The Good, The Bad And The Ugly



The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly tells the story of a search for a buried treasure - $200,000 of gold coins - on the fringes of the American Civil War. According to Christoper Frayling's Something To Do With Death, the film is derived from a film called The Great War or La Grande Guerra, and parts of it were inspired by the 1947 Charlie Chaplin film Monsieur Verdoux. I have watched Monsieur Verdoux, and, while the story bears little or no resemblence to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, both films contain the theme that, in Chaplin's words, "numbers sanctify." This is the idea that while it is evil for one man to kill a handful of others, it is quite alright for a government to order actions that cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

The story begins with the introduction of the three main characters, Tuco (Wallach), Blondie (Eastwood), and Angel Eyes (Van Cleef).

The Ugly

Tuco - Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez, that is - kills some bounty hunters who are looking for him and escapes by diving through a window and jumping on his horse. Although this seems merely to show us that Tuco is quick with a gun, this event is to have repercussions later on.

The Bad

Angel Eyes - various sources give him the name "Setenza", but nobody in the film ever calls him by this name - arrives at a farmhouse. He is there, it turns out, to kill the owner. This man is never named, but later events suggest that he must be "Stevens" (or possibly "Stephens" - the name does not appear in the credits). Anyway, he knows the current alias, "Bill Carson", of a man called Jackson that Angel Eyes is looking for. Angel Eyes' employer, Baker, wants to find a stolen cash box, and only Jackson knows its location.

The farm owner also tells Angel Eyes that he will pay $1,000, twice what Baker is paying him. Angel Eyes accepts, but insists that he "always sees the job through" and kills the man. He then returns to his employer (Baker) and informs him of what he has discovered. He also tells Baker of the payment the other man made and shoots him four times through the head.

The Good?

Image: Yeah, but you don't look like the one who'll collect it
"Yeah, but you don't look like the one who'll collect it."

Meanwhile, Tuco is riding through the desert when he is ambushed by three men who are going to claim the $2,000 bounty on his head. Suddenly Blondie appears and kills the three men so that he can claim the bounty on Tuco instead. After claiming the bounty, Blondie saves Tuco from hanging and it is obvious that they have formed a partnership. They argue over the amount that each receives of the "take". After the next failed hanging, where Blondie nearly misses the rope, they argue some more, and Blondie decides that he no longer wants to carry on with the partnership and takes Tuco out to the desert. He leaves him there with Tuco promising to exact revenge, seventy miles from nowhere.

By an interesting coincidence, the sort that happens all the time in films, Angel Eyes is in town at the same time as the second non-hanging, gathering information about the activities and whereabouts of Jackson/Carson, and why exactly everyone is interested in finding the lost cash-box. This box held $200,000 in Confederate gold coins, and it was lost following a Union ambush where only Stevens, Baker, and Jackson survived. We know that Angel Eyes has already killed Baker, and it seems unlikely that the farmer could be anyone else but Stevens, which leaves Jackson as the only one who knows anything definite about the location of the money.

A Survivor

Image: There are two kinds...
Image: ... of spurs my friend
"There are two kinds of spurs my friend"

Tuco makes it to a town and robs a shop there using one of the owner's stock of guns. He eventually tracks Blondie down to a hotel. Blondie kills all of Tuco's hired gunmen, but Tuco tricks Blondie and forces him to place a noose around his neck and to tie the other end to the ceiling. Just when it seems that Blondie is about to hang, a stray shell from the war hits the hotel and Tuco falls through the floor. He looks up almost immediately but Blondie has already gone.

By following the trail of cigarillos that Blondie leaves in the ashes of his campfires, Tuco again finds Blondie. He has teamed up with an unfortunate character by the name of Thomas Larson, alias "Shorty Larson", who is hanged when Tuco interrupts the familiar game. Tuco takes Blondie on a long walk through the desert. Tuco has a horse and adequate supplies of water, but Blondie has none.

Finding Carson

After a while Tuco decides he has seen enough and is about to shoot Blondie when a battered Confederate Army carriage appears. Tuco goes over and is interested when the only living soldier, a one-eyed man called "Bill Carson" insists that he will trade some information on a bundle of gold in exchange for some water. Tuco agrees, and is told the location of the graveyard where the gold is hidden but not the name of the grave. Anxiously he looks for his flask, but when he returns he discovers that Carson has died after telling Blondie the name on the grave. Tuco must now ensure that Blondie lives and takes him to what appears to be a monastery where he can recover. In fact, one of the deleted scenes on the UK "uncut" DVD release reveals that it is actually the San Antonio Mission, where the monks operate a hospital of sorts, treating all comers, regardless of which uniform (if any) they wear.

By this time, Angel Eyes has tracked down the whore that Bill Carson was living with before he re-enlisted. She eventually tells him which regiment Jackson/Carson has enlisted in. Angel Eyes then leaves to find him.

Two Brothers

Image: After nine years, two brothers meet
After nine years, two brothers meet

While at the mission, Tuco asks to see Father Ramirez. Initially, he is told that Father Ramirez is away, but eventually they meet. The contrast between the two is striking - one is a brown-clad priest in a monastic mission, while the other is a bandit accused of an astonishing array of crimes - but they are, nevertheless, brothers. Father Ramirez is bitter about the difference - he has just returned from the funeral of their father, while their mother had died a poor peasant some years before. Tuco, of course, knew nothing of this, but rails at his brother for having taken, of the two alternatives, the easier way to escape from the otherwise inevitable fate, where they came from, of dying in poverty - the two ways being banditry or priesthood. The scene ends with the argument turning to blows, although it is the priest rather than the bandit who strikes first.

