Eli Wallach‘s Tuco is the exact opposite. He’s as Ugly as they get: he’s a rapist, a robber, a murderer… Still, the two men forget their differences to work together on a scam involving a hanging rope. But this ain’t an alliance that can last, and before long, both are back at screwing with the other. That’s about the first hour of the movie, and it’s really fun. Eastwood is as cool as ever, and Wallach is hilarious as the Mexican bandit. They have great chemistry together, and their constant double-crossings are very enjoyable.
What makes this film superior to most Westerns, though, is that it takes you to unexpected places. Our unlikely duo will get caught in a wild chase for a chest of hidden gold, and even through the Civil War. They’ll also come across the Bad, a thug who’ll do anything to get that gold… He’s skillfully played by Lee Van Cleef, one of these actors who looks born to be in Westerns.
Sergio Leone sure is a great director. He has a unique visual style, combining breathtaking establishing shots of Western landscape and tense close-ups. The surroundings are as important as what goes on in the character’s faces. It’s often all about atmosphere. I can’t think of another director who can hold for that long shots of people looking at each other! But it works, because Leone has filled his film with actors with great faces, with Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach having the greatest of them all.
The opening is brilliant: it’s a series of short sequences presenting the three main characters. I also enjoyed a lot the scene in which one of Cleef’s men beats the shit out of Wallach while a military band is playing a melancholy song. The effect is riveting. If the film’s core is in intimate confrontations like the three-way showdown in the cemetery, it also features some big scale war scenes packed with extras and explosions.
What makes Leone’s work even more powerful is his collaboration with Ennio Morricone, who might have composed his best score here. Epic, badass and unpredictable, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” is great entertainment all the way. It migth just be the best Western ever made.