Director: Sergio Leone
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Three Texan mercenaries. The American Civil War. $200,000 in stolen gold. Who will find it first? Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings to Blu-ray the ultimate presentation of director Sergio Leone’s classic Italian western, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Three hired guns – The Good (Clint Eastwood, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, PLAY MISTY FOR ME), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS ) and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GODFATHER PART III) make their way through Texas and New Mexico to profit as much as they can against the backdrop of The American Civil War. The Bad is tracking down a man who knows where a Confederate cash box of $200,00 has been buried. The Good and The Ugly team up to swindle townsfolk out of bounty money but become involved in The Bad’s quest for the money. As war battles interfere with all their ambitions, they finally end up at a cemetery, where only The Good knows the name of the specific grave where the cash box is located. The three men square off in a circle to determine who gets the gold and who gets a grave.

Released to Italian theaters in December of 1966, Leone cut a handful of scenes and it later premiered in the United States in 1969 because the director wanted to show A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and A FEW DOLLARS MORE first in America before releasing THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The film is considered the third installment of “The Dollars” trilogy so Leone wanted American audiences to see the three films in the correct order.

Eastwood continues his role from the first two “Dollar” films as “The Man With No Name,” but in fact has numerous names. He’s known as “Blondie,” “Joe” and in the film novelization, he’s called “Whitey.” Eastwood uses the same guns and gun belt that he wore in the TV series “Rawhide” but doesn’t wear his signature sheepskin vest and poncho until the film’s end. Lee Van Cleef was called “Sentenza” in the Italian version, and Eastwood coined him “Angel Eyes” for the English cut. He also had the name of “Banjo” as a nod to the character “Django” portrayed by Franco Nero, who was making the film of the same name in 1966. And The Ugly? Just call him “Tuco,” or by his legal name, “Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez.” He is also known to Eastwood as “The Rat.”

Eastwood was initially concerned he would be upstaged by Wallach, despite his top billing for the film--and rightfully so. In the script, Tuco was a very minor character but with Wallach playing the role, he becomes the dominant character of the three actors. Despite those concerns, the film propelled Eastwood to international stardom. As the film goes on, The Good is capable of very violent things. The Ugly is used as comic relief but is the most developed character of the trio. Leone was evolving as a director and adding more depth and dimension to his characters in this film, compared to the caricatures that appeared in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The Bad, as evil he may appear, is shocked by the inhumanity of war, so each of them do not represent exactly what they are branded as. In fact, Van Cleef is the least featured of the three characters in the film. He was very popular in Hollywood in the early 1950’s, until a car crash in 1958 resulted in a broken leg, which resulted in him walking with a limp for the rest of his life. He found his choice of roles dwindling in the U.S., but realized a second career with Sergio Leone working in Italian films. Angel Eyes is never filmed running or walking far, and Van Cleef rode a circus horse with a high step so he could better control the animal with his legs. In most sequences, Leone preferred extreme long shots of epic landscapes combined with extreme close-ups on his actor’s faces, which worked for Van Cleef in keeping his disability off camera.

Many people are surprised that Texas was even involved in The Civil War. In 1861, Governor Sam Houston refused to pledge allegiance to The Confederacy so he was removed from office. There were no major battles in the state, but there were bitter conflicts that resulted in many lives lost. In 1862, the Rebels tried to infiltrate New Mexico but were beaten back by Union forces and suffered major losses. A number of the scenes of dead soldiers on the battleground were re-created by Leone from photos of the era.

With a budget of $1.3 million, nearly three times that of A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Leone was able to bring an epic vision of Civil War-era Texas in Technicolor to the big screen. The “Battle of the Bridge” sequence, where Confederate and Union forces fought daily on a wooden bridge, was a tremendous set piece for the film and Leone was able to use members of the Italian Army as extras, plus Civil War era cannons and hardware from a museum in Rome. However, the bridge for the battle was actually destroyed twice; once when the bridge designer mistook a word for “FIRE” and detonated the explosives too early. Leone was livid, but fortunately the Italian army rebuilt the bridge in less than three days to have it blown up again, this time correctly.

The climax of the film, where the three characters stand ready to duel in a paved circle in the cemetery, was a mix of long, medium and close-up shots which took five days to complete. Different lenses had to be constantly switched on and off the cameras to get the same ratio of shot on each actor. Strangely, the close-ups of Van Cleef’s hand moving slowly to his pistol shows that he is missing a knuckle on his right middle finger. This is never explained in the film, and it meant that a “stage hand” had to be used for the effect, further complicating the shot. The entire sequence influenced a generation of filmmakers and cannot be underestimated in its overall impact in the movie.

KL Studio Classics presents THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY as a two-disc set. One is the “extended English version,” where scenes cut by Leone after the Italian premiere have been restored, with both Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach dubbing their lines for a 2004 DVD release 36 years later. Lee Van Cleef died in 1989, so he was voiced by a stage actor Simon Prescott. These scenes did not appear in the U.S. theatrical print, which is also included on a separate disc, and other countries made additional cuts to the Italian version to tone down some of the brutality and violence, and keep the film running under 3 hours.

The film’s soundtrack has forever been ingrained in pop culture, with composer Ennio Morricone’s whistling motif followed by the cupped brass trio of ascending notes. Even those who have never seen the film recognize the theme song as representing the Western film genre, but also as an ominous prelude to some tense standoff moment. Each of the three characters have their own version of the theme and Morricone utilizes a variety of musical techniques, including a choir and deafening strings.

The film is presented in 2.35.1 - 1920 x 1080p and audio is 5.1 or 2.0 restored mono, depending on whether you select English or Italian. In term of extras, there are a ton. There are three commentaries in the set: Italian film expert Tim Lucas provides insight on the U.S. theatrical version, while Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling and film critic Richard Schickel provide separate commentary for the extended cut, (Schickel’s part and several special features were imported from the MGM’s 1998 DVD release.) The film was released again by MGM as a “special edition” DVD in 2004, and then on Blu-ray in 2014 from a 4K master for superior video and clarity. However, due to an error in color timing, it had a yellow hue throughout the film. This new release corrects that issue.

There are several documentaries including “The Man Who Lost the Civil War,” “Ill Maestro Ennio Morricone,” “Leone’s West: Making Of,” reconstruction special, deleted scenes, several international trailers and an animated Image gallery. There are interviews with both Eastwood and Wallach reminiscing about their work together, Leone’s direction, and several instances in which Leone put both of them in personal danger to get a certain shot.

I remember when THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY was released to network and syndicated television in the mid 1970’s. It was a big deal and very heavily promoted, but upon seeing it on our living room console TV in “pan-n-scan” format with a very grainy texture, I didn’t understand all the hype. Now, having seen it on Blu-ray, in glorious Technicolor and widescreen, it’s clear that this film was the best of Italian westerns, and an extremely influential film for later directors like Scorsese, Spielberg, Carpenter and many others. To call it a “Spaghetti Western” is an insult to the work Leone, his staff, and the actors put into this truly epic production. (Jim Flack)