Blue and Grey

Tuco and Blondie eventually get back on the trail of the treasure, neither telling the other what he knows about their destination. Eventually they see a column of grey soldiers coming towards them. Blondie and Tuco are riding in the Confederate carriage and uniforms that Tuco found in the desert, which are, of course, also grey. Unfortunately for them, their uniforms are really grey, while the soldiers' uniforms are grey from dust, but blue underneath.

They are taken to a Union PoW camp where they notice Angel Eyes who is now a sergeant in the Union army. Angel Eyes notices them when a soldier calls for Bill Carson and Tuco answers. It is clear that Angel Eyes has known both Tuco and Blondie previously. Angel Eyes then calls Tuco to his quarters where Tuco is savagely beaten before revealing the name of the cemetery. Angel Eyes calls Blondie next, and after Blondie sees bloodstains on the floor, these words are exchanged:

Blondie:  "Aren't I going to get the same treatment?"
Angel Eyes:  "Would you talk?"
Blondie:  "No, probably not."

On the road again

Angel Eyes suggests a partnership to which Blondie agrees although he appears to have his doubts about Angel Eyes' intentions. There is a deleted scene at this point which shows the meeting between Blondie and Angel Eyes's gang of thugs. At this time Tuco escapes from the guard assigned to him and makes for the nearest town. He finds a war-ravaged and desolate place, where Angel Eyes, his thugs and Blondie are also camped.

If you're going to shoot, shoot!

Image: In a wrecked building, Tuco finds a bathtub
In a wrecked building, Tuco finds a bathtub

Of all things, at this point, Tuco decides to use the water that someone had left ready for a bath. He is interrupted by one of the bounty hunters that attacked him at the beginning of the film. This man seems upset for some reason, possibly related to the hand that he lost as a result of the fight. Tuco shoots him in a characteristic pattern of shots, which the others hear. Blondie recognises this pattern, and goes out to find Tuco. Blondie finds Tuco still in the bath and suggests reforming their partnership against Angel Eyes. Tuco agrees and suggests they should kill Angel Eyes first. After killing all of his thugs Blondie and Tuco discover that Angel Eyes has fled.

Captured again

Following Tuco's tattered maps, the pair are travelling towards the graveyard when they are captured by Union troops. Blondie and Tuco are escorted to see the captain in charge. They talk to him and learn that his force is deadlocked with a similar Confederate force on the other side of a river. It is here that the influence of the Great War on this film is greatest - the rows of troops and artillery lined up on the hill above the river could have been taken directly from the fields of France, except that there isn't nearly enough mud.

Between the two armies, there is a bridge that crosses the river. The graveyard lies on the other side, of course, and Blondie and Tuco must cross the river here. The Union captain is portrayed as a tragic figure, and we get a brief glimpse into Blondie's character as he seems to be contemplating the futility of war. Blondie and Tuco find some explosives and, after telling the now mortally wounded captain to keep his ears open, they haul some of the explosives down to the river, where they blow the bridge up. While they are planting the explosives, they share the location of the graveyard, Sad Hill, and the name on the grave, Arch Stanton.

Finding the grave, or maybe not

Image: And here is Arch Stanton
And here is Arch Stanton...

They cross the river, and climb up the hills on the other side. Tuco manages to get away from Blondie, and runs around the graveyard looking for Arch Stanton's grave. When he finds it, he starts to dig it up using a board taken from the wooden cross that serves as a marker on an adjacent grave. He is interrupted by Blondie, who throws a spade beside him. Suddenly Angel Eyes arrives and gives Blondie a spade and tells him to dig. Blondie refuses and shows them that the treasure isn't in the grave Tuco is digging up.

"We're gonna have to earn it"

He tells them that $200,000 is a lot of money and that they will have to earn it. He says that he will write the correct name on the bottom of a stone. So they form into a triangle at the center of the graveyard and wait to see who will go for his gun first. Angel Eyes goes for his gun but Blondie shoots him before Angel Eyes is able to fire. Tuco meanwhile is astonished to discover that Blondie had emptied his pistol the night before.

It is now that we discover that while Arch Stanton was the name that Bill Carson told to Blondie, it wasn't the name on the grave with the money. Blondie, whose gun is still loaded, makes Tuco go to the grave next to Stanton's - the marker says "Unknown" - and dig there. He shows Tuco the stone, which has nothing written on it, and explains that Bill Carson said that the money was in the grave marked "Unknown", next to the grave of Arch Stanton.

Tuco digs, and sure enough, there is the money. It is in eight heavy leather bags connected into pairs by straps. Tuco hauls them out of the grave, and chops one open with the edge of the spade, revealing the coins.

Just like old times

He then looks up, and sees that while he was digging, Blondie was rigging a noose on a convenient tree branch that reaches over Arch Stanton's grave. Blondie makes Tuco stand on the wooden cross and put his head in the noose. He then tightens the noose to make sure that it doesn't slip off, and ties Tuco's hands behind his back. After dividing the bags, "four for you and four for me", he rides away to the sound of Tuco shouting at him. At some distance, Blondie stops and cuts the rope with a bullet, and then rides on.

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