There are two kinds of westerns in this world: the fast-paced actioners and the slow-burns that last for 3 damn hours. When you look at the western, this one is basically the quintessential film. For the unacquainted, the film introduces us to "the ugly," a bandit named Tuco (Eli Wallach) with very few morals; "the bad," a professional assassin named Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) who never fails to complete a mission once paid; and "the good," a con artist known only as Blondie (Clint Eastwood) who captures a bounty and then frees the outlaw, only to capture and repeat the process. Blondie and Tuco are working together until things begin to derail between them. Angel Eyes is doing a job hunting down a man who has changed his name to Bill Carson. And all three venture through a Civil War-torn south to find buried treasure in a cemetery.
Like any good movie, this one can be split into three parts (but unlike most films, each part is an hour long instead of roughly 30 minutes). The first hour introduces us to the main three characters and how they interact with each other. This hour, despite its slowness, is good. The little segments introducing each character is fun, and the first 10 minutes don't even have dialogue. Still, it left me wondering if we were ever going to get to the point.
The second hour sets up the hidden treasure plot and has our characters together in an army camp. So we finally get to the point and the movie starts picking up a bit. However, whereas the first hour actually felt like a western, this hour starts giving it an overall war film feeling (which continues into the bulk of the next hour, too).
The final hour at first builds steam with a fun shoot-out and one of my favorite lines in the movie ("When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." Just his delivery of the line is fantastic). But then the movie slams on its breaks for a mostly unnecessary bridge sequence that has Blondie and Tuco at another army camp. It wasn't a bad sequence--just unnecessary. The best part (besides the big explosion) is a very quiet moment when Blondie gives a dying soldier a puff of his cigar. It's such a fantastic moment. After the nearly 30-minute detour, we have our grand finale at the cemetery. The whole cemetery sequence is very well done, of course. Really good stuff.
The acting was solid. Clint Eastwood, who I had yet to see act well, does a really good job here. And Eli Wallach does well, too. But the true star of the film, for me anyway, was Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. I wanna see this guy in other stuff. He was menacing yet somehow elegant--the best kind of villain. And his distinct look really set him apart, too.
One thing I particularly liked was how, despite being labeled in a very black and white manner, the characters weren't black and white. Blondie wasn't all that "good." Angel Eyes might have been "bad," but he did follow a code of ethics. Tuco was really the only one who didn't walk a gray area. He was selfish and did what benefited him the most--in fact, at times, he was more "bad" than even Angel Eyes.
Anyway, I'll just get into my final notes now. The film's score is wonderful (and famous--despite not having seen the film before, I knew the main theme that plays throughout). The film was basically 2/3s dubbed over in English and 1/3 actually spoken in English. I thought that would get annoying, but you really don't notice it after a while. The film's biggest flaw is really its length. I could have easily done with about an hour or so less and wouldn't have been bothered any. Things did start feeling repetitive in the last half of the movie with all the Civil War stuff, so that could have been trimmed down a lot. I don't mind long movies, but as many people have said in the past--there needs to be a reason that it's that long. Here, there's no reason it needed to be 3 hours long. The pacing was mostly fine up until that last hour.
So that's it. I refrained from being cliche and doing this in a "good, bad, ugly" format (mostly because, honestly, there wasn't anything ugly/terrible about it). Would I go out and watch this again? Probably not--at least not for a good while. But am I glad I saw it? Definitely. Anyway, keep an eye out before next Wednesday for another 60/60 Extra that will help transition from this film into the Japanese western that is coming next (it's not exactly a classic, but it's too good of a transition to pass up). As for this film, however...