The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A gruff phallus (Clint Eastwood), a ballsy creep (Eli Wallach) and a total asshole (Lee Van Cleef) meander and murder -- across the Spanish desert wastes of the American Civil War? Absurd as ever, mingling brilliance and tedium, Sergio Leone's freakish fantasy of the Old West (and third with Eastwood in that same serape) returns restored with 14 minutes of footage -- mostly extended abuse and some shootings -- recently redubbed to English by Eastwood, Wallach and voice actor Simon Prescott (for the late Van Cleef). Ennio Morricone's indelible score begins as delicious camp and leans increasingly toward torture, while Leone's lingering facial landscapes -- every crow's foot, beady eye and clenched cheroot -- superbly complement and even eclipse his vast, bleached tableaux. The film's leaden antiwar theme doesn't jibe with its gleeful violence, and the gold-hunt plot is a trifle, but the character interplay is superb, even as Wallach's frantic gnashing sends the scenery fleeing in terror. If there were a 90-minute version, it might be as funny as Blazing Saddles.

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