With a genre so bursting at the seams with good films, picking one that truly stands out as the best Western might seem daunting. Yet in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it’s towering achievements as a seminal piece of art as well as an exciting adventure into the dangerous and brutal world of the American Civil War makes it an obvious choice for the best Western genre film ever made.
Leone’s films in general pack that extra punch that mean they create an addictive hyper reality that set the precedent for all Westerns after and yet it’s a film that is clearly made by a great auteur director too. The story line is relatively simple and follows three loners out to find a hidden stash of looted gold. Encountering various problems on their individual ways as well as fighting each other, the three hunt down the gold at all costs. There’s copious amounts of grit, sand, blood and everything else that makes Westerns good but turned all the way up to 11.
Filling out the story with dozens of side plots is what makes this film so endlessly watchable and everyone who’s seen it has their own favourite segment of the epic journey shown. Clint Eastwood is never better as his trademark “Man With No Name” but the show is stolen ever so slightly by Lee Van Cleef’s evil and sadistic Angel Eyes who’s actions to get the information he needs are the most graphic but memorable in the film’s narrative. As with most Leone films, there’s a wonderful amount of showboating and the gunfights in particular are tense but long in their build up to a conclusion. This makes them exhilarating to the extreme and better than pretty much any other fight offered in any Western film. This is highlighted best in the final two shoot outs in the graveyard that seem epic, as if the men are deities standing on top of the world when in reality they’re common thieves and bounty hunters
The final segment, famously sound tracked by Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold, is one of those awe-inspiring moments in film that enters the cultural cannon of the art form itself. Rarely does a piece of music define a film so much as it does here and hearing it sing out in the cinema as Tuco races fanatically through the graveyard to be the first at the gold will be something to treasure as one of life’s great pleasures.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is on at Fact Cinema on the 6th of May at 17:30 as part of the Classic Sundays Season.
Tickets available online.
Images from Fact.