As Darth Vader told Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ Star Wars, “The circle is now complete.”
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, completes Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. And with that we no longer simply have an Italian director dabbling in the genre of the western, we have a new sub-genre of the Italian Western. With each film Leone has improved his style and with this film you can tell him anything. You thought For A Few Dollars More was larger in scope than A Fistful of Dollars? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly feels like it’s 5 times larger. With scenery so vast, you wonder how do the characters even get to their destinations, because the way Leone has it shot, it feels almost endless.
Even with the film being set during the American Civil War, it’s not actually about it. Leone didn’t believe in trying to replicate history, but rather how small people get caught up in history. Even then, he doesn’t have the characters see the horrors of war and decide to join the cause. He plays things ironic though by having the war basically save the lives our our characters at various moments, almost validating their cynicism about the spectre of
war. It’s not about sides, it’s about survival. Again Leone changes the priorities that have been present in the genre in the past. This, as well as his prior films, are fairy tales about the west. It’s fitting that after this, his films would begin with Once Upon a Time. Leone is not interested in presenting reality. The American westerns he grew up with tried to pass off myth as reality. He’s telling stories. Similar to those of King Arthur or Robin Hood. The Man with No Name is a folk hero in these films.
The three titled characters, played by Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach respectively, while being nicknamed the good, the bad and the ugly, do not necessarily possess all those qualities. Eastwood’s man with no name, while not a terrible person, does not always embody a good person. Van Cleef, while mostly bad, does show moments of humanity. Wallach’s Tuco, despite being called the ugly, is the most charming of the trio. Aside from each character having one or two moments, I applaud Leone for sticking to his guns that characters in his films are not one or the other. That they are capable of being different based upon the situation. Once again, shades of gray.
One thing of note that I thought really encapsulates the fairy tale vibe, is that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a prequel. We see the moment that Eastwood’s character gets his iconic poncho. Once the film is complete, I feel a desire to go right back and watch A Fistful of Dollars, to see the stranger ride into the town again. It’s like when you read a story to a child and the moment it’s over, they want to hear it again. It’s circular. Hence why I quoted Darth Vader at the beginning.
With The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone took the western to a new realm. By this point, you couldn’t go back to the traditional western. Studios, producers, writers and directors would need to bring something new to the table. The end of the Dollars Trilogy, marks the beginning of the revisionist western.