It would make sense to wait until the last film on the list to bring up Stephen King, but I’m actually going to focus on him here instead. King’s far and away my favourite writer, and I’ve read and re-read his magnum opus, the Western/high fantasy/post-apocalyptic/cosmic horror Dark Tower series, quite a number of times, and for all I’ve bemoaned Westerns during my reviews it might come as a surprise just how much I enjoy the Western pieces of the novels. A large motivator for watching all these films is to be able to put a lot of scattered pieces of film history into context, but with The Good, The Bad and the Ugly I get to put into context Tower‘s central character, based very obviously on Clint Eastwood‘s role; that’s what I knew going in, but on finally watching it I understood a lot more about the perception of the Western genre as a whole.
The Man With No Name (Eastwood) competes and colludes with two other gunfighters – jovial but mercurial Tuco (Eli Wallach) and sadistic executioner Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) – for a buried stash of Confederate gold as the Civil War rages around them. Alliances break as quickly as they are formed, as no one man knows the whole location of the gold; the treachery seems more an excuse to pair the different leads together rather than any commentary on the nature of men when the stakes are high, but that’s perfectly alright as there’s plenty of chemistry and charisma shared among the trio. It feels like the Dollars trilogy is a natural evolution of sorts, where the first installment introduces us to the blueprint of a Spaghetti Western hero, the second section adds a little depth and detail around its main characters, and finally here we have characters solid enough that you get a sense of their motivations and not just a memory of their actions. The locations for each scene are amazing, the endless wastelands and haunted empty towns I imagine as part of a dirty Western setting, and now I see this film’s influence in so many other places that have looked to add in some Western imagery. Similarly, although I must have seen his name in the credits of at least a dozen films on the list already, hearing Ennio Morricone’s much-referenced score in context gave me a proper appreciation for just how talented a composer he was. I might not understand Westerns completely, but after seeing the one that’s the first point of reference, I feel like I’ve at least unlocked the understanding of how they’re seen in popular culture.