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Monday Movies: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

We’re starting a new weekly (we hope) feature today. In the vein of Adam’s new Thursday tradition of posting on tv shows, I will be posting notes, reflections, thoughts, digressions, etc. each Monday on random movies that come through my Netflix queue. These notes will be cross-posted here — discussion is encouraged at either site.

Now, on to the first movie ….

  • There is, in my estimation, no better presentation of a film’s opening credits than those in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Tarantino might try. but he just can’t top this:
  • Some movies you’re convinced you’ve seen, if only due to the shame of having to admit you never have. Maybe you’d caught bits and pieces on TBS or AMC. Maybe, as with The Good . . ., the the soundtrack is so iconic that the sound has become embedded in your memory, no matter how false that memory might be, and you refuse for a long time to put the movie on your Netflix queue out of a misguided fear of cinematic redundancy. After all, the only thing worse than receiving a movie with a scratch is one that you’ve already seen. (Unlike my wife, who can watch a good thriller, say, Silence of the Lambs, and get so into it each time that she is genuinely shocked at moments she’s seen a dozen times before, I generally have to wait years between watching a movie multiple times.)
  • Tuco, the titular “Ugly,” is almost certainly symbolic of humanity. Eli Wallach manically bounces between ridiculousness and desperation — his performance is dizzingly inebriant, if that makes sense. He never transcends cliché really, but by this same token transforms it into pathos. What is more pathetic than the inability to die, which he clearly should on more than one occasion? Hanging from a noose while standing on a rickety cross, only to be “rescued” by the one who put him there (i.e., Blondie, aka “the Good”) — this is both the stuff of theodicy and anti-theodicy.
  • “The good, the bad, & the ugly” is a commonplace idiom that indicates universality / totality, and for my money it is also as good an expression of the Hegelian Absolute as there is. The English translation switched the original title, “The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad,” but the change is more dialetically reasonable. What else could Spirit be but Ugly?
  • The Good/Blondie (Eastwood) clearly is a physical force to be reckoned with, but he is not so much omnipotent as he is incredibly lucky — the most notable exception to this is the climactic showdown, which is nothing but the imposition of his seemingly omnipotent will. He is rescued from the brink of death a couple of times in the movie, but each time his salvation is the stuff of happenstance and deus ex machina, the most prominent being a runaway stagecoach in the middle of the desert, filled with death and the promises of wealth. There is perhaps something metaphysically plausible about the Good mostly being an observer — primarily of suffering. We might charcterize this as an active observtion, though. For example, while it is a con, he repeatedly rescues Tuco right at the moment of his hanging; furthermore, though it is self-serving, he brings final solace to a dying Union captain by blowing up a bridge that was his damnation. The pinnacle of his self-sacrifical action is when he does the least, offering a few puffs from his cigar and giving his coat as a blanket to a dying Confederate soldier.
  • Angel Eyes/”the Bad” is clearly not an observer. He is schemes, uses pawns, and will unload a gun into your gut. He enjoys it all. But even then, there seems a strange distance from his activity. It’s not that he rationalizes his murders by calling them a “a job,” and thus removes himself in some sense from blame, as you see in other movies. Rather, he insists that he is just single-minded in finishing what he’s been commissioned to start, and he starts nothing that does not end in death (even if, as in the very beginning of the movie, killing is not technically part of “the job”). Not sure what to make of this on a metaphysical level, though.

February 16, 2009 - Posted by | Monday Movies


  1. In some other spaghetti western he has a character that’s a better representation of metaphysical evil. It’s that jaded and nihilistic yet sentimental bandit, the guy with musical pocket watch.

    Ironically, Eastwood’s is always the least interesting character.

    Great flight of the conchords this week, btw. Love the accents.

    Comment by abb1 | February 16, 2009

  2. The credits really are amazing.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | February 17, 2009

  3. A rival is that of the surprisingly good Dawn of the Dead remake. See here.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | February 18, 2009

  4. I believe I may be able to contribute Monday Movies posts once a month or so.

    Comment by old | February 19, 2009

  5. Old … I’ll keep that in mind.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | February 19, 2009

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