In the early days of Hollywood filmmaking, there was a noble earnestness that was associated with the western genre. You could always count on your hero to be virtuous at the end of the day as he fought back against clearly defined foes – either dark-hat villains or more commonly savage Native Americans. Even when these films started to be shot in Technicolor, the situations were often still black-and-white. Things really started to change in the 1960s as a new kind of down-and-dirty western started to capture the attention of an audience in the midst of their own social upheaval. The Italian “Spaghetti Western” allowed for an outside perspective to a genre that had been saddled with classic “Old West romanticism” that allowed domestic audiences to yearn for a “simpler” time that was actually hell for most who lived through it. The great Sergio Leone knew this was a fantasy, and through his classic “Dollars Trilogy” he tore down that notion brick by brick. The 1966 epic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly serves as the conclusion of the thematically linked trilogy following A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, but more importantly grounded itself as a landmark of the genre.
The film establishes the titular trio from the onset; the “Good” is known as Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a drifter and gifted gunslinger who silently makes his way across the land with an uneasy alliance with the “Ugly” Tuco (Eli Wallach), a loquacious bandit who always seems on the verge of a double-cross. The year is 1862 during the American Civil War and the pair are running scams from town to town until eventually they get word of a cache of Confederate gold valued at $200,000. Through a series of circumstances, Tuco learns the name of the cemetery where the treasure is located, while Blondie learns the name of the specific grave where you can find it. The two only have a portion of the exact location which makes them more dependent on each other than they would care to be. Not to be forgotten is the “Bad” Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a ruthless mercenary with no sense of honor and no problem spilling blood. Angel Eyes is also on the path to this payday, and over the course of nearly three hours Leone builds up to one of the most iconic showdowns in history.
As his contemporary Sam Peckinpah would make a career out of, Leone uses excessive violence very purposefully and satirically. All three of our key characters are introduced through violent situations which purports to place the characters into their titular molds. Yet, as we come to know each character we can see Leone’s cynicism shine through in the way that even the so-called “Good” character is not a clean-cut hero in the way we know classic John Wayne characters to be. Despite his core values, Blondie can be just as unscrupulous as his compadres in certain instances which firmly places him more in the camp of antihero. The backdrop of the Civil War is no afterthought as Leone seeks to show the absurdity of the war. There were no good guys and bad guys, only an endless sea of dead bodies that can be attributed to the ruthlessness of each side – which makes its way into the DNA of our characters. The gritty nature of the war is seen through imprisonment and military sieges, and that translates to the aesthetic captured in the cinematography. The film, the war, and the actions of the characters – three gritty elements forever intertwined.
The mastery of filmmaking showcased by Leone cannot be overlooked. From the earliest moments he deftly establishes rules that are used so strikingly throughout the narrative. While Eli Wallach may make a meal out of his talkative performance, visuals rule in this feature more so than dialogue. Rarely has the scope of a picture been taken to such breathtaking depths; every element that appears on the screen has been included for a reason. Whatever the camera sees is what the characters can see; the audience is not clued-in to an upcoming Union Army settlement until the characters see it for the first time. The way in which he seamlessly bounced back from vast expanses to uncomfortable close-ups shows an intention that is awe-inspiring. He draws out the tension in a pivotal confrontation with sweat-soaked brows, darting eyes and fidgeting fingers that will leave an indelible stain on your memory. Yet, this moment would not be as effective if the trio of performers had not established themselves through three powerhouse performances throughout the feature. This theatrical cut of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly provided here is a masterclass of narrative and visual storytelling executed by one of the all-time greats. This is known as a classic for a reason.
Kino Classics presents The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with a glorious 2160p transfer in its original U.S. theatrical cut for the first time on Blu-Ray and 4K UHD featuring extensive shot-by-shot color grading and sourced from a 4K scan of a 1967 IB tech print as the secondary source to restore the theatrical cut. The previous L’Immagine Ritrovata master featured some garish color grading which explains the need for the extensive regrading – Kino Classics should be commended for rescuing this one for fans. For a number of reasons, the disc lacks the HDR for increased color output typically found on 4K UHD discs, but the disc does not suffer greatly for it. The new master features some rich, earthy colors in their natural state as intended that pop off the screen with a vibrant intensity. Even with the new color grading, there are a few instances where some of the limits of the corrections are apparent with suppressed colors, but overall the effort is commendable. The black levels are fairly impressive with only a little left to be desired in shadow detail and in resolving crushed blacks. White levels are solid as a rock with no evidence of blooming.
