film technique, “Leone’s West” and “The Leone Style.”Another good documentary is “The Man Who Lost the Civil War,” an account of a failed Civil War campaign in the West by Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley.The core feature in the deleted scenes is a re-piecing of a scene in which Tuco, already searching for Blondie as payback for an earlier double-crossing, almost finds him in a remote town where the hero relaxes with a lover. The scene was never entirely shot, but photographic stills and narrative attempt to describe what Leone was aiming for in the scene.The legend of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” has grown to the point where it seems to hit cable television airwaves every other weekend. Great characters, brutally precise directing and a multi-layered story make Leone’s work the standard for the Western film era and an important event in the history of filmmaking in this re-mastered edition.