When Clint Eastwood took the role of the Man-with-No-Name in Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” it wasn’t because he thought it would be a great career move, he just wanted a free vacation. Filmed during a break between seasons of “Rawhide,” the actor was paid $15,000 with his travel expenses to Europe covered as well. He thought no one would see the movie, that it would never be released in the United States and that it would be nothing but a footnote in his career.
Obviously, he couldn’t have predicted that Leone’s revisionist take on the Western would take the cinematic world by storm, draw crowds to theaters across Europe and revitalize a genre that had been left for dead. Oh, and it made Eastwood the biggest movie star in the world.
“Dollars” was followed by “A Few Dollars More,” and culminated with “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” arguably the best of the Spaghetti Westerns, which will be shown at the Art Theater this weekend, a rare opportunity to see this film on the big screen, the only way it should be seen.
The story itself is quite simple as this Civil War tale follows the efforts of three amoral men – Eastwood’s laconic gunfighter, Lee Van Cleef’s sadistic Angel Eyes and Eli Wallach’s duplicitous Tuco - who will do anything and double-cross anyone in their efforts to find a hidden cache of gold. Not only must they deal with each other’s underhanded doings, but they need to get around the Union and Confederate armies, divisions of which are locked into a prolonged battle very near where the treasure lies.
By the time Leone made “Good,” he was able to command a very large budget ($1.2 million) based on the success of the two previous entries in the series. (Incidentally, Eastwood was paid $250,000 plus 10% of the gross for his participation.)
The director spent every dollar wisely and you can see it on the screen. The towns used in the film were built from the ground up, as was the cemetery where the classic climactic gunfight occurs, while the bridge that’s destroyed had to be rebuilt after it was accidentally razed when no cameras were running to record its destruction.
And while the film has an epic feel to it, part of that is due to the stark open vistas that Leone uses in which he casts his three main characters as larger-than-life men whose grand actions are barely contained by nature itself. Exaggeration is at the center of these films as bullets echo long after being discharged, slaps sound like thunderclaps and what these guys can do with a six-shooter defies logic as well as the laws of physics. Critic Danny Peary put forth the notion that Leone sees these men as the descendants of demigods sired by the Greek Gods who supposedly existed in the area where these films were made. It’s a fun notion to consider as you see these three stride the earth as giants among men, brushing all others aside as their quest to find the hidden cache of gold.
The Art will be screening the complete, 179-minute version of the film, which contains four scenes that were excised for the original American release which were restored in 2003. Many have seen this work on home video and it doesn’t begin to capture the grandeur of Leone’s vision. The opportunity to see the filmmaker’s vision as it was meant to be is an opportunity that doesn’t happen often and should be taken advantage of by film buffs and the uninitiated alike.
The Art Theater will show The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at 10 pm on Friday, November 15th and Saturday, November 16th and at 11 am o