The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

by D. Bishop
Tuesday May 18, 2004
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Combine one of film’s most recognizable faces (squints?) with bleak panoramic desert scenery, a good old-fashioned treasure hunt, the grittiest imaginable cast of characters, and perhaps the most memorable score ever written and you’ve got the makings of the epitome classic "spaghetti western" film. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, originally released in the US in 1968 minus about 30 minutes of footage that had appeared in Sergio Leone’s previous original Italian release, much to Leone’s great displeasure. It was thought, perhaps rightly so, that a 180+ minute movie would be too much for American audiences. Much of this lost content has been restored in this latest release, and as someone who loved the original cut version, I can say that this extended version simply provides more of a good thing. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ve most likely only ever seen this film mercilessly chopped down from its original length to under two hours for television broadcast. Believe me when I say that finally getting to view this work as it was meant to be viewed you quickly begin to appreciate how horrifying the words "re-formatted for television" can truly be. This movie is long, and even the most dedicated fan will feel this length at some point while viewing. However each scene, even those with only the most tenuous links to the basic plot, captures your attention enough to keep the story from dragging. Leone is renowned for his constant switching between long, wide views of the American desert southwest (ok ok, it was actually a Spanish beach) and close-ups of the actors’ faces... faces that are so full of character that each one tells a multitude of stories about life in the Old West even if the scene involves absolutely no dialogue... and extremely long build-ups to short bursts of violent action. This violence, considered excessive in its day, is by today’s standards of course very tame, almost tasteful. The only bad part of this film? The original American theatrical release trailer - I can’t imagine anyone having any reason to want to see this film after having viewed this choppy, misleading editing fiasco.

The 2-disc set comes in non-standard dvd packaging that will not fit neatly into your existing dvd rack. You will just need to find it a special, well-deserved, place of honor among your other boxed-sets. The second disc contains approximately 2 hours of special features that include deleted scenes (cuts made to the original version that could not be included in this extended version), a historian’s perspective on the Civil War conflict taking place around the story, an audio-only commentary on the score by Ennio Morricone, and interviews with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach that include some priceless anecdotes about filmmaking in Europe in the 1960’s. The film’s audio commentary track, provided by film historian Richard Schickel, is worth listening to if you are a die-hard fan of the movie, the actors, or the director, but probably won’t appeal to someone who doesn’t have a vested interest simply because of the length of the movie. If you are willing to invest the time however, he is a wealth of trivia and practical film analysis that will no doubt give you a whole new persepctive on virtually every scene, even for someone, like me, who has seen this film dozens of times.


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