The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Why I Love This Scene: Four reasons: The editing, the score, the acting, the direction.
Remember the days when film was considered an art form? Most of you probably forgot because everything put out by hollywood is superhero schlock and remake after remake that amount to jack shit. Mad Max: Fury Road is one I would consider but not many else can be considered “artistic” and worthy of being critiqued in film study classes. I could be hyperbolic in my statement but seriously, it has been a long while. They are very few and far between in my opinion. A dying breed.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was basically the first Western I ever saw. When I was starting to take film seriously in high school, I remember getting excited that one of the cable networks had the Sergio Leone classic on one night and I set my VCR to tape it. I think the only thing I knew about it was that it starred Clint Eastwood and the iconic theme (aye-aye-aye-aye…wah-wah-wah). I fell in love with it after my first viewing and I still consider it one of my all-time favorites. I’ve since seen a lot more classic westerns and I realized that before The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly most westerns idolized or romanticized the rugged hero cowboy. But the Spaghetti westerns changed that mystique and gave us more realistic, gritty and anti-heroic cowboys. And even though the title cards tell us who’s exactly “the good” “the bad” and “the ugly” the trio are in actuality good, bad and ugly at the same time.
The scene I’m highlighting is the final duel, when the three stand off in a cemetery and have to decide how to kill the other two to gain access to the location of the $200,000 in gold coins. It’s a tense scene and goes on for like 4 minutes of them just staring at each other with Ennio Morricone’s outstanding score punctuating the stress of the characters. The editing is phenomenal in showcasing the “countdown” to action with long shots becoming medium shots, then becoming close-ups and extreme close-ups of just their eyes looking back and forth and their hands itching closer to their firearms. If this is your first time seeing the flick, then you’re on the edge-of-your-seat just sweating trying to figure out what’s going to happen. (actually watching the scene again right now I’m still giddy with antic—apation!) And like a slow burn it builds and builds and climaxes like a cinematic violent orgasm!
I just wrote that orgasm metaphor off the top of my head (pun intended) but it makes perfect sense. Long build up for a few minutes involving long stares and “guns.” Pressure builds and builds and finally moment of climax! Eli Wallach had no bullets and fumbles with his gun and thus experienced dysfunction. After Lee Van Cleef is killed by Eastwood’s deadly “ejaculate,” Eastwood has some extra “money-shots” to finish him off as he lies dead in a empty grave. It’s very pornographic the more I think of it. But anyway, I digress.
It’s a shame that even with the abundance of superhero flicks these days that they don’t utilize this kind of editing. And back in the 60s there was a ton of westerns which is kinda like the super hero genre of today right? And to tell the truth, I love the superhero genre and while they are entertaining, they are getting very stale and cookie cutter-esque. Why can’t Iron Man have a long and tense show down type of scene as his finale with a super villain. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing with these comic book flicks. But it’s not just super hero flicks it’s everything with the lame editing and let-down storytelling.
I find it interesting that when it was first released The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was heavily criticized and not that well-received. Today it’s considered a classic in every sense of the word. It was ahead of its time for sure but the true test of a classic is the ability to be ahead of its time and still be the gold standard for even today’s time even though it’s 50 years old.
Here’s a link to an article that has a vimeo video of further discussion regarding the phenomenal editing process.