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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Spaghetti Western > The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (MGM DVD set)

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Special Edition set)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: A-     Film: A



A few years back I went through this phase where I was obsessed with watching repeatedly Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, but it did not dawn on me until recently why I did this.  When I say repeatedly, I mean that I watched it over and over, and it hypnotized me with each viewing even though I had seen it many times before, I just kept watching it. 


My fascination with the film was more of identification than anything, not that I get to go around and shoot people or anything like that, but I identified with the characters, or at least the main character played by Clint Eastwood.  This film is part of the Man With No Name Trilogy, and is by far the best out of the three films, which also included Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.  He plays a loner, a man that has no purpose at least on the surface, and walks through the Wild West in an attempt to just …fit in perhaps?  Yet, deep down he knows that he cannot.  The Civil War just happens to be taking place as well, which adds to the idea that even at war, there are men that just have other priorities, like gold! 


A man like this does not fit in though and therein lay the problem.  He is a just man that has his share of flaws, but most of all, he just goes from place to place.  He does not contribute, but rather lets things fall upon him.  Now, the film does not just center around his performance, but also from The Bad and The Ugly…those Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef).  Of course, Eastwood is The Good, but throughout the film we ponder the idea of what it is to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and where ‘ugly’ falls into the story. 


There is little debate that this film marks one of the best Westerns made and certainly a landmark in the Spaghetti Western. In fact, the only film Leone made that I felt touched on the same depth as this film was Once Upon a Time in the West (reviewed on this site).  There is something magical with this film as narrative plot points occur and characters are as enigmatic as they are predictable.  The direction alone is superior in that the screen time is devoted to each character and intertwines various elements from each and pulls together in the end like a knot. 


For years this film has been plagued with bad sound, most of that due to an out-of-sync problem all over the place, as well as the mono sound coming across way too harsh.  Since this is an epic widescreen film it needs that large sound design that sets the standards of today, which is why a re-created 5.1 mix was given here in order to bring more depth to the film, especially after MGM’s first release of the film on DVD, which was really flat Dolby Digital mono. Mono only undermines the films grandiose setting, even for those purists, I prefer a re-think when it comes to modifying a soundtrack for a film.  I see no reason why making improvements with current technology is a problem, especially if the original mono has problems, which in this case it sure did.  One justification for this comes during a few scenes that are poorly synced and when Tuco screams across the open desert his voice is poorly matched and echoes back really bizarre.  These scenes (before now) became comical because of this, which completely changes the tone of the film and not for the better.  


This new 5.1 remix is also Dolby Digital and expands the sound stage with more directional effects throughout.  Gunshots (which are always going off) resonate more predominately instead of being stuck in a single channel.  Dialogue is more center-focused, which is fine and the music is spread through the surround channels more than expected.  Some may feel that the overall sound is still too mono based, but I think that when this was being remixed that there was a fear of spreading too thin or venturing too far from its mono origins.


All films that are shot widescreen need to be seen that way, but then there are films that make literally no sense in a modified format, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is certainly one of those!  The framing of the film sets new standards in terms of tricky ways to utilize all corners of the 2.35 X 1 scope framing of the film.  Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli would work with Leone on a few pictures and also later in his career team up with Roman Polanski.  His use of lenses and angles tediously match the direction of what Leone wanted and the editing put these sequences in order that would set this Western apart from so many.  This would also launch many imitators in trying to create the same tension through music and certain editing in order to make the montage work like it does here…most failed. 


Shot in Techniscope the film was able to use the lighter camera and lenses, but still have a nice full scope frame at an anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1, but there are few places now that can transfer a format like this for DVD, however a new transfer was created for this DVD, which is superior to the previous DVD and of course all versions on VHS.  One major difference is in the whites, which were always a major problem before as white buildings looked more yellow.  There is still a vast amount of grain still on the print, but the colors certainly look better.  Gold and other flesh tones appear much more natural as well.  Overall the print looks good with some minor amounts of dirt that appears from time to time.  


