By far the most ambitious, unflinchingly graphic and stylistically influential western ever mounted, The Good The Bad And The Ugly is an engrossing action shot through with a volatile mix of myth and realism. Clint Eastwood returns as the "Man With No Name," this time teaming with two gunslingers to pursue a cache of $200,000-and letting no one, not even warring factions in a civil war, stand in their way.
From sun-drenched panoramas to bold hard close-ups, exceptional camera work captures the beauty and cruelty of the barren landscape and the hardened characters who stride unwaveringly through it. Forging a vibrant and yet detached style of action that had not been seen before, and has never been matched since, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shatters the western mold in true Eastwood style.
"God is not on our side because he hates idiots also."
What more can be said about a truly classic piece of cinema? What more could be said film that has been watched, critiqued, analyzed, dissected, digested, and regurgitated by more critics, fans, and college film professors to count? That's the conundrum one comes into when taking a critical stance on a film like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. For the last fifty years, Sergio Leone's magnum opus of the Spaghetti Western has dominated cinematic conversations. At this point, the film is virtually above reproach. Some people may not love it as fervently as others, but very few can say they don't like the film or honestly state that it is "overhyped" - at least not without stirring up a hornets' nest of backlash. All I can really do is speak about this film anecdotally and in the terms of what the film means for me and its importance in shaping my love for movies.
I'll state outright that I have an undying love for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. My father introduced me to this film when I was very young. In point of fact, it was one of the first VHS tapes my father ordered alongside my other favorite film Conan The Barbarian and a couple of James Bond movies from Columbia House and started our home movie library. I was all of four years old at the time, so without over stating things, I've watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for over thirty years. At three to four viewings a year on average, I've probably seen this film anywhere from 175 to 200 times ballpark guess - and that's lowballing that estimate.
I love the film's simple story of three men out for buried treasure. I love Clint Eastwood's smooth performance, I love Lee Van Cleef's steely menace, and I especially love Eli Wallach's manic energy. I love how that none of the lead characters are heroes in the traditional sense. Each of them is a career criminal and a murderer only with varying degrees of honor and respect. I love Ennio Morricone's hypnotic score - I used to listen to this soundtrack every night before falling asleep as a kid. I love how every time I see this film, it's still exciting to watch even though I know every twist and turn in the plot. I still to this day find some amusing detail or moment that I'd never noticed before and I feel the pressing need to backtrack the scene and watch it all over again. To put it simply, I'm a massive fan of this film.
To that end, I've become a sort of connoisseur of this film on home video. From the double tape VHS release to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray, this 50th Anniversary release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is now my seventh time owning this film. I've seen multiple restorations, as well as the various cuts of the film to make their way down the home video pipeline. While each release of the film on various formats has in some way offered something new, I will say outright I was never a fan of the 2002 restoration of the 179-minute International Cut of the film. While I understand that Sergio Leone bemoaned the editing of the U.S. release, I have to say that I prefer the shorter 162-minute version. It's leaner, more tightly edited and doesn't include scenes that don't really move the plot forward. You understand early on that Eli Wallach's Tuco is a wily cat with an extended criminal history, I didn't need to see him reforming his gang in order to hunt down Eastwood's Blondie. Admittedly it was cool to see these scenes restored, I just didn't need them and I certainly tired of seeing them in every release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray for the last fifteen years or so.
For all intents and purposes, I'm grateful that we now have a choice which version to watch with this release as both versions are included. I know many people who weren't as bothered with the new material as I was, but their odd placement in the film, as well as the newly recorded dialogue from the obviously aged stars, just threw the film off for me. On top of that, I hated the reworked sound effects to muster together a surround mix rather than the original mono track. MGM did the same thing with their release of The Terminator and it is irksome. That said, I will say that I've now become a sort of fan of this longer version as we can choose to hear the original Italian dialogue. Somehow with these different voices dubbing over Eastwood, Wallach, and Van Cleef disguises the abrasive cuts between the two versions and feels more natural. This longer version with Italian dialogue and English subtitles certainly isn't my preferred viewing experience, but it's a fun little experiment if you've seen the film a number of times and want to experience the film in a new way.
