The Good, The Ugly and the Bad (to put them in the order of the original)
After A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, the last of the Dollars trilogy (which actually doesn’t have the word dollars in the name but never mind) was the one with the biggest budget – double that of the previous movie at $1.2m. As a result, this film is a really big picture with huge battle scenes (for it is set in the Civil War), trains and all the paraphernalia that Leone could have wanted. A bridge was blown up before his cameras were ready. No bother: they rebuilt it and blew it again.
Just so you know who's who
Another result of the big budget is far less fortunate: the movie is unconscionably long. Far too long. 186 minutes in the French version. It is slow-paced and at times seems endless. A lot of this time is spent with characters staring at each other.
Big-budget sets. Transplanted hanging tree.
Eastwood had a smaller part because there are now three principals and in fact Eli Wallach, as ‘the Ugly’, emerged as the lead (it should really have been called The Ugly, the Good and the Bad). He plays his scoundrely bandido with huge force, building on his Calvera in The Magnificent Seven, and he obviously loved doing it.
The Ugly and the (relatively) Good
Eastwood, ‘the Good’ (only relatively good, of course), who was getting on less well with Leone and had decided that this would be his last Italian film, shows none of the wry amusement that he did in For a Few Dollars More. He is workmanlike and does the job. He dutifully chews on that damn cheroot and wears his poncho at the end. But he isn’t as dominant as he is in the first two.
Lee Van Cleef is back, as ‘the bad’ and has none of the depth of character of Colonel Mortimer in No. 2, although he does well as the machine-like killer in the smallest of the three parts. In a spaghetti where everyone has slit eyes, his are the slittiest.
Boy, are those eyes narrow
One thing I will say, the photography of this one is superior. Tonino delli Colli did a better job than Massimo Dallamano. Delli Colli went on to do quite well on the Hollywood post-spaghetti Once Upon A Time In the West in 1968.
The final (interminable) three-way shoot-out in a circular plaza in a cemetery, with the principals on what looks like the stage of an ancient Greek amphitheater with endless rows of dead as the audience (I am getting European and pretentious here, but I do live in France, you know) has become famous.
It’s as though Leone had groveled around the floors of a hundred editing rooms of American studio Westerns, picking up all the cuttings of the out-takes and rejects and the corniest of clichés, and spliced them all together into a collage to make a three-hour movie of amusing dreadfulness.
In the last resort, this movie is a big-budget spaghetti western with all that that implies. If you are a spaghetti fan, you’ll love it. It’s got all the wide-screen close-ups, electric guitar score, overdubbed sound and parodic violence you could want. If you’re like me, you’ll wish you hadn’t bought the DVD version with all the cuts restored.
The short cheroot, Spanish sun and arc lamps combined to create the famous Clint squint
It was the last of the Dollars trilogy but not the last of Leone. He, as you know, on the basis of the success of Dollars, talked Hollywood into financing the huge Once Upon a Time in the West. In that movie, Leone was to have put the Dollars trilogy finally in its grave by having Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach shot at the train station during the opening titles. Poor sports, they wouldn’t play ball, sadly, and it was not to be. It would have been a good joke.