The level of detail and clarity is stunning with a pleasing amount of natural film grain intact. The grain mostly resolves quite well, but there are some moments that look a bit swarm-y in some of the brightest backgrounds. The texture on display in the costumes and within the landscapes are a revelation. Even facial details such as dripping sweat present with impressive clarity. This transfer does feature a few stray specks that do not amount to much in the long run. This presentation is as true to the original look of the film as it can get with the added resolution making elements seem more immediate. There does not appear to be much in the way of jarring digital anomalies such as compression artifacts, banding or any other such nuisances. This presentation is a stellar effort from the good people at Kino Classics, and it serves as the definitive version of the film on the market.
The 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc comes with both a DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio track in English that both handle this material well in different ways. The new 5.1 track has been created by taking the mono mix and expanding it to the 5.1 format. The result is pleasing enough for those solely looking to engage all of their speakers, but the go-to track for most fans will be the 2.0 mono track that was missing from the previous Blu-Ray release. This new track has been restored after going back to the original laserdisc of the film. The track does not feature constant kinetic activity, but it comes alive when it makes sense. The iconic score from Ennio Morricone is used perfectly to establish the mood of the story, and this track handles it elegantly throughout the duration of the film. There is never a moment where it threatens to overwhelm competing sounds, and it maintains a good balance so that dialogue comes through clearly. The environmental sounds such as the wind and gunshots are rendered well alongside everything else. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. Kino Classics has given this film a perfectly preserved audio presentation that brings the movie to life in an exciting manner.
- Audio Commentary: Film Historian Tim Lucas provides a very informative commentary track in which he delves deep into the careers of everyone involved in the project, the background of the title credits, the elements of the iconic score, the nuances in the performances, Leone’s visual style for the film, the themes and symbolism in the film and much more that provides a lot of context for the film.
- Deleted Scenes: Eighteen minutes of unused material is provided here including an extended scene of Tuco chatting with a chicken, Angel Eyes coming across a battery of injured men, Tuco taunting Blondie and more.
- Extended Scenes: Nearly eight minutes of extended material is provided here from various scenes.
- Alternate Transitions: A minute-long collection of different transitions between key scenes.
- Leone’s West – Making Of Documentary: A 20-minute documentary which explores the career and legacy of Sergio Leone, his impact on the western genre, the production of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and more. The participants include critic Richard Schickel, film translator Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, Clint Eastwood, and various other individuals.
- Il Maestro – Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Pt. 1: An eight-minute piece in which film music historian Jon Burlingame delves into the career of Morricone, how he became involved with Leone, his work with the filmmaker and more.
- Il Maestro – Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Pt. 2: The previous piece continues with another nearly thirteen minute featurette which delves more specifically into the relationship between Morricone and Leone and the soundtrack of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with analysis of certain key sequences.
- The Leone Style – On Sergio Leone: A 24-minute featurette which explores the stylistic tendencies of Leone and how they impacted his filmmaking. There are some good insights from people such as Clint Eastwood as to why these shots are necessary for the story he is telling.
- The Man Who Lost The Civil War – Civil War Documentary: A 14-minute documentary that provides the true story behind the treasure hunt depicted on screen in the film. This is a fascinating addition that is quite illuminating.
- Reconstruction of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Extended Cut): An 11-minute featurette which chronicles the initial request to cut down the film significantly for American audiences and the path towards putting his epic masterpiece back together how it was originally intended.
- Deleted Scenes: Four more unused scenes are provided totaling twelve minutes which features two extended torture scenes and more.
- Vignettes: Four brief anecdotes totaling nearly three minutes from Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood.
- The Optical Flip: A minute-long look at a scene with and without a comedic optical flip is provided.
- Trailers From Hell with Ernest Dickerson: A three-and-a-half overview of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with director Ernest Dickerson (Juice).
- Image Galleries: Two image galleries are provided of On The Set images and Promotional Material.
- Radio Spots: There are trailer spots provided for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (0:35) and A Fistful of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More (Burning At Both Ends) (1:02)
- Trailers: There is a Domestic (3:23), German (3:28) and French (3:31) trailer provided for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. There are also trailers provided for A Fistful Of Dollars, two for A Few Dollars More and one for A Fistful of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More (Burning At Both Ends).
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a classic of the genre that has remained a powerhouse over the years thanks to the impeccable direction from Sergio Leone. The trio of performances at the helm of this story are outstanding in every respect, and they take to Leone’s particular style incredibly well. There is much to enjoy about this film on a surface level, but those willing to really engage with the themes will find the experience even more rewarding. Kino Classics has released a 4K UHD Blu-Ray featuring an outstanding A/V presentation and an assortment of special features that will keep fans busy for a while. If you are going to own this film, this is without question the release you should pick up. Highly Recommended
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.