Leone Movies


In my weird re-watching phase — and in a search for a next story to write — I re-examined “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

I’m almost idiotic enough to write that it’s a masterpiece. I don’t believe I know anything about the history of film, but in terms of the truly great movies, I feel the most strongly and positively about this film. I appreciate many of the classics (“Vertigo,” “Citizen Kane,” even “2001,”), but my appreciation of those movies feels more academic than anything else.

But there’s nothing to be that academic about in “GBU,” except to appreciate the skill clearly involved.

Oddly (or appropriately, as it would seem), I’ve struggled to find much academic discussion of the film, beyond a few reviews. Sure, there’s copious video essays dedicated to “The Shining” and the like, and there are tons of film podcasts, but there is a surprising lack of discussion about this and Leone’s other films (though truth be told, THIS VIDEO is pretty good).

Maybe it’s because nobody knows exactly what makes it great, or they can’t exactly put it into words. Or they just get lost in the film, or their memories of the film. A movie made of other movies. I’m also convinced, from a writer’s perspective, that the best movies don’t come just from a writer. They come from a director and writer working together. Or at least they come from someone with vision, which is usually a director. Well, usually a GOOD director.

So in my attempts to write the next great Leone-style action film, I may be asking for a kick in the nuts, because there’s no way someone could successfully write the MOVIE of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” because it’s so much of a MOVIE that the script robs it of motion, stillness and tension. Either that, or I’m dreadfully unconfident and unqualified.

The thing I noticed/learned during this last viewing was how much of the story — and really, the characters’ behaviors — are dramatized. So much of the first act is setting up the characters and their relationships, so that the tension between Blondie and Tuco will pay off for the next two acts. It even goes to show (there’s that word again) the difference between the two “good” murderers, and the “bad” murderer. It’s all in the way their first kills go down.

Angel Eyes shoots a family man in his home, through a table of chili. Then goes to kill the guy who paid him to kill the first guy, because the first guy doubled the offer. This is THE BAD. But the other two kill out of self-defense (Tuco) or saving someone we’ve already been introduced to as important (Tuco, by Blondie). It also helps that we, the audience, can get over the “good” killings by the fact that the killers were outnumbered. Both “good” intro killings are 1-to-3. Even though we learn later that Tuco is a murderer, rapist, thief, etc., we laugh at the details of his criminal background because — given the on-screen-evidence — he’s an “OK guy.”

I suppose that’s what makes this a masterpiece, if I am free to use such a term. It presents the images in such a way that the audience cares for things we would never care about in our real lives.

I’m not saying all movies should be “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Just more of them.


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