I started writing a short history for each of the Top 100 films on the American Film Institutes list, and then I realized that the AFI list is problematic for a few different reasons. It only represents the opinions of film critics, it stays within the boundaries of Hollywood and American born films, and it tends to pander towards the classics with films that were extremely important but don’t necessarily represent the opinions of those that watch them, the movie going public.
So, I present the exact same project with the Top 100 movies from The Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 list. The IMDB list is a much greater tool, and one I’ve used in the past because it’s dynamic. Over the course of the years it has changed substantially adding new films, removing old films and generally reflecting the opinions of those that watch the films.
Number Five on the list is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Sergio Leon’s Spaghetti Western trilogy ends here after a successful run with its nameless hero played by Clint Eastwood. The first two films, A Fistful of Dollars, and For A Few Dollars More were the beginnings of the Spaghetti Western genre, but can only be accepted as such if you give credit where it’s due for the films that influenced them.
In Japan, Akira Kurosawa wrote and directed his own nameless hero sequence with Yojimbo and Sanjuro in 1961 and 1962. The story is more or less the same and though Leon took ample liberties with the style and eventually the story in his sequels, the first film in his Man With No Name trilogy is mostly homage and remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, with Clint Eastwood as the smarmy hero instead of Toshiro Mifune.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly takes what Leon started in the first two films and crafts what many consider the ultimate western. Taking place in 1862, a subtitle to the American Civil War (the campaign in New Mexico) the tale tells of three men trying to find hidden gold coins to which each of them knows only part of the location. Leon’s trademarks are littered throughout the film, with sparse dialogue, long sweeping camera shots leading to epic climax (slowly of course) and a quiet, nameless hero with a hidden agenda.
The title of the film refers to its three protagonists; The Good (blondie) is played by Clint Eastwood as the nameless hero, The Bad is played by Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes, and The Ugly Eli Wallach as Tuco. At the beginning of the film Tuco and Blondie are in league, working together to get the reward money for Tuco’s head and then break him free of the gallows at the last second. The story begins to coalesce when Angel Eyes is looking for the Confederate gold and Blondie and Tuco accidentally stumble upon clues to its whereabouts. They need each other and the tension of the film is born.
Angel Eyes, as a confederate soldier takes the two men and tortures, and then joins forces with them to gain their confidence and their knowledge. The interplay of deceit, greed, and ultimately confrontation leads to the climactic ending where Blondie comes out on top and his erstwhile partners find themselves staring down death’s barrel.
The first 10 minutes of the film are completely silent while camera shots focus mostly on the faces and fingers of the characters, pointing to the importance of what they see and do rather than what they say. As for the trilogy aspect, Leon himself has stated that it was never his intent to craft a linear plot involving all three films and its even speculated that Clint Eastwood’s character isn’t the same person (as he is nameless in each film). However, the marketing machine saw it fit to link them together, and as the movie goer it’s fun to think that this is the same character doing the same amazing feats.
The film received a tempered reception when it was released because in those days the genre film was not looked upon as favorably as it is now. At the time, critics didn’t offer the respect deserved to the Spaghetti Western, because it was just that a Spaghetti Western. Now, it is labeled by many as one of the great movies of this century and a tribute to the Western genre of film.