Since this is such a popular film and even after all these years manages to find its way into new viewer’s homes.  MGM has done the royal treat by re-issuing the film in a 2-disc DVD Special Edition with deluxe packaging and a plethora of extras sure to make any fan melt with delight.  This set is aimed directly at those that like all the extras they can get and little knick-knacks too.  For example, the film comes in a packaging that is more like a box that has a lid, which allows for more material to be put in with the film.  Since both discs are fastened to the inside of the box (one disc on the top and one disc on the bottom) the middle portion of the box is devoted to a sleeve that contains a handful of little mini lobby cards with various poster art on it.  There is also a handy booklet with Roger Ebert’s review for the film as well as a listing for the extras contained on both DVD’s. 


Disc One contains the film in its 2 hour and 59 minute runtime, which is 18-minutes longer than its original U.S. release.  The film contains commentary throughout by Film Historian Richard Schickel and contains both the original mono in Italian or the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 in English.


What I particularly like about Richard Schickel’s commentary is that he never talks down to the listener and combines both educational and entertaining information together.  Plus he keeps with basic terminology with what he is talking about and tries to stick to the film, rather than go on too much about irrelevant matters like on some commentaries.  He certainly knows the film well and Sergio Leone’s style and addresses how this film is effective and how it has all the trademarks of a Leone Western.  I also enjoyed how he compared Leone to Sam Peckinpah, who was making Westerns around the same time, but the main difference was their approach to violence. 


Leone created tension before his violence set in with little dialogue and really dragged out the intensity right before the violent moments.  One the violence hit, it was usually over really quick, whereas Peckinpah elongated his action scenes by using the slow motion and other effects in order to heighten the dramatic climax.  Neither one of these ways is necessarily better, but it just shows a contrast to the two directing styles.  Notice also the long moments of silence or lack of dialogue in the film, it takes 10-minutes before the first words are exchanged in the film, but yet a narrative story is already set up just by the action alone. 


Disc Two contains all the extras including a Making-Of segment about the creation of a Leone Western and all the elements that went into such.  This segment compliments the documentary on Leone, which further addresses his trademark style and other production aspects which link the film directly to a man who had a vision and would go at any length to make that vision a reality. 


My personal two favorite portions are the reconstruction piece on remixing the film for 5.1, and the Featurette on composer Ennio Morricone, who was just as much a vital element to Leone’s epic.  His composition for this film alone is a standout masterpiece, which was unlike anything that was happening at that time and directly went the other direction from the soundtracks that were being created for most Westerns at this time.  Utilizing different recording techniques and various instrumentations to manipulate and create a unique soundtrack, which ended up becoming popular even to this day.  Even Metallica did a cover of Ecstasy of Gold when they did their Symphonic album. 


There is also a documentary entitled The Man Who Lost the Civil War, which is a Civil War focused documentary that fits in well since MGM went the distance with extras.  There is also a deleted scenes section, but this is the fullest version of the film known and the parts put back into the film had to be re-dubbed by actors and voice doubles in order to put these parts back into the film, this new 3 hour version premiered in 2003.


It is hard to say when we might see more improvements in the audio/visual sense with this film, but I think that MGM has done a lot with what they could in order to keep this film alive on the DVD format for a few years to come.  Not only that, but they spared no expense at delivering such a classic film with all the extras a fan could want.  Even the packaging is different and stands out as special, which is certainly the case. 


If I had to say any last comments on the film it would be that with age this film becomes more valuable.  Not only that, but you learn to appreciate its development and its stature among other Westerns.  Leone has created here a visual art form with his amazing landscapes and forged a new type of Western that would be emulated for many years, probably up until The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which is considered the last great Spaghetti Western.  The film also adheres to too many of the plot development and characterizations that Akira Kurosawa was making in Japan during the 50’s and also the 60’s.  Needless to say this is a cornerstone film in the Western Genre and shall entertain for generations to come.  MGM has redeemed their self by reissuing the film in a much superior version with better sound, picture and a multitude of extras!



-   Nate Goss


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