Like a lot of movies for me (most recently Lost in America), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a film I was exposed to as a kid, then it drifted away from me as I got exposed to different films from the stars in the film and the director of same, and only in the last few years did I get reacquainted with it, similar films of that era and of those involved with it, and I enjoyed the ride.
The final film in Sergio Leone's Man With No Name Trilogy finds Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef, Escape From New York) on a contract to find a stash of Confederate gold and will stop at nothing to get to it and maybe whet his beak in the process. Meanwhile, a Mexican bandit named Tuco (Eli Wallach, The Magnificent Seven) and our Man with No Name, affectionately called "Blondie" (Clint Eastwood, American Sniper), travel throughout the West in a scheme where Blondie turns Tuco in for a reward, but frees him when he is about to be hung, and they repeat this in several cities, until they also eventually learn of this gold cache, and the three go through some twists and turns in their quest to get the gold, be it for themselves, their employer, or maybe to split amongst each other?
I enjoyed how Leone was in such control over the material and was so comfortable in the storytelling that it could be done in such a way that it was kind of silly and its convolution was over the top to a point of near excess, that you cannot help but go along for the ride, and even if one hadn't seen the other two MWNN films, Leone brings you up to speed with near comic introductory cards that give you the intent of the characters from the start. Through a series of twists and turns that include a military battle, prisoner of war camp, and motivations/allegiances that turn on a dime, Leone puts you through the roller coaster with little effort because you bought in early on.
Leone has such a grasp on the viewer emotion that when he does break out the gun fights, things are brought into trademark style, including quick cuts of the character's expressions, rotating around the targets, building viewer tension to the point where you can't help throw your hands up and yell for the gunfire, which he builds nicely.
The performances by the stars are also pleasant to enjoy. Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef are all playing characters that aren't redeemable or had very little positive qualities on the whole, but in playing bad guys the viewer has to make the choice on what side to take, and because the story has double crosses stacked on top of the other, it's as if you're watching a shell game unfold in front of you, with the protagonist being the ever evasive nut you're supposed to find. The thing is all of them are nuts, so you are thrown into the fun journey, which the actors bring you into and make you a part of nicely.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly remains one of the best films from a talented director, and performances by the cast complementing a story that is downright fun. Like a lot of other films I've seen as a kid, coming back to GBU is almost as fun as the film itself, unless someone wants to throw a bunch of Confederate gold my way.The Blu-rays:
The 162-minute theatrical and 179-minute extended cuts are on separate discs for your enjoyment, with AVC encodes for both. I'm going to avoid getting into the weeds by comparing these to older versions, so in a vacuum, the Kino Lorber release is not bad. Image detail is present (I wasn't expecting much) and colors appear natural, though it does push a little on the hot side from searing daylight to black levels that are inconsistent. From my understanding, prior releases may look a little better and/or closer to Leone's intent. While I can't speak to that, I can say it's a decent release, and the 4K transfer of the theatrical cut is a nice touch.The Sound:
Separate six and two-channel DTS-HD MA tracks grace the films and they sound as good as they're going to get. Morricone's score powers through the front of the theater in the opening credits, a couple of Civil War battles that include cannons and explosions also roar and present the closest opportunity to some low-end fidelity either film has. Dialogue is generally well-balanced, channel panning and directional effects are fairly scarce, albeit both given the age of the source material. It is a complaint-free experience.Extras:
The extras from the previous MGM release are here along with a couple of small items. Disc One holds the theatrical cut, along with a commentary from film historian Tim Lucas. Lucas walks through the introductions and the context of this film in the careers of Eastwood, Wallach, Van Cleef and Leone, gets into some production trivia and historical notes on the film. He does get into some scene breakdowns and discusses character motivations and action implications, and while there is some watching of the film (a constant in a 2.5 hour film), it's a nice track to include. Along with it include trailers to 5 Leone films, 2 stills galleries, 2 deleted scenes (2:06), an alternate scene (:52) that shows the optical flip present in some cuts of it, and a critic hosted segment called "Trailers from Hell" (3:24) which gets into the short preview.
Disc Two's theatrical cut includes commentaries from Richard Schickel and Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling. Each track is interesting in subtle differences, with Schickel going into more scene breakdown than the Lucas track, but as a longtime Eastwood confidant he was also to share some perspective on Clint's thoughts of the film as well. Frayling's track is more active and he talks about the deeper meaning in some shrots, the references to other Leone films that appear in this one, and the larger themes of GBU in all. Each track is worth the time you put into them and are good in their own regard.
The balance of the extras are in less than desirable condition; when you view them, it's like watching laggy internet video streams. "Leone's West" (19:55) looks at the genre of spaghetti westerns and European directors' contributions to same, and how Leone's differed from them. Eastwood and Wallach discuss working on set, thoughts on one another and their director, along with the story. There is even a moment or two of scene recollection as well. "Il Maestro" is a two-part look at Ennio Morricone's music (20:15), and includes some historical detail on the composer, his relationship with Leone and a couple of the production debates the two had, and breaks down some of the score in this, and talks about why it, and his work in a larger perspective, are so good. "The Leone Style" (23:48) gets more into shot breakdown and production recollection, what the cast liked about Leone and Eastwood & Wallach discuss working on the set in larger detail. They also talk about the larger themes in Leone's films too in a decent piece. "The Man Who Lost the Civil War" (14:23) gets into a historical discussion that ties into the film, believe it or not, and "Reconstructing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (11:09) is a self-explanatory look at bringing the purest version of Leone's work to life, and has a nice look at what was put into the work of restoration. 4 vignettes (2:32) are anecdotes and cute jokes. Next are two deleted scenes (10:15), including one recreated for the film, and the much noted French trailer (3:30) for its alternate angles and footage.Final Thoughts:
There are a few different versions of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly out there and as far as the film goes, it has to be considered a touchstone for any remotely passionate fan of film, with a fun story and performances to match. When you get past the film is where your decision to buy or double-dip may lie. The supplements would seem to mean that not a lot of new ground is going to be covered in a future release, so you're left to wonder if you want to consume Kino Lorber's master or ones from previous releases. On its own, GBU is a top notch work for a much beloved cinematic gem.