Random thoughts from an unusual company

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

Tim Davis  23 February 2011 10:10:40
I have always loved the three Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns ever since my Dad made me and my brother watch Fistful of Dollars when I was about 16 or so. Last year they were the first movies I synced to my iPad and are the only ones not yet removed.

I think what I like most about them is how they aren't really westerns like all other westerns. The plot and characters seem to operate in some strange netherworld away from the rest of reality with few of the usual trappings. There are no sheriffs, deputies, marshals, stagecoaches, indians, bows and arrows, rustlers, evil businessmen, homesteaders, court-houses, music halls, barn-raisings or cavalries. Perhaps most importantly no girlfriends, wives or kids. Just an abstracted mythic world of guns and money. Greed, trickery and revenge. 

I remember years and years ago I had a couple of friends going on about how good Once Upon a Time in the West was. It had Charles Bronson instead of Clint, so I wasn't interested.

Recently I have been seeing a lot of references to it and how good it is, supposedly the best western ever, so this weekend I got it and watched it.

It is very good, especially considering it has only about 15 minutes of dialog in two and a half hours. Leone has taken his wide shots and moody stares to the far extreme. It kept me watching into the night. I can see why it is so well-regarded. It was made at the end of the era of movie westerns and pretty much rolls up all the classic western tropes into a big beautifully-shot bundle. 

The opening scene at the train station is great ("You brought two too few"). The bit where Cheyenne is climbing around the train shooting through the windows is funny. The end duel takes forever but still zooms by. Overall very little happens and yet you are pulled along for the full 2 1/2 hours.

I think I was a bit disappointed, though. It just wasn't very exciting. You have two nice mysteries (what's up with Harmonica?/what's up with the McBains' farm?), but the middle of the film drags a bit, buying and selling land, yawn.

It's a great western, could be best ever, but at the end of the day it's only a regular western. Not mythic.

1Brian Benson  23/02/2011 11:59:23  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

Both are good movies that I have seen several times, but my all time favorite western is 'High Plains Drifter'.

Also, I'm pretty sure there is a stagecoach in good bad & ugly.

2Ian Scott  23/02/2011 12:17:59  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

I think 'Once Upon A Time In The West' is not only the best western ever made but possibly the best film ever made!

In my humble opinion I think it is flawless and if there is indeed a better film I need to be reminded what it is.

The film just absorbs me more and more all the way through. I have never felt it dragged in the middle and, as I saw it, the buying and selling of the land was central to the film - the water underground, the steam engine, the town, the whole thing :-)

I have watched it many many times and it is always a joy. As you say, not mythic although possibly a mythic performance from cast against type Henry Fonda.

All Clint's films are good and his westerns are top notch but, much as I love the 'Dollars' trilogy I think John Ford's, 'The Searchers' starring John Wayne edges out 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'.

Anyway, nice, diverting post. Glad you enjoyed it.

3Tim  23/02/2011 12:38:38  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

@Brian: There's the stagecoach that Blondie and Tuco find in the desert with Bill Carson in it. Also, Angeleyes gets in a stagecoach while Tuco is about to be hanged/rescued.

4Tim  23/02/2011 13:16:39  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

@Ian: Yeah, it is superb. I've been skimming through again watching bits here and there. I love that opening scene, the windmill creaking, the fly buzzing, the water dripping, the train breathing like a dragon.

It is a proper western. I like the Dollars movies more because they aren't proper westerns. There's something more barbaric about them, they don't take place in civilization. No land-grab plots, no towns-folk, no reality.

The only other western I like is The Magnificent Seven. That was on my iPad for a while. Maybe its the Kurosawa influence. Thinking about it, I'm not sure I really like westerns per se. I never watch them. It must be a particular plot or style that I like, where a different sensibility wanders into the western milieu.

5Gregg Eldred  23/02/2011 13:19:29  Eastwood vs. Bronson

@Ian: The best Western of all time? Easy, "Unforgiven." :-) "The Searchers" is a landmark western, one of my favorites. Many of the scenes in that film have been copied by other directors. That John Wayne is a racist but actually learns something by the end of the film makes this a powerful movie.

"Once Upon a Time in the West" is one of my favorite movies in that Henry Fonda, the good guy actor (prior to this movie), is a sociopath. Excellent casting.

And an excellent post.

6Tim  23/02/2011 13:19:40  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

Update: Once Upon a Time in the West is off my iPad now.

I just watched the opening scene (again!). Wonderful.

But then Harmonica gets up after the gunfight and we cut to the red-headed guy and my heart sinks. I know I have to watch his family get shot for 10 minutes and then watch Jill get off the train for 10 minutes before we get to the bar with Cheyenne.

I can't see myself watching it again. Sorry.

7Mike Brown  24/02/2011 08:28:14  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

As good as Once Upon A Time in the West, it's Good, Bad and the Ugly all the way for me. It's just got that certain something, you know?

As for that station "you brought two too many" opening; did you know that it was originally supposed to be Eli Wallach, Lee van Cleef and Clint Eastwood that Bronson was going to kill off in that scene? What an opening to a movie *that* would have been!!! Eastwood wasn't interested though, although the other two were game. Probably just as well; it would have killed the rest of the film...

8Roberto Boccadoro  25/02/2011 10:05:18  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly vs Once Upon a Time in the West

I have seen, and love, all the Sergio Leone movies, he was a superb director.

I really can't say which one I prefer between "the good, the bad and the ugly" and "Once upon a time in the west". They are different kind of movies, the latter being more epic, and I liked them both very much. In "Once upon a time in the West", there are two notable things Leone did: he convinced Henry Fonda to play a "bad guy" and also his character dies, two things Fonda never did before or after.

Gab, if you have not seen it yet, get a copy of "once upon a time in America", is also a great epic movie.