Movie: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly -or- Three men in a graveyard -or- Game Theory dons a Poncho
First you get yourself a graveyard, but not any graveyard, try for a Mexican Catholic one in Texas, way out in the chaparral, and since Mexicans, living or dead, like company make it big, say, five thousand graves covering two/three square miles. Okay, put the graveyard on the other side of a bridge that happens to be contested by both the Union and Confederate armies.
Hard enough? Just wait. Bury $200,000 in stolen Confederate gold in one of the five thousand graves, write the name of the corresponding loot-bearing grave on a rock, place the rock in the center of a circular courtyard, face down, as you and two acquaintances, all armed to the teeth, carefully walk to a different edge of the circle and then…well, that rock goes to the winner and since nobody brought their marbles, we’ll have to settle it in the other American fashion: swift and blinding murder.
Oh, and do it to the mockingly innocent tinkling of a music box.
That is the penultimate scene of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, otherwise known as “Quentin Tarantino’s Go-To Spank Material”, and though QT would prefer more scenes of feet, I gotta say, if you’re in a cinematic-raw-meat/tell-God-to-do-it-better frame of mind you could do a lot worse than this Opera of Carnage and its blood-thinning climax.
A linear plot so exhausting you feel pure release when the characters finally make it to the graveyard. Those characters are Tuco, Mexican scumbag, Angel Eyes, ethnically indeterminate scumbag, and Blondie, His Royal Squintness. Clint Eastwood is called ‘the good’, but I have a hard time understanding why he’s any better than Eli Wallach as Tuco or the corrupt Union officer and cutthroat Angel Eyes played by Lee Van Cleef.
Once the challenge is accepted and Blondie writes the name on the rock, placing it in the center of the courtyard what then occurs is a testament to suspense and its frontiers as yet unmatched. Question: how long could you film three men standing still at a radius of twenty yards and not make it a) boring b) avantgarde in that really annoying German way or c) pretentious in that really annoying French way…thirty seconds? 50? A whole minute?
I wouldn’t have the balls to try it for more than ninety seconds and I know just enough about filmmaking to know that would be an Act Three disaster that would have me directing puppy chow commercials for the rest of my tortured existence. I can hear the producer screaming ‘Three dudes standing still is not cinema! At least the Germans would intercut images of dying moose…Hell, at least the French would make it the fever dream of a sick mime or something!
Sergio Leone paid off three hours of let’s-go-here-no-wait-let’s-go-there narrative storytelling with a stupendous four minutes and 23 seconds (read that again) of three dudes standing, waiting to shoot each other AND IT WAS
somehow PERFECT! Brief shot list from the scene: Positions, then eye-hand-gun-eyes-mouth-eyes-hand-gun-eyes-hands-mouth…Eastwood Squinting…eyes, mouth, hands, boots,-face-shoulders-wide shot of the graveyard…More Squinting…hands-mouth-face-gun…and just as your testicles are about roll off your mouth and drop back into your lap, you go into mild cardiac arrest when the spastic build culminates in a blessed choir of gunfire…ALMOST FIVE MINUTES LATER!
THAT is craft. THAT is mastery. THAT is cinema.
And you wonder if we’ll ever see it again.