Discussed (not strictly reviewed) by Glenn Erickson
Fifteen years ago Sergio Leone was a cult figure discussed only by cinephiles. His films were
discussed widely in terms of Spaghetti Westerns or as Clint Eastwood movies. Now he's one of the
most popular directors ever, and his name is familiar to people who've never heard of Howard Hawks or
Raoul Walsh. Leone has superceded the fading Sam Peckinpah as the most influential director of
action and violence; Quentin Tarantino has called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly "the
best-directed movie of all time."
In 1998 MGM released a DVD of GBU that had sixteen minutes of scenes cut from the American
version, in the Italian language only. They were a separate extra. That release prompted a film
project to create the longest possible version of the film for theatrical presentation; MGM archivist
John Kirk prepared the project for years and finally completed it in 2003.
This new "Extended Version Collector's Set" may be a source of controversy among some loyal fans of
Sergio Leone. But the average viewer will see and hear big improvements to both picture and track.
West Texas, during the Civil War. Bounty hunter Blondie (Clint Eastwood) saves the
incorrigible outlaw Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach) from other opportunists. He collects the reward on
head in one town, and then rescues him for the purpose of turning him in a second time elsewhere.
Tuco is abandoned by his false partner but eventually catches up with Blondie and tortures him out in
the desert. They stumble upon news of a lost treasure worth thousands and form another
uneasy alliance to retrieve it. Unknown to either of them, the unscrupulous killer Angel
Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is after the treasure as well.
I wrote a basic review for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 1999 when it was packaged
with MGM's 3-pack gift set.
My opinion of the film hasn't changed - it's a unique and classic western and easily Sergio
Leone's most entertaining film. The cynical doublecrosses of the first two "Dollar" films have
aged into a format that supports sentiment and broad comedy alike.
With an additional 18 minutes of new scenes GBU is still the same picture with a
redistribution of emphasis. The new material fleshes out the characters of both Eli Wallach's
Tuco and Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes. There's more melancholy about the slaughter and waste of
the Civil War. The longer version patches some gaping continuity gaps as well. This cut brings
GBU almost back to its full premiere length in Rome in late 1966. It is longer than
any cut released in theaters to paying audiences.
DVD has just turned seven, and many early titles are coming out in "improved"
versions. This Extended Version Collector's Set of GBU
is both visually improved and 10% longer. Any casual viewer who remembers the film well will be
surprised to see a new Clint Eastwood gundown scene in the restored cut.
Film-wise, much of GBU was rebuilt from the ground up. With a copy of the full Italian
version and a Techniscope negative, MGM archivist John Kirk engaged the film restoration company
Triage for the film work. They rematched most of GBU by eye and reprinted a new 35mm 'scope
conversion negative. That process covered in one of the documentaries on the disc but what isn't
made clear there is that the negative supplied from Italy had flaws. For some sections of the
film it was decided to fall back on a good 35mm American dupe negative instead. You can see some
of the problems in the restored scenes: mottling in the sky when Lee Van Cleef arrives at the ruined
Rebel fort; yellow staining in the new scene where Tuco and Blondie ride a wagon through a battlefield.
Triage's superior optics greatly improved the picture quality. Techniscope exposes a tiny negative
half as tall as a normal film frame. The reason Techniscope looks so sharp is that the optical
quality is much better for non-anamorphic lenses. But the original 60s conversion lenses used to
enlarge and squeeze the image back to full 35mm weren't of the greatest quality. Triage uses
a custom rig that can focus on more than one axis, and the resulting improvement could be seen at
the film's re-premiere last summer.
There are eighteen minutes' worth of new scenes. Sixteen of these are the same standard
Italian-only scenes excerpted on the previous DVD (See Savant's original
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Italian version article from 1998 for details on the added Italian scenes). Re-recording English
dialogue for the new footage was the biggest "if"
in John Kirk's restoration project, and thankfully both Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood were
interested and could make themselves available to dub the new lines. In Clint's case the dubbing
didn't take long - he's just as laconic in the cut scenes as he is in the rest of the picture.
Actor Simon Prescott imitated the voice of the late Lee Van Cleef.
The acting and voice quality is a reasonable match, although both stars' voices have changed over
the years. Eli recreates the gusto of his performance so well we wish he'd come back and play Tuco,
aged 90 with Clint in a sequel. Eastwood's voice is thinner, but I can't see an impersonator doing nearly
as well. Prescott's dubbing of Van Cleef varies
from scene to scene but essentially is good enough not to draw much attention to itself. It's a bit
like Anthony Hopkins providing the missing voice for Sir Laurence Olivier in Spartacus - it
sounds a bit like Van Cleef imitating someone else!