With that, I'll simply say that I am actually glad that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is frequently re-released on various home video formats as it guarantees that fans will get to introduce this film to new generations. Granted, the improvements from one release to the next are incremental, I'm glad that the film doesn't rot in a vault and enthusiasts have to settle for what is available. A little patience pays off. While I'm somewhat bothered this film wasn't prepared for 4K UHD for this release, I know that when it inevitably does reach that format I will pick it up. I have to. It's written into my DNA as I hope for the very best possible viewing experience. As my father introduced me to this film, I hope one day soon to show this film to my kids and I want them to see it in the very best condition possible. Granted I loved this film when it was shown to me on a muddy full-frame VHS tape, but I want better each time the film is released. This 50th Anniversary release is as close to perfect as we're going to get - for now.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label in a 2-disc 50th Anniversary Special Edition set. Both the 162-minute U.S. Theatrical cut and the 179-minute International cut are given their own Region A locked BD-50 discs to occupy. Special features are spread out across both discs. Both discs are housed in a standard sturdy two-disc Blu-ray case with reversible artwork. Both discs load directly to static-image main menus with traditional navigation options while the film's famous score plays in the background.
So The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has had a bit of a storied history on Blu-ray over the last decade. Now on its third release, improvements are notable but not without their share of controversy. The first 2009 release (which I no longer own), featured framing issues as well as some notable DNR presence to mitigate the inherently noisy grain presence. I didn't hate this release of the film, but I didn't love it either. Then MGM went back to the well in 2014 with a then new 4K scan from the Italian outfit L'Immagine Ritrovata for The Man With No Name Trilogy release. While that master fixed the framing issues and greatly improved detail levels, it did have its own issues to contend with. Much to the chagrin of fans, the coloring of the film was pushed to dramatically favor yellows and browns in an attempt to replicate director Sergio Leone's wishes. While I appreciated attempting to match Leone's intent, I felt the yellow push was too severe as it would make actors look incrementally jaundiced depending on the scene and could push Blues towards Green in some sequences. Now with this release, Kino utilizes the same 2.35:1 4K scan from L'Immagine Ritrovata for this 1080p transfer, but pulls back the yellow push favoring a more natural color tone throughout. I wish I could say this was going to be the end all be all of the transfers for this film - but I sadly can't.
While I was never a real fan of the yellow push, some shots made an already tan Lee Van Cleef look outright brown, I did appreciate the rustic dusty west aesthetic it provided the film. Now with this new master from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, the film looks almost too cold and steely allowing Blues to have a bit too much prominence. Don't worry, this film hasn't undergone that dreaded teal/orange push in any way - Blues just stand out more without the overt yellow saturation. Flesh tones look far more healthy and natural than the previous release. Detail levels are just as strong, if not more pronounced now as colors don't dip towards muddy reds and browns. Primaries also enjoy a more natural presence. Reds especially enjoy a much more natural hue. Grain structure is intact providing a nice film-like appearance throughout. Where I'm going to ding this release from being a perfect release is in black levels. Some sequences - not all mind you but some - just look too blue-grey rather than inky black. There isn't any indication that the scenes in question were brightened, but they're notably lighter in appearance and can lack depth. Again, this isn't a deal breaker by any means and I'm sure most won't even notice it as the movie plays out.
To that point, where you fall on this transfer is going to rely entirely on personal taste. Too yellow or not too yellow, that is the question of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. As this isn't likely to be the final release of this film on any home video format digital or physical, the unanswerable questions about the film's transfers will remain. I for one like this release better as it's more in keeping with how I previously enjoyed the film, but again, that's my own personal bias. No doubt there will be much discussion about this in the forums.
Where this 50th Anniversary release of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is the hands down winner is in the audio presentation. Finally, after waiting and waiting, patience has paid off in a big way as we're given a true proper restoration of the original mono track with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. The previous 2014 The Man With No Name Trilogy release did include the mono track, but it was a very dated and weak-sounding Dolby Digital 1.0 mix that felt hollow and lifeless and was only a mixdown of the 5.1 track. This new DTS mix gives the mono track the room it needs to breathe and come to life without being so heavily altered with new sound effects as presented with the included DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix.
Thankfully both versions of the film enjoy their own respective mono mixes and sound terrific. The tinny canned library sound effects are back and unaltered. Dialogue exchanges are clean and clear without any issues. The mono even manages to hide some of the dialogue inconstancies between scenes that an aged Eli Wallach or a Lee Van Cleef voice impersonator recorded for the restored scenes. I still don't love the longer cut, but I appreciate it a bit better now that the jarring dialogue differences don't completely pull me out of the film. Even with a great surround system in place, the 2.0 mono mix is the only way to go in my opinion.
