Skip to comments.Anatomy of a Scene: The iconic duel in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’
Posted on 11/20/2022 5:21:38 PM PST by nickcarraway
Dating all the way back to the very birth of American cinema in the 1910s, the western genre was pioneered by national filmmakers like John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah, releasing such respective classics as The Searchers, Rio Bravo and The Wild Bunch. Though, after decades of dominance, by the 1960s, the genre had become stiff, with the arrival of Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone shaking up generations of stuffy cowboy tales.
Inspired by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Leone brought an iconic style to his Western trilogy that included A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and his masterpiece, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. With the help of Ennio Morricone’s influential soundtrack, Leone crafted a film that was inextricably tied to the identity of the American West whilst oozing a new innovative elegance that would bring the genre into a new era.
Telling the story of two scammers who create a tense alliance whilst racing to find a fortune of gold buried in a deserted cemetery against a third hunter, the film is considered one of the greatest movies of the 1960s. Adored by masses of fans worldwide, the film’s thrilling final sequence has been viewed the most times, with filmmakers and cinephiles picking apart the masterful stand-off scene to discover the artistry beneath the breathtaking moment.
It is ‘Blondie’ (Clint Eastwood) who requests the duel with his untrustworthy partner Tuco (Eli Wallach) and rival ‘Angel Eyes’ (Lee Van Cleef), with each character taking their place at three points of a large circular area surrounded by gravestones and the hills of the American prairies in the distance. As if they are merely the latest in a long line of rivalling hunters and cowboys, the graves stand as grisly spectators of the duel, beckoning each character to their death.
With the stage set, cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli and director Sergio Leone opt to focus on the basics of the scene as each character sizes the other up. Capturing only the guns, faces, and eventually, the eyes of the trio, Delli Colli’s work synthesises with Eugenio Alabiso and Nino Baragli’s edit to create an iconic scene in which tension is masterfully built with a sequence of shots that steadily boils the pressure-cooker of the situation.
It would be remiss not to mention the work of Morricone here too, with the Italian maestro providing an ethereal sense of intensity and enormity to an otherwise mundane scene. Piercing through the film as if an almighty, holy presence, Morricone’s score makes the moment something of a strange triumph for each character. No matter the outcome, Morricone makes their presence in this grand moment utterly majestic.
Directed by Leone, as if the virtuoso of a great orchestra, the scene sews together a masterful edit with luscious cinematography and an overarching score from Morricone, which ties the whole sequence with an overarching grip. Stitched into the scene is a tale in and of itself too, with Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes being given the most amount of screen time, despite appearing the least throughout the whole movie.
Whilst it may indeed seem like their screen time is equally shared, Angel Eyes is given the most amount of time in focus due to the fact that he is the character with the most amount on the line. For good reason, he is nervous, after all, Tuco is likely to aim for him in the duel, or will he shoot Blondie and claim the money for himself? When he is so unaware of the motives of the duo, who should he decide to shoot? By giving his character the slight majority of the screen time, Leone suggests that he is the focus of the shootout and, ultimately, the one who will meet his demise.
As soon as the duel ends, the tension snaps alongside Morricone’s score, which suddenly cuts to silence. Angel Eyes rolls into his own serendipitous open grave, and the film comes to a steady close, with the climactic duel acting as the thudding final chapter of this western epic.
Eli Wallach was great in this one.
Ok, that’s awesome.
I loved the music score for the movie
I always liked For A Few Dollars More. Clint tallying up the reward money as he loaded up the bodies in the wagon.
They don’t make good movies anymore.
When you have to shoot shoot...Don’t talk
BWA HA HA HA !!!
His best line.
That is hilarious. 😂
Watch all 3 in order and you’ll catch little pieces of continuity and “nods” to this and that. Bonus, the music scores are great.
I have. Guilty pleasures, all of them.
Once a month or so he would play it with his door open.
Everyone in the hall would hear it and trot back to the rooms to turn their TV on to find the movie they thought was airing.
So it was a showdown between an Army vet, a Navy vet with a Bronze Star, and an ex-Army captain.
When you have to shoot shoot...Don’t talk
- . - . -
“When you have to shoot shoot...Don’t talk.”
This is now informally called “Tuco’s Rule” among gun owners.
Clint actually did “Fistful of Dollars” for $15,000. Leone was sued by Kurosawa for ripping off his “Yojimbo” shogun plot for “Fistful of Dollars” and had to pay him all the box office proceeds.
Clint didn’t really like working with Leone who spoke only a bit of English. The Italian stunt rules were also pretty loose compared to Hollywood and the scene with Tuco’s head next to the train when cuts off his chains nearly killed Eli Wallach. They had to dig a lower pit for him at the last minute to avoid having some hanging parts of the train decapitate him.
The best Morricone cue IMHO in the movie is the “Ecstasy of Gold” music that follows Tuco as he hunts for the grave that contains Bill Carson. Metallica used this as their intro for years and the Modella beer commercial is now using it as well.
I never could follow the original release because it was edited for time by the studio execs and destroyed the continuity. Once the director’s original cut was available it all made beautiful sense.
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