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United Artists Film Festival Kicks Off With The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

Made in Italy in 1966, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the last film in Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy. Along with it's predecessors A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was initially dismissed as a spaghetti western. But the B movie label belied the artistry of Sergio Leone. With a stylish mix of humor, violence and amorality, his films revitalized the western genre that had grown old and flabby in Hollywood. But what makes these spaghetti westerns such a timeless classics is their ability to embrace genre conventions without falling victim to them. And Morricone's music provides the perfect embodiment of that -- simultaneously invoking and parodying the western myth.

As the laconic Man with No Name, Clint Eastwood was perfectly cast. His success with the previous two films had made him a hot property.

Man: "Hey amigo you know you got a face beautiful enough to be worth $2000."
Eastwood: "Yeah but you don't look like the one who'll collect it."

For The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eastwood commanded a fourth of the film's million.

Eastwood: "You cut down my percentage and it's liable to affect my aim."

But Leone didn't want to barter with his star because he knew the investment would pay off.

Wallach: "I'm very happy you're working with me and we're together again. I get dressed I kill him I be right back."

The partnership between Eastwood and Leone proved highly successful. Eastwood's not an actor of great range, but Leone knows exactly how to use him. He has Eastwood deliver his first lines off screen and then has him enter the frame with his back to the camera, delaying the final reveal of the actor's face until later in the scene. This approach doesn't require acting ability but rather allows Leone to take advantage of Eastwood's physical presence to create a character of mythic stature.

Like its title, the plot is deceptively simple. It pits Eastwood's Man with No Name against Eli Wallach's Mexican bandit Tuco and Lee Van Cleef's ruthless killer Angel Eyes. All three are after a in gold. But Leone builds a complex narrative structure from this basic foundation. For one, he plays out his tale of greed and betrayal against the backdrop of the Civil War, allowing his violent men to reflect on that tragic conflict.

Eastwood: "Never seen so many men wasted so badly."

Leone also endows the film with a clever visual style. His sense of scale is especially inspired. He often presents wide vistas and then has a person - or rifle barrel -- enter the frame in extreme close up. This sense of contrast and exaggeration extends to the characters. At one extreme is Eastwood's minimalism and at the other is Wallach's over the top bandit. Tuco is as politically incorrect as you can get with a white actor playing a stereotyped Mexican. Everything tells you to condemn such a character yet Wallach displays such vibrant gusto that he's hard to resist. Listen to him deal with a chatty enemy.

Wallach: "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk."

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
is a wildly entertaining work that continues to please. But the film's expansive use of scope must be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate its visual complexity. Plus it's just one badass western. And if seeing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly whets your appetite for spaghetti westerns, the San Diego Italian Film Festival will be screening the complete Man with No Name Trilogy at the Museum of Photographic Arts with A Fistful of Dollars on June 5, For a Few Dollars More on July 3 and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on August 7.

Here is a complete schedule of films in the United Artists Film Festival (all screen at the Ken Cinema):

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Uncut Version, rated R) May 23
The Great Escape (Not Rated) May 24
West Side Story (Not Rated) & May 25
The Pink Panther (Not Rated, starring Peter Sellers) May 26
Some Like It Hot (Rated PG) & May 26
Dr. No (Rated PG) May 27
The Thomas Crown Affair (Rated R, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway) May 27
The Manchurian Candidate (Rated PG, starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra) & May 28
Midnight Cowboy (Rated R) May 28
Annie Hall (Rated PG) May 29
The Apartment (Not Rated) May 29

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