The one completely new scene is called The Grotto. In it Tuco recruits three bandits
to murder Blondie. This is the only scene not shown in the original Rome engagement in 1966, before
GBU was cut to 161 minutes for general release. John Kirk elected to retain The Grotto
because producer Grimaldi categorically told him that it was part of the official cut of the film
at the Rome Premiere and was dropped from the first release only for time, against the director's
wishes. Kirk reinstated it with the producer's blessing. The restored scene fills GBU's most glaring
continuity gap. Without the action in the Grotto, the three gunmen who try to ambush Blondie are
unmotivated and gratuitous. The scene also presents Tuco as an accomplished manipulator instead of a
The added material does change the character of the film. Scenes in a fort full of wounded rebels
present a more sobering picture of the war. Angel Eyes seems more thoughtful and intelligent, balancing
his sadistic villainy elsewhere. Tuco is slightly less clownish and more crafty and clever. Somewhat
contrary to the American "Man with No Name" PR image of GBU as a thoroughly cynical action picture,
Leone had deeper ideas. Savant's opinion is that the longer version uncovers an essential irony in
the film's title. All three of the "magnificent adventurers" are Bad and Ugly - Blondie's relative
Goodness is barely perceptable. He simply has a slicker style.
Actually, the film should be a bit longer. There's more than a minute missing from the Tuco Torture
Scene (see below). The original Italian release also had an intermission that would have been helpful
for the theatrical reissue - Three hours can be a long time between restroom breaks. The original
intermission happened in the mission scene, just after the sick Blondie whispers to Tuco and calls him
"partner." There's a big time jump across a cut to Tuco walking down the hall much later. That's
where the intermission belonged, and it would have been a good touch.
The audio has been remixed. John Kirk's film restoration project was formally proposed in 1998
but had to wait until 2002 when funding became available. The delay was a nervous issue, as it was always
possible that Eastwood or Wallach could develop health issues and be unable to revoice their
The financing finally came from the AMC cable channel, at which time it was decided
that part of the work should be to create a new 5.1 mix. As a complete set of discrete
audio elements was not available, it became one of those technically complicted efforts where the
existing tracks were given a stereo sound through various electronic tricks.
Part of the original buzz on the audio track stemmed from its first AMC showings, where bad audio
reproduction mixed the channels incorrectly and caused some of the audio to cancel out. The effects
were exaggerated and distorted. (This is an opinion gathered from individuals who saw the broadcast -
Savant missed it).
The other audio objection was to the sweetening of the gunshot sound effects to beef up the film's
spaghetti "wheeze" rifle cracks, the ones that seem to come from an old Mattel toy Winchester. John Kirk
reported that in 5.1 without sweetening, the old gunshots sounded like they were heard over a telephone.
Kirk never had the practical choice of not remixing, and remixing meant making alterations. He did make
it clear that this is an 'extended cut' as opposed to a 'director's cut.' This will be The Good, The
Bad and the Ugly 2002 the way Apocalypse Now Redux is really Apocalypse Now 2001. The
original 1966 American variant of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly will be maintained in parallel
with this newer version, as if they were separate films. 3
The best thing a studio can do when they've remixed an older soundtrack is to provide an original
track as an alternate viewing option. MGM has included the original monaural track, the
original Italian mono. Technically and artistically, that is Sergio Leone's original mix and
work that he supervised. Detail-oriented fans will discover that the Italian track
is more sensitively mixed than the American version, especially when it comes to Ennio Morricone's music
MGM's "Extended Version Collector's Set" 2-disc DVD of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
comes in a formidable package. The oversized box opens up to reveal one disc each in the two sides,
with some published extras in the middle. Disc one has the feature accompanied by a Richard Schickel
commentary. The color is fine, and the encoding is good if not stunning. It's a distinct improvement
over the 6 year-old previous release. There's the 5.1 mix re-engineered in 2003 and, on a separate
channel, the original monaural Italian track.
Disc 2 2
has the video extras. A new forty-minute docu is split into two parts, Leone's West and
Leone's Style. It has lengthy interview material with both Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach,
along with English version supervisor Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, restorer John Kirk and
critic Richard Shickel. Wallach tells his favorite stories and shows that he's still as feisty
as ever; Eastwood is in a reflective mood, as if he hadn't thought about this period of his career
in a long time. Both have fun remembering comical details of the shooting. They relate the story of the
bridge scene as one of the funniest (but expensive) filming flubs of all time. Often serious and
uncomfortable-looking in old interviews, Eastwood seems to be having a grand time here, and his
candor is a highlight of the disc set.
Mickey Knox's story of the dubbing is the first time that aspect of these pictures has
been described on camera by someone who actually did the work. The actors describe performing on a
noisy set, and then Knox follows with his own memories of inventing good English dubbing dialogue to
replace the Italian speaking actors. He had to guess at Eastwood's often ad-libbed lines by endlessly
studying the film on a moviola - if there were guide tracks from the set, they'd been tossed.
