Upon spotting this definitive special edition in the mailbox, Judge Sandra Dozier stared at it for several tense, sweaty moments before exploding in geektastic delight.
Our reviews of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (Blu-Ray) (published June 11th, 2009), The Man With No Name Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published June 21st, 2010), and The Sergio Leone Anthology (published July 2nd, 2007) are also available.
For three men, the Civil War wasn't Hell, it was practice!
Originally released in Italy in 1966, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the third film by director Sergio Leone with actor Clint Eastwood, and is considered by many to be the best of the trilogy. When it came to America, it had over twenty minutes shaved from the running time, but it still made an impact with audiences and has continued to grow in popularity and stature since then. In 2002, MGM commissioned a full restoration of the film, including eighteen minutes of missing footage, for theatrical release. The DVD release followed shortly after, and between the wealth of extras and the excellent print, one can hardly imagine a more definitive edition.
Facts of the Case
Set against a backdrop of the ongoing American Civil War, the film opens by introducing three men: Tuco (Eli Wallach), Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), and a man known only by the nickname Blondie (Clint Eastwood). Each man is dangerous, and it is what brings them all together in the end that carries the narrative of the film. In between jobs as a bounty hunter (Blondie, the "Good" one), hired assassin (Angel Eyes, in a clear-cut "Bad" role), and bandit rabble-rouser (Tuco, the "Ugly"), each stumbles upon the knowledge of a huge cache of Confederate gold hidden somewhere, and they turn all of their attention to finding it.
It turns out that the somewhere is a vast cemetery, buried in one of the graves. Blondie knows the name on the grave, Tuco knows the name of the cemetery, and after Angel Eyes tortures it out of Tuco, he takes Blondie along for the final reveal—but Tuco has some surprises of his own up his sleeve.
There is hardly anything about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, from the direction to the music, that isn't groundbreaking in some way, even though Leone himself admits that he borrowed many of his techniques from other directors that he knew and respected. A big influence on him was Akira Kurosawa. Aside from the direct influence of Yojimbo on A Fistful of Dollars, he continued to be inspired by Kurosawa's samurai epics, and he incorporated much of that simple yet expansive style into his own work.
Leone is often dubbed "operatic" because of his artistic leanings and his filmmaking style, which was heavily influenced by scenes in famous paintings. He saw his craft as an artistic expression as well as entertainment, but his films were never overblown or melodramatic. He knew how to use silence and tension to his advantage, and he was not afraid to film dirty, sweaty men in various states of avarice and disrepair, or to show desolate, destroyed landscapes devoid of moisture or even the appearance of life, save for a stray dog or two. His storytelling style has a nightmarish, visceral quality to it—very gritty and rough around the edges, and alternating between extreme close-ups and faraway shots with tiny figures hurtlling through the landscape.
His characters were sometimes larger than life, though. Blondie, for example, is supernaturally skilled with the gun, but we accept this and even look forward to it because everything else is simple, gritty, and unpretentious. Blondie is a mysterious, largely silent character whose proficiency with the gun seems utterly natural. We consistently want to see him in new and more dangerous situations—it gets our heart beating faster, and long buildups to confrontations only serve to quicken the pace even more.
Although not overtly bloody, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is nevertheless a violent film, mostly because the violence is always carefully thought out and premeditated. These men live in a world where death is in the air—it's an everyday reality. The cold calculation of the men who do the killing is both the appeal and the surprise, and Leone was a master of extending the moment so that the viewer feels suspended in time before the shock of the outcome is revealed.
The restoration involved a completely new processing of the negative, so the resulting image is absolutely beautiful, with the sharpest print I have ever seen, bold colors, very little spotting or scratching, and a gorgeous depth of color and shadow that brings out every highlight and lowlight. It is simply breathtaking to compare the restored print by Triage Labs to any previous version on DVD. Previous versions seem startlingly over-exposed, grainy, and washed out. There is also a very noticeable difference in the amount of spotting and age-related wear—almost nothing on the restored print, and quite a bit on previous versions.
The restored scenes represent significant chunks of story, and they help to fill in some of the plot elements, such as how Tuco suddenly ends up with a gang of men when he comes into town for revenge on Blondie, how Angel Eyes ends up at the P.O.W. camp, and why a bunch of Confederate soldiers are traveling through a desert. These scenes were originally only available in the Italian-language dub, so actors Eastwood and Wallach came in to loop their lines, and actor Simon Prescott provided a good vocal impression of the late Lee Van Cleef. The additional dialogue recording (ADR) is, for the most part, seamlessly integrated, and Eastwood sounds virtually unchanged. Wallach, portraying the talkative Tuco, had the most lines to loop and sounded the most changed, but it works in the final product well enough.
Restored scenes include the following:
• Tuco meets up with his old gang and recruits them to help him
kill Blondie and get back his stolen money.
Disc Two has a slew of featurettes, most of which were done very recently and catch up with Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood for a retrospective look at the film. The actors share on-set stories (some of them quite gruesome, such as the story Wallach tells about being in danger of decapitation during the scene where Tuco lies beside the train track so the passing locomotive will cut his bonds away) and weigh in on various points about the film. There is also a segment on the restoration project and an independently produced documentary on Civil War history that inspired the events in the movie. I wasn't as impressed by the commentary by film historian Richard Schickel, which was a little too dry for my tastes, but he did provide plenty of historical perspective and information, so it wasn't completely disappointing.
Also included are some very nice 5 X 7 reprints of movie posters from around the world. These reprints are on a nice, slightly glossy card stock and have an embossed border—they would look very nice mounted on the wall together in matching frames. I have to admit, I was oohing and ahhing over thhese when I opened up the box. Speaking of the box, the packaging is quite elegant and functional—it is in a sturdy cardboard box that doesn't take up too much room and pulls apart like a shirt box, with the DVD case built into either side.
Last but not least, don't miss the Easter Egg features on Disc Two—they are pretty easy to find. If you need a hint, use the arrow keys from the main list of featurettes to find a hidden areea, and then just arrow down from the first one you find, until you find four clips featuring stories from Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
About the only thing that may bother purists is that certain sound effects were recreated for the soundtrack restoration. This is partly due to the music and sound effects being encoded on the same track, and partly due to a "phasing" problem that occurs when sound effects from a mono track are separated from the front to the back channels at the same time. The sound is not natural or believable.
However, there is also an untouched Italian language mono track on the disc to preserve everything as it was originally done, so this should not be too much of an issue. The new sound effects are excellent and do not stand out unduly against the mono voice track or anything else.
Aside from that, my only complaint is that I wasn't completely happy with the commentary. Although Schickel knows his stuff, this was a film that was begging for a scene-specific dissection with some historical perspective and behind-the-scenes gossip. Schickel goes on at length about Leone's style, but doesn't get very specific to the actual scenes passing by, and at a couple of points he gets names and plot points slightly wrong. He also has a very deliberate way of speaking that flattens the delivery and makes the commentary feel more like a lecture than comments from someone who felt inspired by the material.
If you haven't already stopped reading this so that you can go purchase this special edition right now, you really should do that very soon. Even if you already have the previously released DVD or have the "Man With No Name" trilogy box set with this movie, you will want to get this just for the vast improvement in the picture quality alone, not to mention the extras and the 5.1 surround track.
With more old west gunslinging and Clinty goodness than you can shake a Colt revolver at, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is declared not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian Richard Schickel
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