Alex Cox, maverick writer-director of Repo Man and Walker, on a newly extended version of Sergio Leone's epic
The good, the bad and the ugly was the first DVD I ever bought, in 1998: I got hold of the American release, because it included several missing scenes?though these were presented separately from the film, as extra elements, dubbed in Italian. This is a new version?made from the original negative?of Sergio Leone’s epic western about three murderous outlaws drifting through the American Civil War in search of a grave full of stolen gold. Unlike the film shown in the UK and the US in the late 1960s, which was 161 minutes in length, this one is based on the print shown at the Italian premiere in 1966, which ran for almost 178 minutes. This version is the first chance we’ve had to see Leone’s movie with (almost) all the scenes as the director intended, in the right order, in English. And so what?
How does it compare to the shorter X-rated movie that some of us snuck in to see in the ’60s? Three hours is long for an action movie, and here we see Leone developing his specially-slow style of storytelling, stretching scenes of tension to the breaking point, if not beyond.
I’ve seen the film at various lengths?in the cinema, and on TV?and it seems to me that there are in fact two different movies called The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. One is this one of course. The other is much, much shorter?something like the British re-release version from the ’70s which the distributors cut drastically so as to fit it on a double bill. Gone was the scene where Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes beats up a prostitute; gone the scene after it where Eli Wallach’s Tuco crosses the bridge and steals a pistol. Non-action scenes were shortened or entirely eliminated. This was the pure action The Good, The Bad And The Ugly: racing as fast as it could for Sad Hill Cemetery.
You could call that version the last part of the Dollars trilogy, begun famously with 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars and continued the following year with For A Few Dollars More.
And then there’s this version?the picaresque, Cervantes-style The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, the try-out for Once Upon A Time In The West and Once Upon A Time In America: a rambling, episodic yarn which Leone originally planned to call The Magnificent Rogues. In a film titled The Magnificent Rogues, we’d definitely want to see the missing “Soccoro” scene, where Tuco turns the townspeople upside down so money falls out of their pockets. In the streamlined, Dollars version, we don’t. There’s a tendency among some critics to think that longer is better and that the director always wants/deserves/should get the longest possible version of his film. But that isn’t always true. Directors of very long films can sometimes legitimately be accused of losing the plot.
What’s the point of the (rediscovered) scene where Tuco visits his gang in a cave? It’s cartoonish, and not very well lit or shot. The scene where Angel Eyes visits the ruined fort is beautifully photographed, and helps the narrative. But the long sequence in the desert, where Tuco further tortures Clint Eastwood’s Blondie, is just embarrassing and slow. There is one very good addition, though?the last one. It takes place just before the last Civil War battle, where Blondie and Tuco are pretending to be Union volunteers. The drunk Captain doesn’t believe them, and asks who they are:
CAPTAIN: What did you say your name was?
TUCO: Ah, I, eh…
For a splendid moment, Tuco gives up. He can’t be bothered to think of a new fake name, nor to repeat the name of Bill Carson, his previous alias. In the face of so much carnage and madness, and more to come, his mind has packed up. And so has the mind of Blondie:
CAPTAIN: And you?
Blondie looks discomforted. He can’t think of a name either.
CAPTAIN: No, ha, ha, ha! Names don’t matter…
It seems to me an important part of the film, and of Leone’s work in general, where even the resourceful Magnificent Rogues are reduced to silence, staring out at the infinite reaches of man’s perfect killing machine.
Whether it’s better than the bastardised, r