Then, after Knox had written a script
to fit Eastwood's mouth movements, Eastwood showed up at the dubbing studio with his own exact notes
of what he really said in each take. Realizing during filming that nobody was doing anything about the
problem, Clint had diligently acted as his own script supervisor! With that serious of an attitude,
it's no wonder Eastwood became a director.
Everyone interviewed had sharp memories of Lee Van Cleef. In halting English, Alberto Grimaldi remembers
Leone's appraisal of the gaunt actor with the hawklike gaze: "His eyes ... they burn holes ... in the screen."
That's pretty accurate.
The other short subjects concentrate on different aspects of the movie. Variety music critic
Jon Burlingame gives us a short illustrated overview of Ennio Morricone's vast contribution, the
beautiful and quirky music cues that make the films re-watchable almost to infinity. Much of the discussion
is about whether Leone played back temp tracks on the set of GBU to set the mood for
scenes. The actors say No but other witnesses say Yes. It's a case of memories going back 40 years
to details of things one never intended to remember.
John Kirk and Triage owner Paul Rutan host a Restoration featurette that shows in detail exactly
what Techniscope is and looks like, and what makes it so difficult to work with now 30 years after
it became obsolete. The closeups of Techniscope side-by side with full 35mm show the main problem:
every last shot had to be matched by eye as there were no print-through "key frames" to guide the
editors. The actual film shown being worked on in the close-ups, by the way, is For a Few Dollars
The Man Who Lost the Civil War is a cutdown of an originally hour-long docu by Peter Spirer
that chronicles the actual skirmishes in West Texas called the Sibley campaign. Many of the place
names (Socorro, Apache Canyon) as well as the generals named in GBU are mentioned. Leone exaggerated
a lot with trench warfare and huge prison camps, but there is a factual basis for the Civil
War setting. Although Leone's train-mounted seige cannon is accurate, in the early 1860s there
surely weren't any railroads that far West yet!
"Deleted Scenes" contains two items. Tuco Torture is the uncut Italian version of the scene where
Mario Brega beats Eli Wallach senseless. It was recut for all versions long ago due to negative damage,
which resulted in the soundtrack background being chopped up to fit. The long scene was not
re-integrated into the feature on the DVD because the source was an imperfect print. Telecine work can
hide many flaws on video, so it doesn't look too bad here. It never would have passed muster for the
The second deleted scene is a photo-and-text reconstruction of the legendary Socorro Sequence
often discussed on Leone web boards. Using a handful of stills and careful descriptions given by
Leone authors and experts Ulrich Angersbach and Ulrich Bruckner, the piece attempts to give a feel
for what the scene was. Alberto Grimaldi said that it was finished but dropped even before the
premiere. Snippets from it found their way into a French trailer.
There's also a poster gallery and the original American theatrical trailer.
As extras in the box, we're given a little representation of the original soundtrack album art, and four
rather beautifully matted mini-posters on heavy card stock. There's also a little insert booklet
that reprints Roger Ebert's glowing 2003 reissue review of the movie. Curiously, he remembers not
being overwhelmed by GBU back in 1968, when he'd been a film critic for just a year or so.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly rates:
Supplements: Richard Schickel commentary, Italian mono track, Two new docus Leone's West and
Leone's Style, Featurettes The Man Who Lost the Civil War, Reconstructing The Good, The
Bad and The Ugly and Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; uncut
Tuco Torture scene, deleted Socorro Scene reconstructed with still photos. Poster Gallery, trailer,
GBU mini posters.
Packaging: Unusual oversized box case
Reviewed: April 29, 2004
1. I've always wanted to do
a special edition on Leone's Duck You Sucker. In the last two years both James Coburn and
Rod Steiger have passed away, closing the door forever on hearing their stories about that film.
2. Savant edited and helped arrange many of the extras on Disc 2, so
keep this in mind when reading my comments - bias is usually obvious to everybody except the biased. I'm not
criticizing the disc set here as much as I am elaborating on it.
3. A good argument for the "don't touch a frame" point of view is what happened
to the English versions of the Steve Reeves movie Hercules and the Mario Bava's
Danger: Diabolik. For one reason or another, some or all of the original dub voices in both movies
were re-recorded for video with new talent. What happened to Danger: Diabolik can be read about
here. In Hercules, Steve Reeves'
originally boomy, testosterone-laden baritone was swapped for a guy who sounds more like Eddie Deezen.
Half the campy nostalgia of the show was hearing Reeves blast out like a diesel truck horn: "CURSES! I'VE
BEEN TRICKED BY THE GODS!" The artistic purity of pop genre pictures is rarely respected, and by
any reasonable logic, our concern to protect the integrity of Rodan should be as important as
that of Dr. Strangelove. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is rather in the middle, being
both high art and popcorn commerce at the same time. It also generates considerable studio income almost
forty years after it was released, a factor that outweighs all others in the reality of DVD.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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