The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 50th Anniversary Special Edition, 1966.
Directed by Sergio Leone.
Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach.
Okay, it’s been 51 years since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was released, but who’s counting? This new 50th Anniversary Special Edition from Kino Lorber pulls out all the stops with a 4K remastered image, theatrical and extended versions of the film on separate discs, and a big helping of bonus features, including three commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a bunch of documentary materials.
Some film fans revere Sergio Leone the way others revere Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and other directors with more recognizable names. I’ll admit to having arrived at Leone a bit later in life. Sure, I recognized A Fistful of Dollars in Back to the Future Part II, I knew about the longer version of Once Upon a Time in America, and that iconic music from The Good, the Bad & the Ugly was well-known to me, but I didn’t immerse myself in more of his work until later.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third in Leone’s so-called “Dollars trilogy” of spaghetti westerns. A Fistful of Dollars was first, and it marked Clint Eastwood’s debut as a leading man, playing the enigmatic “Man with No Name.” Eastwood and Leone followed that up with For a Few Dollars More. While Eastwood’s character seems to be the same in all three movies, he goes by a different nickname in each one – Leone wisely left it to the audience to decide if the no-name character is a wanderer who tries to keep anyone from tracking him or if he’s truly three different people.
Leone took his original cue from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro films, which starred Toshiro Mifune as a wandering ronin who looks out only for himself. (Star Wars fans will notice a few bits of inspiration in Yojimbo, particularly a shot of a severed arm in the street and music that’s reminiscent of part of John Williams’ score.) In fact, the similarities between Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars led to a lawsuit and an out-of-court settlement.
By the time Leone got to The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, he was able to afford more elaborate production values than he previously had access to, and he was able to released a 162-minute film that could easily be considered an epic western. Despite that, it’s more personal than one would expect from an epic.
Eastwood’s character is known as “Blondie” (the “good”) in this one, a bounty hunter who has an on-and-off relationship with the bandit Tuco (Eli Wallach; the “ugly”) as the two seek $200,000 in Confederate gold that has been buried in a cemetery during the American Civil War. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef; the “bad”) is a Union sergeant who’s also seeking the treasure – he’s wiling to create an alliance with either of the other two, but he’d just as soon turn on them as they would turn on him.
That triangle plays out in various ways as the three characters make their way across a desolate landscape full of war-ravaged towns and supporting characters who are simply trying to survive. Alliances are created and broken, and just as someone is close to finding the treasure, it’s snatched away from them due to circumstances beyond their control.
While The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is, like its predecessors, a twist on the traditional western, with no real good guys and bad guys, it’s also a movie about how the Civil War was full of shades of gray too. Sure, the Union was fighting to keep the slave-owning Confederate states from seceding, but as Angel Eyes shows, there were plenty of shades of gray on both sides.
This release from Kino Lorber also includes the extended 179-minute cut, which has additional footage that contains more character moments as well as explanations for a few things that weren’t clear in the original version. (The longer cut was shown in Italy, but international releases in the U.S. and elsewhere were trimmed.)
The theatrical cut in this release features a commentary track by Tim Lucas from the site Video Watchdog, along with a couple deleted scenes, an alternate scene, the theatrical trailer, and two collections of images, one from the set and one with poster art and lobby cards from the international release. Also included is Trailers From Home, a quick three-minute interview with director Ernest Dickerson, who discusses Leone’s directing style in the context of the Dollars trilogy.
The second disc, with the extended cut, has the meat of the bonus features. It’s also the same as the disc that’s been released previously by MGM. I don’t have access to that one, but from what I understand, it had a yellowish hue to the image that was eliminated in this version. The bonus features include:
- Two commentary tracks, one by film historian Richard Schickel and the other with Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling. Schickel’s discussion is more scholarly, and both overlap a bit, as you’d expect, but they’re worthwhile listens for fans.
- Leone’s West (20 minutes): A look back at the director’s westerns, with a particular emphasis on the Dollars trilogy. Schickel, Eastwood, Wallach, producer Alberto Grimaldi, and English translator Mickey Knox all weigh in.
- The Leone Style (24 minutes): Schickel, Eastwood, Wallach, Grimaldi, and Knox all return to talk about how Leone drew inspiration from various sources, including opera, to create his distinctive visual style.
- The Man Who Lost the Civil War (14 minutes): The film’s depiction of the Civil War is largely fictional, but it was based on some real events, and this bonus feature explains the history found there.
- Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone & ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Parts 1 and 2 (20 minutes): A discussion of composer Ennio Morricone’s work with historian John Burlingame. Part 2 is audio-only.
- Reconstruction of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (11 minutes): Restoring the film to its original cut required not only cleaning up the film but also bringing in Eastwood and Wallach many years later to redub their lines in the newly added scenes. That process happened in 2002.
- Four vignettes with Wallach and Eastwood that run just a few minutes total. Not sure why they weren’t just included somewhere else.
- Two deleted scenes (10 minutes) that were put together from still photos and shots from the French trailer, which is also included in its entirety.
Fans of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly will find plenty here to appreciate, even if they own any of the many previous home video releases. And if you don’t have this one yet, this two-Blu-ray set is a perfect excuse to make the purchase.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★