RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR | NT NETWORK
Like ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) and ‘For a Few Dollars More’ (1965), the first two films in his ‘Dollars Trilogy’, director Sergio Leone considered ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ as a satire of the Western genre. After the success of the first two films, executives at United Artists approached screenwriter, Luciano Vincenzoni to sign a contract for the rights to the third one. He, producer Alberto Grimaldi and Leone had no plans, but with their blessing, Vincenzoni pitched an idea about three rogues, who are looking for some treasure at the time of the American Civil War. The studio agreed.
Eastwood reprised his role of the ‘Man with No Name’. Charles Bronson was offered both the roles of Angel Eyes and Tuco, with Leone fearing that audiences would not take kindly to Lee Van Cleef going from the likable Colonel Douglas Mortimer in ‘For a Few Dollars More’ to a sneering villain. Bronson declined both, as he was in England filming ‘The Dirty Dozen’ (1967). Finally, When Van Cleef was cast as a villain, he joked “the only reason they brought me back was because they forgot to kill me off in ‘For A Few Dollars More’”. Leone picked Eli Wallach to play Tuco after watching his brief role as a Tuco-like bandit in ‘How the West Was Won’ (1962).
Eastwood was initially not pleased with the script and was concerned he might be upstaged by Wallach. “In the first film (of the trilogy) I was alone,” he told Leone, “In the second, we were two. Here we are three. If it goes on this way, in the next one I will be starring with the American cavalry.” Fortunately for Eastwood, there was no fourth part of the movie. Eastwood also played difficult while accepting the role, inflating his earnings up to $250,000, another Ferrari and 10 per cent of the profits in the United States when eventually the film was released there, unlike the first two films where he received a straight fee salary.
Filming began at the Cinecittà studio in Rome in mid-May, 1966, including the opening scene between Eastwood and Wallach. The production then moved on to Spain’s plateau region near Burgos in the north, which doubled for the South-western United States, and again shot the western scenes in Almería in the south of Spain. This time, the production required more elaborate sets, including a town under cannon fire, an extensive prison camp and an American Civil War battlefield.
For the climax, Leone was unable to find an actual cemetery, so the Spanish pyrotechnics chief hired 250 Spanish soldiers to build a cemetery with several thousand gravestones to resemble an ancient Roman circus. For the scene where the bridge was blown up, it had to be filmed twice, as in the first take all three cameras were destroyed by the explosion.
Eastwood and Wallach flew to Madrid together, and between shooting scenes Eastwood would relax and practice his golf swing. Wallach was almost poisoned during filming when he accidentally drank from a bottle of acid that a film technician had set next to his soda bottle. Wallach complained that while Leone was a brilliant director, he was very lax about ensuring the safety of his actors during dangerous scenes.
By the end of filming, Eastwood had finally had enough of Leone’s perfectionist directorial traits. Leone, often forcefully, insisted on shooting scenes from many different angles, paying attention to the most minute of details which would exhaust the actors. After the film was completed, Eastwood never worked with Leone again, later turning down the role as Harmonica in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968), for which Leone had personally flown to Los Angeles to give him the script. The role eventually went to Charles Bronson.
The film known for Leone’s signature long drawn and close-up style of filming, which he did by mixing extreme face shots and sweeping long shots, had distinctive use of violence, tension, and stylistic gunfight. Leone with his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli also employed stylistic trick shooting, such as Blondie shooting the hat off a person’s head and severing a hangman’s noose with a well-placed shot.
The score of the film is composed by frequent Leone collaborator, Ennio Morricone whose distinctive original compositions containing gunfire, whistling by John O’Neill, and yodelling permeate the film. The main theme resembling the howling of a coyote – which blends in with an actual coyote howl in the first shot after the opening credits – is a two-pitch melody that is a frequent motif, and is used for the three main characters. The main theme also titled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was a hit in 1968 with the soundtrack album on the charts for more than a year.
As an international cast was employed, actors performed in their native languages. Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach spoke English, and were dubbed in Italian for the debut release in Rome. For the American version, the lead acting voices were used, but supporting cast members were dubbed in English.
‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ opened in Italy on December 23, 1966, and produced at a budget of US$1.2 million, grossed $6.3 million at that time. Twelve months later, it was released in the United States on December 29, 1967. The film finally went on to gross over $25 million at the Box Office.
Critical opinion of the film on initial release was mixed, as many reviewers at that time looked down on Spaghetti Westerns. Some critics censured the film for its depiction of violence. However, despite the initial negative reception by some critics, today, the film has accumulated very positive feedback.
The original Italian domestic version of the film was 177 minutes long, but the international version was shown at various lengths. Most prints, specifically those shown in the United States, had a runtime of 161 minutes, 16 minutes shorter than the Italian premiere version. Others, especially British prints, ran as short as 148 minutes.
In 2002 the film was restored with 14 minutes of scenes cut for the US release re-inserted into it. Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach were brought back in to dub their characters’ lines more than 35 years after the film’s original release. Voice actor, Simon Prescott substituted for Lee Van Cleef who died in 1989. Other voice actors filled in for actors who have since died. In 2004 MGM released this version in a two-disc special edition DVD.
Interestingly, Vincenzoni stated on numerous occasions that he had written a treatment for a sequel, tentatively titled ‘Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo N. 2’ (‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 2’). The film would have been set 20 years after the original and followed Tuco pursuing Blondie’s grandson for the gold. Eastwood expressed interest in taking part in the film’s production, including acting as narrator. Leone was also approached. Eventually, the project was vetoed by Leone, as he did not want the original film’s title or characters to be reused.
The working title of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ was ‘I due Magnifici Straccioni’ (‘The Two Magnificent Tramps’). It was changed just before shooting began when writer Luciano Vincenzoni thought up ‘Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo’ (‘The Good, the Ugly, the Bad’), which director Sergio Leone loved. In the United States, United Artists considered using the original Italian translation, ‘River of Dollars’ or ‘The Man with No Name’, but eventually decided on ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.
There is no dialogue for the first ten-and-a-half minutes of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.
In the theatrical trailer of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, Angel Eyes is ‘The Ugly’, while Tuco ‘The Bad’, which is the reverse of their designations in the actual film: Blondie aka ‘Man with No Name’ (Clint Eastwood), Angel Eyes aka Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) representing the good, the bad and the ugly, respectively.
In the Southwest during the Civil War, a box containing $200,000 in Confederate gold is stolen and hidden in an unmarked grave, in Sad Hill Cemetery. Nearby, a mysterious stranger Blondie (Clint Eastwood) – also called the ‘Man with No Name’ – has formed an uneasy alliance with Tuco (Eli Wallach), a Mexican outlaw. To make money, Blondie turns Tuco over to a series of sheriffs, collects the bounty money, then rescues the Mexican outlaw from a hanging and the two of them share the reward. Their scheme nearly fails because of a poor shot by Blondie to release Tuco, who then decides to betray his companion. Although Blondie kills the three men commissioned by Tuco to kill him, he is nonetheless captured by Tuco and dragged through the dry heat of the desert to near death. When Blondie informs Tuco that he has found the location of the hidden box, Tuco immediately gives him water and shade following which they embark on a search for the box. Meanwhile, Angel Eyes aka Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef), a mercenary is conducting his own search for the box and has joined the Union Army to find the soldier who knows where the gold is buried. Dressed in Confederate uniforms, Tuco and Blondie are captured by the Union Army and brought before Sentenza. Tuco, claiming to know the location of the box, is brutally beaten by Sentenza until he reveals that the gold is hidden in a graveyard. The three men then separately head for the graveyard, each trying to dupe the others into revealing the exact gravestone under which the box is buried. In a final gunfight, Blondie shoots Sentenza but spares Tuco and leaves him his share of the money – all the Mexican bandit has to do for the gold coins is free himself from the rope hanging around his neck. Before he rides off, however, Blondie shoots through the rope, and Tuco is left in the middle of nowhere, wealthy but without a horse.