Everything Sergio Leone did before 1966 built up to The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More steadily increased the epic western that Leone envisioned until he released what is probably his greatest creation and the film that sealed Clint Eastwood's star power.
As gritty as its predecessors, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly is set during the Civil War as the title trio goes on the hunt for $200,000 dollars in stolen gold. The Good is Blondie, played by Eastwood as he reprises his Man With No Name character. The Bad is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a cold blooded killer who happens upon the gold story while working for another man. The Ugly is Tuco (Eli Wallach), a degenerate criminal hell bent on getting vengeance on Blondie, but is forced to change his tune when Blondie gains the key information to the hidden gold. The quest for gold begins in front of the back drop of the Civil War as battles impede the movement toward the buried coins and the gritty, bombed out towns serve as a refuge to the treasure hunters.
This is the third and final film in the Dollars trilogy and shows how popular and profitable Leone's vision had become. Given a larger budget for TGTBATU, Leone builds a larger world than in any previous dollars film. As in the others the west is a dirty place where there are no cowboys in black and white, just everyone wearing a shade of gray. The Good really isn't very good, he's just a man in his element.
Of course all of the Leone trademarks are present; the close ups and the grand vistas borrowed from John Ford. It's a drastic change from the almost crystal clean westerns of decades before. Is it realistic? Probably not, but life appears a lot closer to real human nature than other westerns. Survival of the fittest is the main theme in these films.
When looking at the cast the three leads are perfect. Eastwood's character is obviously a very good rehash from the previous dollars films, but Eli Wallach's Tuco is a sight to be believed. He appears to be bungling, but is actually way ahead when you really delve deeper into his character. "If you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." The real switch is Lee Van Cleef, who played the fatherly Mortimer in For A Few Dollars More. In TGTBATU he is one of cinemas first natural born killers. A professional at what he does in every sense of the word.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly has a legacy that has followed it since its release almost two generations ago. The west got harsher. The line between good and bad became blurred, bringing on a decade of the anti-hero. This film still influences directors and writers throughout the world. It is a masterpiece of film making with a story that is epic. Not only one of the greatest westerns ever made, one of the greatest films ever made.