The third film in Sergio Leone's "The Man with No Name Trilogy" (following A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More), The Good the Bad and the Ugly is widely considered the finest spaghetti western ever made, but I'll go one better and suggest that the film is amongst the greatest westerns, period. I can't express how much I love this film save to say that I've worn out copies of it in every commercial format, and look forward to trying to repeat the feat with this new Blu-ray from MGM.
Blondie (Eastwood) and Tuco (Wallach) run a neat scam in which the pair use Tuco's "Most Wanted" status as a way to earn quick money. Traveling from town to town, Blondie brings Tuco in to the local authorities, claims the bounty, and then leaves Tuco to be executed. However, just as Tuco is about to be hung, Blondie waits in the distance, shoots the rope around his partner's neck, and the two escape to another town as Tuco's bounty rises. While the con has, thus far, run smoothly, Tuco feels he is worth more than 50% of the take seeing as how it's his neck resting in the noose, and Blondie decides it's time to end their partnership by abandoning Tuco in the desert. Tuco manages to make his way back to town, however, and seeks out Blondie for revenge. When he finds him, Tuco brings him out into the same desert, where he hopes to kill his former partner as slowly and painfully as possible. However, when the two stumble upon a dying soldier who gives Blondie the directions to a fortune in gold, Tuco is forced to keep him alive if he hopes to find the treasure. Meanwhile, Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), a notorious bounty hunter, is also on the hunt for the gold, and has left a trail of dead in his wake. This leads up to uneasy alliances between the three men, and an explosive final showdown between the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Epic in every sense of the word, from the film's stunning vistas, to its depiction of civil war battles, Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is even more epic thanks in large part to the 2002 restoration of the film, in which large chunks of footage excised from U.S. theatrical prints were reincorporated into the film, delivering a finished version that was much more in keeping with Leone's original vision (the packaging of this Blu-ray lists the running time at 161 minutes, but this is, in fact, the 179 minute extended cut). The reinstated footage adds character, depth, and clarity, as well as the opportunity for U.S. audiences to see the film in the way that its creator originally intended.
In addition to the restoration of previously "lost" footage, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly underwent a painstaking remastering process in 2002, in which the original negatives were cleaned up considerably. This is evident in the Blu-ray, of course, as the image is exceptionally clean, with wonderfully contrasting and vivid colors, and solid detail throughout. There are, of course, occasional artifacts, flecks, and the expected amount of cinematic grain, but, otherwise, this transfer is a gem.
The Dolby True HD 5.1 soundtrack is less impressive. Just as with the video, the audio portion of the film got a makeover in 2002, as well. New sound effects were added (louder, more expressive explosions/less "canned" sounding gunshots), and new voice overs by both Wallach and Eastwood were recorded for the scenes taken from the Italian version (which were never dubbed in English). Dialogue is crisp and clear, for the most part, but occasionally gets lost in the trebly din of Morricone's score, which sounds so "hot" and trebly that it borders on distortion at times. It's a fine audio mix when one considers the original mono source (which is also included), so, while it pales in comparison to the better Blu-ray soundtracks out there, this is still the best this film has ever sounded.
Extras are mostly carryovers from the previously released two-disc DVD Collector's Edition, but that's hardly a complaint, as that set boasted a fantastic collection of goodies. The sole new extra is a commentary by Leone biographer Christopher Frayling (author of the excellent "Sergio Leone: Something to Do With Death"), which joins the previously released commentary by film historian Richard Schickel.
Five beefy featurettes (all presented in 480p) include "Leone's West", "The Leone Style", "The Man Who Lost the Civil War", "Reconstructing The Good, the Bad & the Ugly", and "Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad & the Ugly". Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes and both the French and English trailers (1080p).
Already classic western in every sense, this extended cut of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly offers so much by way of "new" material that it's like seeing the film for the first time all over again. The remastered image looks dynamite in HD, and, while the audio doesn't benefit from the upgrade as much as I'd have hoped, it's still an upgrade over the previous DVD incarnations. While lacking in terms of HD extras, the supplemental content here is of exceptional quality, making this Blu-ray presentation the definitive version for this classic film. Highly recommended.