Pulp Appeal: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

clint-eastwood-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-spiros-soutsos

A few weeks back Matt discussed one version of a character known in the west as “The Man with No Name.” Akira Kurosawa wrote and directed Yojimbo, starring B&B favorite Toshiro Mifune, about a nameless ronin who moves from town to town solving problems–or creating them, depending on your interpretation–wherever he goes. This character shows up in many other movies including the original Django spaghetti western and its many sequels, the Sergio Leone film Dollars trilogy starring Clint Eastwood[1], and the Walter Hill film Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis. Although Kurosawa didn’t explicitly state it, film buffs and noir fans believe he got the original idea for the character and plot of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a novel of his nameless character The Continental Op, about whom I’ve already written.

The Man with No Name, like his inspiration[2], had a direct sequel, but unlike the ronin, he actually had a third installment, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.[3] The movie is set in the American Wild West while the Civil War rages on in the east.

The plot revolves around a stolen hoard of gold buried in a grave, and the three main characters each only know a piece of the puzzle. They reluctantly form partnerships that shift throughout the movie, as each character betrays each other at various points. The climactic scene is a classic Mexican standoff, and perhaps the most iconic single standoff in film history.Mexican Standoff

SilentLooks

blondieEastwood plays The Man with No Name, referred to onscreen as “Blondie” because of his hair. He’s a former Confederate soldier who grew tired of the cause and of the death and destruction, so he deserted to become a bounty hunter in the West. He is different enough from The Man as shown in A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, that you might rightfully question if he is indeed the same character. He’s less prone to outright murder and seems to have more patience than in the earlier films, but that might be because this is technically a prequel to Fistful, as demonstrated by The Man’s poncho showing up at the end. In any case, the film trailers and posters all identify “Blondie” as “The Good.”

AngelLee Van Cleef, a New Jersey resident and former sailor[4], plays the role of “Angel Eyes,” another nameless character. Unlike “Blondie,” “Angel Eyes” seems to have no compassion for anyone and works as a mercenary and hitman. “Angel Eyes” is the main driver of the violence and rivalry between the three characters as he has no moral compunctions against murder and is so driven by simple greed that he refuses to honor any partnerships. He is identified as “The Bad”[5] and is usually dressed in black, another common trope of Westerns.

TucoRounding out the titular characters is “Tuco”[6] played by Eli Wallach. He is “The Ugly” from posters, which trades on the humor of his character and the fact that (unfairly) compared to Van Cleef and Eastwood, Wallach is not handsome. “Blondie” even calls him “The Rat” in dialogue. At the start of the film, “Blondie” and “Tuco” are running a scam on law enforcement. “Tuco” has warrants against him across most of the West, and “Blondie” turns him in to local sheriffs in exchange for the bounties. As the sheriffs get ready to hang “Tuco,” “Blondie” shoots the rope, swoops in and saves “Tuco” and then the two ride off and split the bounty equally. Although this may be a bit of a spoiler for people who haven’t seen a film that is over 50 years old, it is this partnership that foreshadows the ending of the film.

The themes of pulp fiction run strongly through this whole film. None of the characters is particularly a good person (not even “The Good”), and there’s a big morass of moral grey areas. It’s set against a backdrop of a decaying and corrupt civilization filled with murder and failed causes. Though the Confederates are shown to be in the wrong (as they were), the film doesn’t portray the Union as being all knights and paladins either (as they weren’t). Everything is portrayed as vastly more complex than the black hat/white hat divide that was the norm for Western films of the day. Most of all, the film is about active characters making active decisions, driving the plot rather than floating in a sea of ennui and navel-gazing.

As we stated in the editorial for Issue 3 of Broadswords and Blasters, we want to read and publish stories[7] about engaging characters with big problems and dangerous confrontations with real risks. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly delivers that in spades.


[1] High Plains Drifter, which Matt already wrote about, is Weird West, but there’s a case to be made that the Man with No Name trope applies to him, too.

[2] Inspiration is putting it mildly, and the creators of Yojimbo felt so, too. Fistful is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of Yojimbo. Kurosawa’s production company even managed to force Leone to settle out of court for a pretty hefty sum. That said, Kurosawa should probably have paid Dashiell Hammett a chunk of money first.

[3] In Italian the film is billed as Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo. (The Good, The Ugly, The Bad)

[4] Like me!

[5] The trailers are actually inconsistent on which character is The Bad and which is The Ugly. Depending on which trailer you see, “Tuco” and “Angel Eyes” are flip-flopped, though “Blondie” is always The Good.

[6] There’s an argument to be had that “Tuco” is the actual protagonist of the film. I don’t necessarily buy into it, but I can see why someone might. “Tuco” is certainly more well-rounded than the other two characters, including have a full official name. And “Blondie” and “Angel Eyes” are forces of nature that move through the West leaving destruction in their wake rather than fully-fleshed out people. Indeed, from a man-on-the-ground viewpoint, filmgoers have a much better sense of who “Tuco” is as a person. There’s also the fact that Eastwood was initially hesitant to appear in the film because he objected to how much screen time he was ceding to Van Cleef and Wallach, Wallach in particular. It apparently took a lot of negotiating, including profit-sharing and a new Ferrari, before Eastwood would take on the role.

[7] When we open back up for submissions in the spring and you consider sending us something to read, think back over the “Pulp Appeal” and “Pulp Consumption” articles we post. If your story is nothing like the films, stories, books, and tv shows we write about, chances are it’s not for us.

This entry was posted in Pulp Appeal and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pulp Appeal: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Reblogged this on Mangled Latin and commented:

    I went a little footnote crazy this week.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Dark Perceptions and commented:

    Cameron might have gotten a little footnote happy with his article on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” What do you think?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s