"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

Extras include 14 minutes left out of Sergio Leone's vision of the mythic American West but, unfortunately, not the movie's original Italian.

Published February 15, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
MGM Home Entertainment; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Fourteen additional minutes from the original Italian release, theatrical trailer, production notes

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" represents the best of '60s cinema. After a ripe psychedelic title sequence, director Sergio Leone's film rewrites the traditional western in every way imaginable. It overlays the grotesque faces of Fellini onto the mythic American West and backs them with composer Ennio Morricone's grand arias of whoops, whistles, Jew's-harps, gunshots and other errata. During the duels, obsessive close-ups of beady eyes, drops of sweat and fidgeting fingers explode into single moments of balletic violence.

A young, wiry Clint Eastwood plays the "good" Blondy who, in an act reflecting the film's disjointed morality, makes a small killing by collecting the reward on "ugly" Mexican bandit Tuco (Eli Wallach). Just before Tuco hangs, Blondy shoots the rope and the two repeat the scam in the next town. "Bad," needle-nosed Lee Van Cleef, rounds out the trio as the assassin for hire named Angel Eyes. The three chase one another across a desolate Western landscape in search of buried treasure. Finally, they collide in a climactic gun fight.

The point isn't the characters, nor is it the plot or the action; the main event is watching the cinematic fireworks in the gunfights. On a larger level, the film is a mythopoetic journey led by a director with an almost unbearable fixation on masculinity. Leone translates the samurai ethic into the dialect of the American western through the idea of great Italian machismo. Everything comes back to the gunfight because, for Leone's Western heroes, the only way to be a man is to face death.

It's a pity that MGM/UA didn't do more with its material. The DVD contains a scant few extras: the original theatrical trailer, a few production notes and 14 minutes of footage cut from the American release but shown in the Italian version. (Unfortunately MGM/UA doesn't add an Italian-language track -- the original release language of the film and the one that does the most justice to the predominantly Italian cast.) The extras provide the slightest snippets of trivia; it makes you wonder why the studio didn't include commentary tracks by the living contributors or more extensive production notes that would shed a bit of light on Leone's ideas. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" was released on DVD in 1998, relatively early on in DVD history. Perhaps in a few years the studio will rerelease the movie with a package of extras more suited to its scope. In the meantime you'll just have to bask in the glow of a fantastic full widescreen transfer that finally does justice to Leone's broad palette.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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