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The closing chapter of Sergio Leone’s iconic Spaghetti Western trilogy — following “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) — is an operatic cinematic hymn to the hypocrisies of war and the schemes of opportunist outlaws on a quest for personal riches.
Clint Eastwood’s “man-with-no-name” character “Blondie” isn’t exactly a model of ethical behavior, even if the “Good” appellation in the film’s title applies to him.
The “Bad” refers to Lee Van Cleef’s ruthless gunslinger Sentenza, whose search for a cache of stolen Confederate gold coincides with that of Blondie and the “Ugly” one of the bunch, Eli Wallach’s Mexican character Tuco. Most noteworthy is Leone’s shift away from an emphasis on Eastwood’s thematic standard-bearer in the previous two films to Tuco, an immigrant with an instinct for survival equal to his capacity for humor and greed.
With a hefty bounty on his head, Tuco is an unlikely protagonist. His business deal with Blondie involves Eastwood’s sharpshooter gunman splitting the hangman’s rope around Tuco’s neck to free him after receiving the reward for turning Tuco in. Blondie rescues Tuco at the last possible second, and the men escape to pull the same trick in another town. Still, there is no love lost between the men despite their mutually beneficial financial arrangement.
A son of Italian cinema parents — has father was director Roberto Roberti, and his mother was the silent film actress Edvige Valcarenghi — Sergio Leone had the good fortune of working as an assistant to Vittorio de Sica on “The Bicycle Thief” for his first job. That Leone went to school with his trusted composer Ennio Morricone only adds to the rich pedigree of cinema language from which Leone sprung .
Leone’s liberal use of widescreen shots in conjunction with extreme close-ups gives the movie an epic quality matched in scope by a skeletal narrative structure that breathes with a poker-faced mood, tone, and personality. Leone uses Ennio Morricone’s brilliant musical score to paint large swaths of aural colors across the screen as if it were a three-dimensional canvas brimming with thematic counterpoint.
The filmmaker’s stark visual compositions contributes to the story’s surreal landscape where violence is a consequence of the region’s dichotomy between abject poverty and outrageous wealth being spent by the North in conducting the Civil War — an economic power-grab sold to the public, most recently by Steven Spielberg, as a humanitarian battle of moral superiority.
Rated R. 161 mins.