Ranked 054 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as May 2017). Watched April 2020.
Cast: Clint Eastwood (Blondie), Eli Wallach (Tuco), Lee Van Cleef (Sentenza / Angel Eyes), Aldo Giuffrè (Alcoholic Union Captain), Luigi Pistilli (Father Pablo Ramirez), Rada Rassimov (Maria)
Director: Sergio Leone
My rating: 8.5 / 10
Our main characters are Blondie (Clint Eastwood) the Good, Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef) the Bad, and Tuco (Eli Wallach) the Ugly who will follow in the Wild West with a back drop during the American Civil War to find hidden Confederate gold.
The movie starts with Tuco being ‘rescued’ from three bounty hunters by a nameless man whom Tuco refers to as “Blondie”, but Blondie after saving Tuco delivers him to the local sheriff to collect his $2,000 bounty. As Tuco is about to be hanged, Blondie severs Tuco’s noose by shooting it, and sets him free. The two escape on horseback and split the bounty. They then repeat the process in another town for more reward money. Eventually Blondie grows tired of Tuco’s complaints, and abandons him without horse or water in the desert with Tuco vowing revenge.
Elsewhere, The Bad (Sentenza) interrogates a former Confederate soldier Stevens during a meal attempting to find the new name of an individual who stole a cache of Confederate gold. Once Sentenza is provided with the name ‘Bill Carson’ Stevens offers him $1,000 to kill Sentenza’s current employer. Angel Eyes accepts the new commission, but also kills Stevens stating he always fulfills his contracts. On the same basis he kills is employer fulfilling his commission from Stevens and decides to track down the gold.
After Tuco manages to survive he tracks Blondie to a town occupied by Confederate troops sacrificing some of his own men to get the drop on BLondie. Tuco then holds Blondie at gunpoint, planning to force him to hang himself, but Union forces shell the town, allowing Blondie to escape.
Tuco later recaptures Blondie and marches him across a desert until Blondie collapses from dehydration. As Tuco prepares to shoot him, he sees a runaway carriage. Inside the carriage are several dead Confederate soldiers and a near-death Bill Carson, who promises Tuco $200,000 in Confederate gold, buried in a grave in Sad Hill Cemetery. Tuco demands to know the name on the grave, but Carson collapses from thirst before answering. When Tuco returns with water, Carson has died and Blondie, slumped next to him, reveals that Carson recovered and told him the name on the grave before dying. Tuco now has strong motivation to keep Blondie alive, gives him water and takes him to a nearby frontier mission, where his brother is the Abbot, to recover.
After Blondie’s recovery, the two leave in Confederate uniforms from Carson’s carriage, only to be captured by Union soldiers and remanded to the prisoner of war camp of Batterville. At roll call, Tuco answers for “Bill Carson”, getting the attention of Sentenza, now in disguised as a Union sergeant. Sentenza tortures Tuco, who reveals the name of the cemetery, but confesses that only Blondie knows the name on the grave. Realising that Blondie will not yield to torture, Sentenza offers him an equal share of the gold and a partnership. Blondie agrees and rides out with Angel Eyes and his gang. Tuco is packed on a train to be executed, but escapes.
Blondie, Sentenza, and his henchmen arrive in an evacuated town. Tuco, having fled to the same town, takes a bath in a ramshackle hotel and is surprised by Elam, one of the three bounty hunters who tried to kill him earlier in the film. Tuco shoots Elam and provides a great quote (When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk). The noise causes Blondie to investigate the gunshots. He finds Tuco, and they agree to resume their old partnership. The pair kill Sentenza’s men, but they then discover that Sentenza has escaped but he knows the name of the cemetery.
Tuco and Blondie travel toward Sad Hill, but their way is blocked by Union troops on one side of a strategic bridge, with Confederates on the other. Blondie decides to destroy the bridge to disperse the two armies to allow access to the cemetery. As they wire the bridge with explosives, Tuco suggests they share information, in case one person dies before he can help the other. Tuco reveals the name of the cemetery, while Blondie says “Arch Stanton” is the name on the grave. After the bridge explodes, the armies disperse.
As they near the cemetery Tuco runs off to find the grave of Arch Stanton to dig up the gold. Blondie catches up and while talking to Tuco is surprised by Sentenza who wants them to both dig which only Tuco does, eventually digging up a corpse and no gold, Blondie haven’t provided all the information. Blondie proposes a three way duel (set to great music) with the winner getting the name of the grave he wrote on a stone.
The trio stare each other down in an epic showdown. Everyone draws, and Blondie shoots and kills Sentenza, while Tuco discovers that his own gun was unloaded by Blondie the night before, Blondie knew he didn’t need to shoot Tuco as a result which is why he survived. Blondie reveals that the gold is actually in the grave beside Arch Stanton’s, marked “Unknown”.
Tuco is elated to find bags of gold, but Blondie holds him at gunpoint and orders him into a hangman’s noose beneath a tree. Blondie binds Tuco’s hands and forces him to stand balanced precariously atop an unsteady grave marker while he takes half the gold and rides away. As Tuco screams for mercy, Blondie returns into sight. Blondie severs the rope with a rifle shot, dropping Tuco, alive but tied up, onto his share of the gold. Tuco curses loudly while Blondie rides off into the horizon.
What’s to Like
Great quote – When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk. – Tuco
The epic music, the double crosses, the lack of morals, the bad ass ‘Blondie’.
What’s not to Like
While this is the perfect spaghetti western seeing a defenceless woman repeatedly slapped and punched (by Sentenza) is hard to take even in something that is fake but I suppose sets up Sentenza as the bad of the story.
The film became one of the best-known and most popular spaghetti western (western movies made by Italians) in film cinema, and is a classic in the tradition of anti-hero, gritty westerns with no good character just a range from questionable, to immoral to bad.
All three leads (Blondie, Angel Eyes / Sentenza and Tuco) use violence at different stages the only thing separately them is how they use it and on who.
Negative themes such as cruelty and especially greed are also are traits shared by the three leads. Cruelty by Blondie in how he treats Tuco throughout the film sometimes being friendly but in other scenes double-crossing Tuco like when he left him to die after a job. Sentenza by his tendency for committing violent acts throughout the film, for example killing Stevens and his son without needing to violently torturing Tuco. Tuco in how he tortures Blondie by marching him into a desert.
The two men who team up the most, The Good and The Ugly are very different people, Blondie (The Good) rarely talks while Tuco (The Ugly) almost never stops.
This was a low cost production but maybe that made it better, the actors and director had to use what they had. Dialogue was short so they good put the excellent soundtrack in to do a lot of the talking instead and there was little chance they’d need many shoots of the same scene.
A very enjoyable movie.