"THE MAN WITH NO NAME TRILOGY"
by Kevin Carr
On the heels of the Warner Bros. campaign for the “Clint Eastwood: 35 Years, 35 Films” campaign, along with the documentary “The Eastwood Factor,” MGM and 20th Century Fox has re-released on Blu-ray the movies that made Clint Eastwood a star. Sergio Leone’s three famous spaghetti westerns “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” are collected in a single package.
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Eastwood debuts as a relative unknown in Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars.” A virtual remake of the Akira Kurosawa film “Yojimbo,” “A Fistful of Dollars” follows a drifter who wanders into a lawless town and brings peace by pitting two rival gangs against each other.
Even though the Italians had been making westerns for a while before this film, this is the movie that galvanized the spaghetti western genre. It was unique in its presentation and has a grittier feel than what we were used to with the otherwise fluffy films of the 50s and 60s. It’s Leone’s most modest of the trilogy, which gives it a little extra charm in my opinion.
In the interest of historical film accuracy, I took the time to also watch “Yojimbo,” which I would recommend. I can see why Kurosawa sued over this movie, considering there are scenes that are practically shot-by-shot and line-by-line lifted from “Yojimbo.” But the brilliance of a good film is that it works in any language, be it English or Japanese.
It’s clear from this movie that Eastwood is bound to be a star, and his gun-slinging stranger is a blast to watch. In high definition, the movie looks brilliant, though this (as well as the other films in this set) is not restored to remove various visual artifacting.
The bonus material includes extensive interviews with film memorabilia collector Christopher Frayling. He takes us through his collection of posters and other printed materials for the film as well as provides commentary for the film.
There are retrospective featurettes on the movie including “A New Kind of Hero,” “A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film,” “Tre Voci: Fistful of Dollars,” “Location Comparisons: Then to Now” and a look at the rare additional prologue to the film’s original television broadcast.
Additional features include 10 radio spots, the double-bill trailer (with “For a Few Dollars More”) and the original theatrical trailer.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE
MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
My personal favorite of the trilogy, “For a Few Dollars More” features Eastwood as the man with no name, though he might just be a different character considering that now his job is as a bounty hunter. Eastwood heads down to Texas in search of a huge $10,000 bounty from an escaped prisoner, but he butts heads with another bounty hunter, Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), who has other plans for the target.
“For a Few Dollars More” as the middle child works great because Leone is still allowed to let the movie breathe, but he hasn’t become completely unrestrained in terms of running time and pacing that we see in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The best part of this movie isn’t necessarily Eastwood, although he does a fine job in the iconic role. The real charm is Lee Van Cleef as the adversary who might be good and might be bad. Both Eastwood and Van Cleef are serious badasses in this movie, and they shine here.
Probably the most tightly plotted of the three, “For a Few Dollars More” transcends its era and can exist any time, as long as you ignore some pretty gaudy make-up and hairstyle on the few women that grace the screen.
Like “A Fistful of Dollars,” the bonus material features collector Christopher Frayling. He shows us his memorabilia for this film as well as provides commentary for the film. Frayling also is interviewed in “A New Standard,” a featurette that talks about how “For a Few Dollars More” helped changed the modern western.
There are also retrospective featurettes, including “Back for More: Clint Eastwood Remembers For a Few Dollars More,” “Tre Voci: For a Few Dollars More,” “Location Comparisons” and a look at the edits and changes made to the original American release.
Additional features include 12 radio spots and two theatrical trailers.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Made on a much larger budget than its predecessors, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” follows the Man with No Name as he tries to sever ties with his partner in crime, the devious Tuco (Eli Wallach). Together, they discover the location of a massive shipment of Confederate gold, and they both keep part of the secret from each other to find the gold together. Meanwhile, the evil gunslinger Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is also searching for the gold, and he will let no man stand in his way.
All three of these films have a consistent look and helped redefine the western genre. While “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is considered one of the best westerns of all, it suffers in my opinion from the bloated three-hour running time. By this time, Leone realized what he had and what he could do, so he took his time, to a fault.
Still, that doesn’t stop this movie from being a hell of a lot of fun. From Ennio Morricone’s brilliant score (which was great in the other two films but reached its peak here) to the beautiful locations doubling for the American West, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a work of art to be admired.
What helps this film stand out from the other two isn’t just Lee Van Cleef’s return as a full-fledged villain, but the introduction of Eli Wallach as the “ugly” Tuco. This trio of characters offered an even more complex story with shifting alliances and motivations.
So much about this film is fantastic – from the sweeping and powerful cinematography to the understated yet realistic production design. Although the movie was originally criticized for its harsh depiction of frontier violence, this is not that shocking by today’s standards, but it still retains its dramatic effect.
Unlike the previous two discs, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a re-burn of the Blu-ray release that came out last year, which includes all the special features in the previously released 2-disc collector’s edition DVD. These include two commentaries, one with film historian Richard Schickel and the other with Christopher Frayling. There’s also a slate of deleted scenes (some of which are reconstructed with stills and narration), the original theatrical trailer an the French trailer.
Retrospective featurettes include “Leone’s West: Making-of Documentary, ” “The Leone Style: On Sergio Leone,” “The Man Who Lost the Civil War” and “Reconstructing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
There’s also the two-part “Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” which spotlights the groundbreaking score and includes an analysis of the score in an audio-only section.