The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A film analysis
From the beginning of the flute simulating the haunted cry of the loon to the echoed cries of a man “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” brings a new identity to the American art form we know as the Western. From an Italian director, with a music score that is as much a part of the movie by an Italian composer and filmed in Spain, the American Civil War in the West has never been better portrayed. The story line is not typical of American Westerns. There is no real white hat hero. It tells the story of three men whose paths cross over a search for a stolen gold shipment.
We are introduced to the three main characters in simple vignettes that establish their character within the story. In the film's opening, the director chooses to highlight each character, beginning with the last from the title, first.
In the opening sequence, two men arrive at an encampment consisting of a couple of buildings and some Conestoga wagons in disrepair. Another man is shown coming from the other side. There are close-ups of the men. Where did Sergio Leone get such wonderful looking ugly men. They dismount and walk towards the center of the encampment, (it is too small to be a town), and it looks that they are about to face each other in a gun fight. Yet when they reach the door of the saloon, you realize they are a united group in search of another quarry. They break in through the door and start shooting. A few moments later a man breaks out the window and is identified as “the ugly” (Eli Wallach). Later in the film we discover the character's name is Tuco. He rides off and we discover the men who attacked him are badly wounded and probably dead.
In the next vignette, a man arrives at a small farm and enters the house. The family is not happy to see him. The farmer and he have words over some food and he kills the farmer and his son. He leaves and we next see him enter a bedroom, where he talks with a man in bed. He says a man that the bed-ridden man was interested in is going under the name “Bill Carson”. Carson has knowledge of a confederate payroll in gold. He explains that he killed the farmer, but not before the farmer paid him to do another job, and then kills the man in bed. Before he dies, the man in the bed calls his killer, Angel Eyes. Angel Eyes is identified as “the bad” (Lee Van Cleef).
We have another scene with Tuco and he is bushwhacked by three men. Tuco is a bandit with a $2000 price on his head. A fourth man enters the scene and rescues Tuco, only to take him in for the reward. Later Tuco is tried and convicted of his crimes and is put upon a horse to be hanged. The man who took Tuco in shoots the rope as the horse Tuco in sitting on is whipped to run out from under him. Off Tuco and his rescuer, Tuco calls him Blondie, ride to continue the scam in another town. Unfortunately, the duo have a falling out and Tuco is left in the desert as “the good” (Clint Eastwood) rides away.
The Civil War makes its presence known.
Tuco survives the desert and goes in search of Blondie. He not only wants to kill him, he looks to extract a voyeuristic joy in watching Blondie die in the desert. As Tuco rides and pampers himself with a parasol and water, Blondie is forced to walk through the desert heat without benefit of either. It is the hottest time of the day when Tuco and Blondie are confronted with a stagecoach drawn by six horses, “a carriage of spirits”.
The coach is out of control. Tuco stops it and discovers that there are a number of dead men in it. With the coach, Leone begins to weave Tuco and Blondie into the Civil War. The men are dressed as confederate soldiers. Tuco proceeds to rob the corpses, then he discovers one man still alive. Tuco has little interest in the dying man until he learns there is a hidden payroll in gold. The dying man identifies himself as Bill Carson and he gives Tuco the name of a cemetery where the gold is, but not which grave in the cemetery, for that he wants water. With greed in his heart, Tuco goes to his horse to get water, but when he returns, Carson is dead and Blonde knows the secret to the grave.
Tuco is conflicted, he hates Blondie, but now he must keep Blondie alive to get the gold. Tuco races to a mission where he has a brother, who is a priest. He implores his brother to save Blondie's life because he and Blondie are such good friends.
A Prisoner of War
Blondie survives and he and Tuco go in search of the missing payroll. The two men have donned the uniforms of Confederate soldiers. On their journey, they run into a military troop of men covered in dust. When he sees the troop Tuco begins to cheer for the Confederacy. His joy is short-lived when the lead officer brushes off the dust to reveal that he is wearing a blue uniform.
Tuco and Blondie find themselves in a Northern Prisoner of War camp. The second in command of the camp is Angel Eyes. During role call, Tuco has identified himself as Bill Carson. Angel Eyes has a private discussion with Tuco, who during questioning reveals the cemetery where the payroll has been hidden. Angel Eyes then arranges for Tuco to be taken to a town where he will be hanged for his crimes. Angel Eyes knows it is useless to beat Blondie and decides to be his new partner in search for the missing payroll
Again Tuco survives and goes in search of Blondie and Angel Eyes. The trio meet up in a town that is being shelled. It provides a the backdrop as Blondie and Tuco join forces to duel it out with Angel Eyes and his other cohorts. Angel Eyes escapes.
As Tuco and Blondie travel closer to the cemetery they find themselves on the wrong side of a microcosm of the war, between a Northern army and a Southern army for the control of a bridge. The two armies fight a daily battle to try to take control of the bridge only to be denied it, and both sides must retreat to fight the next day. Tuco and Blondie join the Northern army as it seems the only way to continue their journey to the cemetery with the payroll.
Leone interweaves the Civil War into the story of these three characters. Each time Blondie and Tuco seem to be closer to their goal the War interferes with their plans. In the final climactic scenes, the three characters, Tuco, Angel Eyes and Blondie face off to win the prize of the gold. It is fitting that the final conflict takes place in an arena that is a cemetery
While the film is an excellent example of the Western genre it is also a fascinating allegory of man. With the Civil War as a backdrop to the basic story, it shows man's inhumanity during War. Throughout the story, Blondie represents the human condition of good. In a number of instances, he provides release from suffering to those who need it most. Angel Eyes represents the evil side of the human condition as he is relentless in search of the gold. If there is a hurtful way to achieve his goal, he takes it. That leaves us with Tuco. He is a man caught up in two wars. That between good and evil, and the very human conflict of the Civil War. He has no allegiance except to himself, but if he is not forced by circumstances to do bad, he doesn't. He does, however, take the path of least resistance. In the end, he is found wanting, but defiant as he has achieved what he wanted, but he still had to pay a price. Tuco is the hero of this tale. It is he that travels the arc of the story. Both Blonde and Angel Eyes remain the same, for them, there is no arc. The remaining question is has Tuco completed his arc?
Sergio Leone did a wonderful job of weaving a fascinating adventure with an allegory about man. Without the music score by Ennio Morricone, “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” would have been an exciting western, but it would not have had the emotional impact that it does.
The music truly set the tone for each of the vignettes presented. From the opening theme with the simulated cry of a loon to the ending finale as the final duel between the three men, we are swept emotionally through the movie. Even the song titles take us on that emotional journey.
The titled theme that sets the tone for the film, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
“The Sunset” bring an ending just as the film is beginning.
“The Strong” shows us that as miserable as Tuco is, he is a survivor.
“The Desert” lives up to how desolate and unforgiving a southwestern desert can be.
“The Carriage Of The Spirits” plays letting us know that the runaway coach carries a tragedy within it.
“Marcia Without Hope” backdrops the portrayal of the POW camp.
“The Story of a Soldier” contrasts the Beating Tuco is taken with a choir of men singing in the POW camp.
“The Death Of A Soldier” is played and reprized twice as Blondie provides comfort to dying man.
“The Ecstasy of Gold” interweaves an orchestra with a woman’s voice and as Tuco races around an arena shaped cemetery in search of a grave with the hidden cache of gold.
The finale of the soundtrack and the movie gives us “The Trio”. Three men face off in an arena at the center of a cemetery This is a simple gunfight, but the tension is built as this is truly a game of cut throat. Only one will walk away...?