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In the midst of the American Civil War, three very different gunmen - 'Blondie' (Clint Eastwood), 'Angel Eyes' (Lee Van Cleef) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) - the good, the bad and the ugly - learn that a stolen treasure of $200,000 in gold coins has been hidden in a remote southern cemetery. Blondie and Tuco have a dangerous scam going but part ways in anger, each with one part of the location of the gold, useless without the other. Meanwhile Angel Eyes joins the army, where he finds a chance to discover the secret location. The three men chase the gold until a final confrontation in the blazing sun.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
No longer prefixed with spaghetti, Sergio Leone's unforgettable western is one of the great cinematic treasures of the 60s - or any decade for that matter. This 2-disc package from MGM's United Artists library is as valuable as the treasure that the three anti-heroes of the film are hunting.

Ennio Morricone's iconic musical motif haunts this film, and much like Maurice Jarre's score for Lawrence of Arabia (some of which, coincidentally, was also shot in southern Spain), plays a pivotal role in the completeness of Sergio Leone's complex yet simple story of greed, friendship, betrayal, moral selectivity and anti-war sentiments. The latter is inserted into the story as part of the adventure of the journey of treasure hunters, but is unmistakably the film's clearest moral marker. It is also this sequence that is put back to make the film complete.

Blondie and Tuco get caught up in a riverside battle between Yankee soldiers and Southerners and the sequence lasts a good half hour, including the all important set-up. But the film is most remembered for its many other achievements, including the exceptional performances, especially of Eli Wallach as the ugly Tuco, a brilliant characterisation of a snaky con man and self serving rogue who manages to retain a splinter of humanity - the splinter that saves his life when he double crosses Blondie. He also manages to make us sympathise with him on some grubby level.

The relationship between these two opposites makes the film a character study as much as a western actioner. Although he's 'the good' of the title, Blondie is not much gooder morally than the other two; he is, however, more handsome. And more cool; Eastwood's Man With No Name in this third of the Leonie series, is the iconic western hero, darker and less morally upright than the old cowboy heroes of the Hollywood westerns.

Other achievements include the cinematography and the production design. Leone makes good use of every square millimetre of the giant screen (in this case the tv in your home entertainment system) and fills it with unprecedented detail, driving the film with lots of cross cutting and whiplashes of ironic, laconic humour. And to its great credit, the film wears its genre on its sleeve, from the opening titles to The End slate. One of the most memorable films of my teen years, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a milestone of cinema, and not just of the spaghetti western genre. This Collector's Edition does it justice.

The image is pristine throughout and the 5.1 sound adds to the film's visceral power. For example, early in the film there is the scene with a young boy lazily driving a donkey round and round the water well, as small buckets slurp up the dirty bore water. When the camera pans left, the sound of the splashing water crosses the speakers accordingly. It's one of those small but treasured moments of cinema - in your own home.

Richard Schickel's commentary is informed, thorough - and a tad dry; but for anyone with a serious interest in film history, it's terrific. He informs us, for example, that Sergio Leone was a keen art collector, and his visual style, notably his penchant for alternating extreme wide shots with extreme close ups, was influenced by artists he liked, such as Goya, and the surrealists. The latter's influence, says Schickel, is seen in those wide shots of the bleak landscapes with grotesque or inappropriate figures.

But, he says, this was little known, as people were distracted by what then (1960s) seemed extreme violence to "genteel Americans".

On Disc 2, the features dig into Leone's style of filmmaking, Schickel calling it "operatic" with new interviews featuring Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach as well as the film's producer, Alberto Grimaldi, and others.

We learn about Leone's fascination with physical peculiarities, such as Van Cleef's shortened right middle finger, which gets a close up, or a man with no legs who bums his way across the planks of a porch.

There is even a doco about the Sibley Campaign of the Civil War, which was fought exactly where Leone set it in the film, which also draws some of its story elements from that series of battles, involving large amounts of cash.

The restoration doco, only 10 minutes but filled with info, explores how the film was finally restored - including some re-voiced dialogue by Eastwood and Wallach, as well as Simon Prescott mimicking the late Van Cleef. Especially fascinating - after you've seen the film on DVD - is how the sound problems were solved, and delivered in 5.1 surround.

Speaking of sound, Morricone's score is beautifully rendered here, crisp and clean, but so as to be clinical or metallic. The two part feature on him (actually two different pieces, one 7 the other 12 minutes, both by film music historian John Burlingame) provide background on the composer and his career, his musical credits and his often adventurous work. (The second part is only audio, with a still of a poster next to a faded black and white shot of Morricone to keep your eyes busy.)

It's a valuable addition to any film library: Sergio Leone would be proud of this DVD, safeguarding his most popular and most applauded film as something of lasting value.

Published: August 19, 2004

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CAST: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Luigi Pistilli, Rada Rassimov, Enzo Petito, John Bartha

PRODUCER: Alberto Grimaldi

DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone

SCRIPT: Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone (Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone - story)

RUNNING TIME: 179 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 (16 x 9 enhanced); DD 5.1; English, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin subtitles

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: audio commentary by film historian Richard Schickel. Disc Two: Leone's West - retrospective doco; Leone Style - doco on the director; The Man Who Lost the Civil War - doco on the War; restoration feature; reconstruction of the deleted Socorro scene; extended scene of Tuco being tortured; Il Maestro Parts 1 & 2 - doco on composer Ennio Morricone; French trailer - using alternate scenes not used in the final cut; poster gallery.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MGM Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 18, 2004

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