Clint Eastwood in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Film Advent Calendar: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly started life as an anti-western but is now considered one of the greatest

  • Incredible score brings already fun adventure to life
  • Well-written central characters make every minute worth watching
  • December 24th and final entry on NQ editor Matt Hartless's advent calendar of films you should watch this Christmas

Sergio Leone had a problem with the main characters in westerns being heroic. They were mainly out for themselves and cared little for their surroundings.

So he created an anti-hero, the Man With No Name, who the audience could sympathise with, but not entirely trust.

Scene from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The famous Mexican standoff scene. Credit: United Artists

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood

The film centres around a MacGuffin, some treasure and three people competing to find it, the Good (Eastwood) who has some amount of honour, the Bad (Lee Van Cleef) who actively seeks to harm whoever gets in his way and the Ugly (Eli Wallach) whose only motivation is to be rich by any cost, siding with the Good or the Bad if it helps him, but not directly seeking to harm anyone either.

There are four particularly notable standout things to this movie.

Firstly, the panoramas. Sergio Leone showed you could make a beautiful western with a small budget and his use of wide shots gives the film its dramatic sense of scale.

Secondly, the close-ups. Leone focuses in on the actors’ faces when something is about to happen and handpicked his extras so they looked as different from each other as possible. By excluding what is happening from his shots, but giving us the emotions of the characters as they weigh up their options, Leone creates a great amount of tension throughout the film.

Scene from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Clint Eastwood may be good, but Eli Wallach steals the show. Credit: MGM

Thirdly, the adventure. Throughout the movie, the main characters get into and recover from difficult situations, there are longer action set pieces when they stumble into battles in the American Civil War, there are shootouts that are built up with the aforementioned tension and are over in the blink of an eye. All this makes every minute incredibly fun to watch. Eastwood is complex and compelling, Van Cleef is cold and calculated and Wallach steals the show with his crazy actions.

Fourthly, the music. Ennio Moriccone was awarded his first Oscar for the Hateful Eight in 2016. How he did not win for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a question that needs asking more fervently. This film has the best theme in cinema and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees. The tune is perfect for setting up the atmosphere of the film.

Moriconne’s score also has emotional moments, the Ecstasy of Gold has an epic sense of loss and the music played by the violinist to cover up the sounds of torture is also moving in a film where you mostly would not feel that way.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly does not have the high-concept thematic content of some of the films I’ve been reviewing recently, but it is still a masterpiece as it constructs an epic, yet tight thrill ride of a film.

So if you want to watch a western, you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not watch the Good the Bad and the Ugly this Christmas.

This article is part of the Film Advent Calendar series, where NQ editor Matt Hartless shares some of his favourite films in 24 different genres that you should watch if you need something to fill your time over the Christmas break.

Scene from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Lee Van Cleef in the Good the Bad and the Ugly. Credit: United Artists