Also included with this release for both versions of the film is an Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio track. Some may see this as relatively pointless for the shorter U.S. cut, but it is a good track and kind of a fun experiment to hear the dialogue presented differently with English subs.
Where this 50th Anniversary release is an unequivocal home run is in the special features department. In addition to most if not all of the previous releases bonus features being carried over, Kino Lorber Studio Classics have conjured up some new material for fans to pour through. The deleted scenes have also been upgraded to HD, although they're still too damaged to fully restore and insert into the film proper, they look better here than they have for past releases. All around this is a terrific bonus feature package that helps this release truly live up to the title "Special Edition."
Theatrical Cut Disc
NEW Audio Commentary Featuring film historian Tim Lucas, this is another great listen as are the other two commentaries included with the International Cut. Three commentaries amount to a lot of listening for sure, a daunting task for some, but worth it if you're an enthusiast of the film.
NEW Trailers from Hell Director Ernest Dickerson zips through his love for this film, his appreciation for Leone, as well as the rest of The Man With No Name Trilogy.
Deleted Scene (New in HD 1:03) This is the infamous "skeletons" scene from Blondie's forced desert march. It looks better here than it has in the past, but again, still not usable for the film.
Deleted Scene (New in HD 1:03) This is the extended torture sequence that doesn't pull any of the punches Tuco faced at the hands of Wallace. Like the "skeletons" sequence, it looks better in HD than before, but still not usable.
Alternate Scene (HD 0:52) This is a look at the optical flip that happens about half way into the film that was removed for the International Cut release but newly restored to the U.S. Theatrical restoration.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly On Set (HD 8:12) is a collection of behind the scenes stills from the shooting of the film.
Promoting The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (HD 9:05) This is an awesome selection of lobby cards and posters that were used in the marketing of the film
Theatrical Trailer (SD 3:22)
A Fistful of Dollars Trailer (HD 2:26)
For a Few Dollars More Trailer (HD 2:29)
Once Upon A Time in the West Trailer (SD 2:58)
A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck You Sucker) Trailer (SD 3:35)
International Cut Disc
*A quick note about the archival bonus features found on this disc, some, but not all, features some compression issues with slightly stuttering frame rates. This seems to affect the older material assembled for the 2002 DVD that was carried over for subsequent releases.
Audio Commentary From the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, features Leion biographer Sir Christopher Frayling
Audio Commentary From the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, features film historian Richard Schickel, if you're only going to listen to one of these three commentaries, I'd personally peg this one as the best with the most amount of information about the production.
Leone's West (SD 19:55)
Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part 1 (SD 7:48)
Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part 2 (12:27) This second part of the interview with the film's famous composer is audio only featuring extensions and additional content not present in Part 1.
The Leone Style (SD 23:48)
The Man Who Lost the Civil War (SD 14:23)
Reconstructing The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (SD 11:09)
4 Vignettes (SD 2:32 total runtime) This is a collection of very brief interviews with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach that originally aired alongside AMC's television premiere of the International Cut in 2002.
Deleted Scene (SD 3:01) The Socorro sequence reconstruction of the scene that only briefly appears in the French Trailer for the film.
Deleted Scene (SD 7:14) This is the full Tuco torture sequence with new material as well as what made it into the final film.
French Theatrical Trailer (SD 3:30)
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is a pure piece of classic cinema. From Sergio Leone's meticulous framing and story structure to Eastwood's star-defining performance to the film's iconic score from Ennio Morricone, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly defines the Western genre. As I've seen this film countless times, it always manages to suck me in and never loses my attention. I could be channel surfing and stumble upon it and would have to watch the rest of it no matter what part of the movie I happen to come in on. It's just that good. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has given this film yet another spin on Blu-ray aiming to be the definitive release on home video.
While I am very pleased with the new video transfer, it will remain a point of contention among fans who prefer the yellow-pushed version. That said, the restored mono audio mix is worth the price of admission alone in my book. With a swath of new and archival bonus features to pick through, this 50th Anniversary release is a knockout. However, I can see some folks out there reluctant to make yet another purchase of this film on Blu-ray - let alone all other previous formats. To that end, all I can say is that if you've never bought a release of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on disc, this is the one to own. For those who already made a purchase and are on the fence about a double or even a triple dip - I can only say that this release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is highly recommended. It's a magnificent release and the most comprehensive to date. But, no doubt, far from being the final definitive edition.