This movie must be *experienced.* Put the DVD in, turn the stereo all the way up and let it pummel you from the moment the Lardani titles blast onto the screen in a blaze of Technicolor fury. The montage of colour, interspersed by stark black and white visages of Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach is a tough act to follow, like Saul Bass' mesmerising titles for Hitchcock's "Vertigo."
The wait is now over! Last year, MGM/UA issued a restored 35mm print, which showed at the Film Forum in Manhattan. First restored in Italian by Cineteca Nazionale, the English-language restoration was spearheaded by Martin Scorsese, whose efforts with the Film Preservation Foundation have helped fund preservation of America's celluloid heritage. Both Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood returned to the sound studio to dub new dialogue for approximately 20 minutes of restored footage. Both sound a little older and scratchier, but these added scenes help to explain both Tuco's and Angel Eyes' gangs and some plot points that were previously unclear. However, they both sound great! (Van Cleef's voice was dubbed by a professional voiceover artist, and sounds almost on target). The movie now has the true feel of a sprawling epic, one that's earned its right to take its time.
This special edition DVD features the movie restored to its original length in the Italian version, and comes jam packed with interviews with Eastwood, Wallach, producer Alberto Grimaldi and -- most importantly -- Mickey Knox, who wrote the English language dialogue. Knox crafted lines that lived up to the larger than life screenplay. You'd swear the original was in English, the dialogue is so perfectly tailored!
But the vision is singularly Leone's. It starts slowly, as a band of bounty killers home in on their prey, small-time bandit Tuco Ramirez (THE UGLY, played by the venerable Eli Wallach). They pile through a saloon door, then the camera imediately pans away laterally. Suddenly, his body hurtling through the front window in a rain of glass, Tuco bursts onto the street -- in what has to be the most absurd grand entrance in screen history -- revolver in one hand, a chicken leg in the other. It's total chutzpah on Leone's and Wallach's part.
If you think *that* can't be topped, watch Wallach's entire performance. Animated is putting it mildly. More than a performance, Wallach is a one-man band, nay, Army. Never has such a selfish, petty, ratty and shifty little man been played so larger than life. Wallach smirks, scurries, grimaces, chuckles, shouts, bellows and slyly oils his way across the screen in what has got to be the hammiest performance ever by a method actor. Or *any* actor: He makes Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster and Charles Laughton look like the grey and sullen cast of Woody Allen's "Interiors," he's so alive with passion that he literally sweats his performance out through the filthy pores on his stubble-ridden face. And he's wonderful!
If that's a tough act to follow, you haven't met the bad. They don't come any badder than Angel Eyes, Lee Van Cleef's hired killer who's got ice water running through his veins. Van Cleef is ruthless, bold and heartless. Riding out of nowhere onto a doomed man's rancho, Angel Eyes pays a visit, carrying out a murder for hire. The price: $500. But the victim offers him $1000 to look the other way. No dice: Angel Eyes isn't in it for the money. Rather, he's a man who loves his work, and always sees the job through. So, the poor sod dies anyway.
Clint Eastwood is as cool as a cucumber as The Man With No Name (but really one with sort of a name, in this case "Blondie," which is Wallach's moniker for him). It's fun watching the ongoing relationship between Blondie and Tuco as bounty hunter and prey. In another life, they would have been great pals, but in this life ("we're all alone in this world," Tuco confesses to Blondie, half seriously, half cynically) their love of money is thicker than friendship. So, they invent ingenious and cruel ways to exact revenge of each other.
It's during one of Tuco's sadistic plots - in which he marches the pale-skinned Eastwood across 100 miles of scorching desert - that the plot finally comes to a head: A driverless stagecoach full of wounded Confederates happens across their path, and through a twist of fate, Tuco and Blondie each have two halves of a secret which, if put together, will make them a quarter of a million dollars richer. But, without each other the two halves are worthless. Thus does Tuco do a 180 from brutal executioner to Blondie's would-be saviour. Now that he could be rich, he suddenly realizes how valuable their friendship is.
It's not before long that they wind up with Angel Eyes, as they're captured by Union soldiers. At the prisoner of war camp, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins. Van Cleef is now more restrained and less thuggish as he deals with Tuco to extract the secret; his henchman Wallace (Mario Brega, a Leone stalwart), pummels it out of Tuco.
