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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)



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Third and most famous of the "Man With No Name" trilogy, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is, unlike its predecessors, a grand epic of a western. Clint Eastwood's character, nicknamed Blondie in this film, is The Good, though his claim to the title is dubious. In the earlier films, he was never an angel so much as a pragmatic opportunist whose conscience occasionally got the better of him. But in this one his pragmatic opportunism extends to blatant swindling and doublecrossing. But he's still The Good, perhaps because he's a darn sight better guy than The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, playing a different character than he did in prior series entry For a Few Dollars More) or The Ugly (Eli Wallach). The story actually takes place before the other two films (throughout this one, he gradually accumulates the familiar garb he wears in the other two), so maybe there is a certain moral evolution of the character at play.

Throughout the first twenty minutes of the film, much of which is wordless, we are introduced to the three characters. Via different means, they all learn of a fortune buried in a cemetery, and from then on it's not just a race but a mind game to find it first and make away with it all. In one of the more intriguing twists, The Good and The Ugly each allegedly learn a different vital piece of information about where it is: each needs what the other knows to be able to find it, and this leads to an uneasy truce between the two. I say "allegedly" quite deliberately, because it may be that one of them is bluffing.

The race takes place in the midst of the Civil War. None of the three care much about the war except for the opportunities it affords them. The drama of the characters, juxtaposed with the backdrop of the war, provides a stark portrait of a compelling vision. This is not the glamorous wild west of old serials, nor the bittersweet pursuit of ideals portrayed in the films of John Ford. This is the dirty, brutal, unforgiving real world. It'll kill all but the strongest and reward the survivors handsomely.

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