April 05, 2003

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I don't get out to the movies all that much, and I have so many interesting ways to fill my time that I'm rarely willing to sit and watch one on TV for two hours on end. So even if I have the DVD, it can take me quite a long while to get around to watching it. When the movie is one that's not suitable for little kids, it takes even longer--those hours after they go to bed are precious. So even though I got a DVD of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in a gift exchange last Christmas, I only got around to watching it last night. My friend Dave the co-worker (as opposed to my son Dave, or my friend Dave the non-co-worker) came over to watch it with me, as it's one of his favorite flicks. Myself, I'd never seen it before.

They say that constraints foster creativity; in this case, I think Leone was chiefly constrained by having relatively few actors who could speak English without an Italian accent. Consequently, this is a film of little dialog and long silences in which the storytelling is almost completely visual and cinematic. Toward the beginning, for example, Lee Van Cleef stalks slowly into a hacienda. The family members all hide, except for the man of the house. The man is clearly terrified, but he makes a play of bravery: he sets the table for dinner and then sits down and serves himself some kind of soup. Van Cleef has been leaning in the arched doorway at the far end of the house; now he walks slowly forward, sits down, serves himself a bowl of soup, and begins to eat it--all without talking his eyes off the man for even a second. And his eyes clearly say, "You're mine. I can crush you like a bug."

There's a similar moment toward the end, when Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, and (of course) Clint Eastwood are having a kind of three-way shoot out. There's something all three of them want; realistically, only the last man standing will get it. The camera jumps from face to face as you see them thinking: who will draw first? If I draw first, will I be able to gun down both of them? And you notice (or perhaps you don't) that Wallach is sweating profusely, and that even the face of the normally cool Van Cleef has a sheen of perspiration, while Eastwood is both relaxed and dry as a bone, and you think, "What's going on here?"

But I expected the meaningful glances, the tumbledown buildings, the wide open spaces, and the violence. What surprised me was the humor--there are many points that are laugh out loud funny. Unfortunately, few of them are truly quotable; the funny lines are funny only in context, as when Eastwood admonishes Wallach, "And after all the times I've saved your life."

All in all, I enjoyed it--it's a good bit of story telling.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 5, 2003 12:55 PM