In epic fashion, after a shootout in a deserted town and a bridge demolition that explodes across the screen, Tuco, Blondie and Angel Eyes make their way to the cemetery where the treasure is buried. In a fanfare of brass, percussion and chorus, the three face each other down in the cemetery plaza. It's a gorgeous and cathartic set piece. Credit must go not only to composer Ennio Morricone but also to musical director Bruno Nicolai, who conducts the score con fuoco.
This is how it goes- Blondie [the good] and Tuco [the ugly] run a little partnership. Tuco is an outlaw wanted in just about every town, and Blondie turns him in for the reward. When Tuco's about to be hung, Blondie shoots the rope, and Tuco escapes on horseback. They repeat this, earning a lot of money in the process. But, for seemingly no reason, Blondie breaks their partnership and goes off on his own. Tuco seeks revenge, and hunts his once-partner down. Along the way, they both talk to a dying soldier (one at a time) and learn about a grave full of gold. Tuco knows which cemetary it's located in, but Blondie knows the name of the grave it's in. In turn, this causes them to join forces again, even if reluctantly, to get the gold and split it. But then, Angel Eyes [the bad] finds out about it as well, and joins in on the chase. A lot of action happens, and it's impossible to go into detail with a limit on how much I can put in this review, but you won't be disappointed.
All I'll say about the music is that it's the first soundtrack to a movie that I've bought in years. Go read my review for the soundtrack instead. But it is fantastic, and so many movies have since tried to reproduce this sound.
The print looks perfect. I remember seeing commercials of GBU a few years ago and it looked muddy and grainy. All of that is gone now, and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear this version was filmed within the past 10 years. No scratches, no blurry textures, no weird looking colors, everything is almost flawless. Almost, in that there are some scenes with notable dust particles. But that doesn't take anything away from the film one bit. You only notice it if you're looking for errors really.
The audio is just as good. The voices are clear, and the sound effects are booming. There's nothing bad to say about it except for the scenes where Clint and Eli went back to dub their voices in. Clint's voice sounds about the same, but it's quieter. Eli however, well I want to be nice about this. It sounds terrible. Since I hadn't seen the movie until I bought this version, and I read that him and Clint were adding their voices, I figured he'd sound like your typical elderly man. Oh no, not by a long shot. If you haven't seen the movie yet and want to know what was added back in, just listen for Eli. I couldn't even tell it was him talking. I thought Winnie the Pooh had made his way into the movie somehow. Really now, imagine how Winnie the Pooh would sound after getting his tonsils removed, and that's how Eli sounds. I'm not trying to offend the guy, but they should've gotten someone else to do the voice. Luckily, it doesn't make the new scenes seem silly, and you won't be bothered much by it.
The special features are pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but not bad either. On the first disc, there's just a commentary track which has to be the most boring commentary I've ever heard. Instead of getting Clint or Eli to join in and do it, or even a good film critic/historian like Leonard Maltin or Roger Ebert, they got Richard Schickel. Honestly, it took me 2 days to watch the film with the commentary on. He's just so boring that it gets annoying. He gives us no new information- just rehash of what's on disc 2. A lot of words are dragged out, followed by tons of "uh" and "um"s which make it even more annoying. On the second disc though, are interviews with Clint, Eli and other people that worked on the set. They're very interesting. Eli mentions how he could've been killed during the scene with him getting out of the handcuffs with the train. He didn't notcie that some of the carts had little steps on the sides. Had he moved his head up just a few seconds earlier, he would've been taken out. Also included is a deleted scene (which is sort of misleading- it's an extended Tuco Torture scene) and a description with frames of a scene that they couldn't include because the film negatives were damaged beyond repair. It's a good scene though, it added some comedy to Tuco finding Blondie's cigar butts.
There are a few easter eggs as well on disc 2: when the menu shows up, hit the left arrow. Some new icons should show up if you keep hitting left. They're very short tidbits with Clint and Eli, telling stories from the set. One hilarious one is about Leone's original idea for where Tuco should keep his gun [on the noose around his neck]. But after Leone demonstrating, and resulting in trial and error, he quickly changed his mind.
You can't go wrong with this collector's edition. Let's just hope the sales for it do well enough that A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More get the same treatment.