Time: 161 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.
BOTTOM LINE: The Western has never been my favorite genre, but Eastwood and Leone certainly make a great case here for indulging in epic, exciting, gun-slinging entertainment. Even as a young actor, Eastwood's terse, sarcastic, solitary, rebel nature comes through as he's perfectly cast as the Man With No Name. This sprawling tale follows the exploits of three unrepentant outlaws the Good (Eastwood), the Bad (Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Wallach) during the Civil War and their efforts to relieve everyone they meet of their cold hard cash. They leave a mass of bodies in their wake as they attempt, individually and eventually together, to secure the mother of all payoffs: a purse of $200,000 dollars in Confederate money. They don't much notice that there's a war going on unless it interferes with their scheming.
The plot isn't much to write home about, focusing mainly on the tireless efforts of our lead characters to backstab one another on the road to riches. Their underhanded tricks are mean-spirited, devious and occasionally downright vicious, which is where the fun comes in. Unfortunately, they are so utterly unlikable and in the case of Wallach, downright annoying, that the film begins to drag a bit about two-thirds of the way through and the story hits a point where their bad behavior stops being amusing. However, the inspired direction, clever ending, brilliant cinematography and evocative score more than make up for the somber pacing.
This is an epic battle of wills that leaves you wondering who's going to win right up to the final frame. The look and feel is intense and gritty, captivating the imagination by giving you a front row seat into this dangerous time and place. Eastwood's performance is mesmerizing, proving why he's one of Hollwood's most enduring stars and this film one of cinema's true treasures.