Why is ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ Considered A Masterpiece?
‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly‘ is considered to be Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. The Spaghetti Western revolves around three gunslingers who are in pursuit of a $200,000 fortune, during the American Civil War. It is the final installment of the ‘Dollars Trilogy’, following ‘A Fistful of Dollars‘ and ‘For A Few Dollars More‘.
You may be questioning whether it is a masterpiece at all. There are several facts, which when considered together, which point to this title:
- Upon release, it was a box office success, grossing $25.1 million on a budget of $1.2 million;
- Although it released to mix reviews (partly due to being a Spaghetti Western, a less respected genre at the time), the film has subsequently received overwhelmingly positive reviews by critics, including a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes;
- It has been listed on several ‘Greatest Films’ lists, including ranking 49 on Variety’s list, 46 on Film4’s list, 25 for Empire magazine etc.; and
- It has informed popular culture with references to it in South Korean Cinema (‘The Good, The Bad and The Weird‘), Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, influencing Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series etc.
But what exactly makes it a masterpiece and worthy of all this praise?
1. Leone’s Masterpiece
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is widely regarded as Sergio Leone’s personal masterpiece, being the best film he has ever made.
For a director whose work includes Once Upon A Time in America, Once Upon A Time in The West and the remainder of the Dollars Trilogy – this is a seriously impressive feat. Any one of those films would be a career highlight for any other director. The fact that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly tops an already incredible list from a God-tier director, makes it a masterpiece in its own right.
2. Stands The Test of Time
With technology moving so fast, if you watch many of the films which were released even as little as a couple of decades ago, they are almost unwatchable due to how badly they have aged.
One of the big advantages to creating large scale epic films, before the invention of CGI, is that is forced the directors and crew to use practical effects and re-create scenes in real life.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is just as watchable now as it was when it was released. It was shot on beautiful 35mm film and is just as aesthetically pleasing as ever.
3. The Scale
A big part of why The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is considered a masterpiece is because it was one of the first films to be cover a story on such a magnitude.
Simply put, the film is an epic.
Consider the war scenes in the movie and the sheer scale of the number of cast, extras and crew that would be needed to complete such a sequence.
Any film which sets out with such grand ambition and manages to execute its vision, with little to no flaws, has to be considered a masterpiece.
4. The Cinematography
Part of the reason why the film feels so epic and large scale is due to the film’s cinematography.
The way the film focuses on three main characters, on such a grand scale is complemented and supported entirely by the way the film was shot.
Consider the juxtipoisition in the film between how it often depicts vast landscapes, followed by close-up shots of our lead actors. Hell, Tonino Delli Colli (the film’s Director of Photography) even uses wide angle lenses where the shots contain close ups of the actors, with vast landscapes, all in one frame.
The cinematography is perfect. It is also part of the reason why the film is just as enjoyable to watch today as it would have been at the time it was released.
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5. The Soundtrack
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has one of the most iconic soundtracks in all of cinema history. It is so iconic that it was indicted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
In fact, the film’s composer, Ennio Morricone, arguably created a soundtrack which would be synonymous with the Western genre throughout the remainder of cinema’s history.
This is kind of ironic as the soundtrack is more operatic, as opposed to being similar to traditional Western soundtracks, with the director and composer being of Italian origin.
However, it works perfectly. The way the film is shot and edited, to fit around the music makes it the perfect soundtrack for the film. It truly captures the films mood.
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6. Combination of genres – Western, Adventure, Comedy, War
Whilst The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is traditionally considered to be a Spaghetti Western, it combines elements on many different genres into the three-hour long epic.
The film could arguably be considered to also fall into the adventure, comedy or war genres. As a result, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Moreover, the film takes the traditional elements of a Western and bends and breaks almost every rule, whilst still conforming the the genre. It could almost be considered a satire of a traditional Western movie.
For example, the hero of the film, being Clint Eastwood’s character ‘The Man with No Name’ otherwise known as ‘The Good’ would usually be brave, noble and moral in a traditional Western. But within this masterpiece, ‘The Good’ is shown to be money-hungry, greedy and more than willing to double cross.
7. The Character Arcs
The film is an epic, which are often driven by plot. However, part of Leone’s genius is to keep the focus on the characters and how the epic events surrounding them shape them as characters.
Like I mentioned above, the hero of the film is considered morally dubious. However, focus on the third act of the movie and how the war in particular changes both him as a person and his outlook on life. We see that ‘The Good’ is touched by the war, and is often compassionate to the needless suffering of the soldiers. It is this what changes him as a person, which results in him leaving Tuco his share of the earnings at the end of the film. Finally, earning his title as ‘The Good’.
8. The Duel
Finally, there is the classic duel at the end of the film. This scene is considered one of the best in cinema history.
The way this scene plays out, with the shot including all three main characters, the focused glances, the long tense stare down, makes it one of the most tense scenes to be ever shot on film.
Remind yourself of how great the scene is by watching it below.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is both Sergio Leone’s and cinema’s masterpiece. It is an epic which will go down in history as being one of the greatest films of all time.
If you’ve forgotten how good the film is, watch the film here to remind yourself.
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