Saddle up yer horses…
I knew it was just a matter of time before I crossed paths with Mr. No Name again, and here we are with 1967’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. There are more faces and more bounty hunting, but this time there’s a Civil War angle to cap things off. No Name is called Blondie for this go-round, but that’s a small detail in the grand scheme of things.
Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef) or Angel Eyes, as he’s called, is back, too, and he’s looking for a guy named Jackson who has a large sum of cash, and he finds out Jackson has changed his name to Bill Carson. Sentenza is pretty ruthless, too–he shoots Stevens, the guy who tells him where Jackson is hiding out, but not before he helps himself to some of Stevens’s wife’s posole verde.
Blondie (Clint Eastwood) is doing all right in an underhanded way. He and a buddy named Tuco (Eli Wallach) have a deal: Blondie brings Tuco in and collects the sizeable reward, and then just as Tuco is about to get hanged Blondie secretly shoots him down before they ride off and split the reward money.
Tuco is itching to switch places with Blondie so Blondie can see how it feels to almost hang, but Tuco isn’t as good a shot and Blondie is getting bored. After one last job he gives Tuco a ride out into the desert and then leaves him there without splitting the reward money. Tuco has no choice but to walk back. All seventy miles.
It’s late in the Civil War, and all the Confederate troops are on their way out of town. Meanwhile, Tuco is on his way into town, and he’s out for blood. He basically steals a revolver and a giant bottle of whiskey from a shopkeeper and barges into the hotel where Blondie is staying. Long story short, he takes Blondie hostage and forces him to walk miles across the desert.
Oh yeah, and that Jackson dude is still out there. Tuco finds him in a runaway stagecoach almost dead and tries to winkle the location of the money out of him, but Blondie gets there first even if he is dying of exhaustion and thirst. Tuco gets desperate when Blondie passes out and nurses him back to health. Or he tries, anyway. By hook or by crook he’s going to find out where that money is.
Blondie is on to Tuco, of course, and he doesn’t trust him as far as he can throw him. He’s going to keep that knowledge he got from Jackson close to him for as long as he can, and even then he’ll let Tuco know who’s boss. Not to spoil anything, but things wind up with what many consider the greatest three-way staring contest in film history.
Yeah, Angel Eyes shows up at several junctures and he’s plenty mad. Jackson or Bill Carson or whatever his name is is a tricky quarry, and just because someone uses the name doesn’t mean they’re the right guy. “Bill Carson” is kind of like the Dread Pirate Roberts; the name gets passed around a lot and no one remembers where it came from.
Wow. The last movie in the No Name trilogy is the biggest. It’s got the meatiest story, it’s got the longest running time, and it’s got the highest stakes. It’s also got the biggest and best payoff.
Sergio Leone’s trademarks are all here. Lots of faces and big wide spaces, and just as they were in the other films the faces and spaces are oftentimes more important than the dialogue. The score is hugely iconic and no one who hears it minds a bit. Even people who haven’t seen The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly have sung the theme at one time or another.
And there are the tropes, the collective name of which is Legion. It’s Clint Eastwood in his iconic No Name look with the serape and the cigarillo. The characters wear jingly spurs, they ride off into the sunset or at least the desert, and the standoffs are the stuff of imitation and homage. Even Tuco and Blondie crawling across the desert begging for water have been done over and over elsewhere, although most of the time the poor castaway doesn’t look quite as crusty and grody.
That said, I feel like the movie runs a little bit long. I know I’ve complained about movies not giving themselves time to develop characters, but The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has the opposite issue. Neither of the previous two movies took almost three hours to get where they were going, and we don’t need that long to figure out that Tuco is a twerp. Eli Wallach plays his role so well that less can be more.
The other thing is I wish there had been more between Angel Eyes and Blondie. One of the best parts of For A Few Dollars More was the interplay between too-cool-for-school Lee Van Cleef and scrappy upstart Clint Eastwood, and in GBU the dynamic is more like, “Oh, hi, it’s you again.”
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The humor is good, the story is good, as a western it’s peerless, but it could have been told just as well in less time.
For more of the Legends of Western Cinema Week, please see Rachel at Hamlette’s Soliloquy, Heidi at Along the Brandywine, and Olivia at Meanwhile In Rivendell. Thanks for hosting this, ladies–it was a lot of fun! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for another post…
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