Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
Director: Sergio Leone
That scene where three men face off in a graveyard, each with guns drawn, and close ups on shifting eyes and trigger fingers, which has often been homaged in films since, comes from this iconic Western. It’s the story of three men, in a complicated plot to get to the gold buried in a graveyard. Two team up to beat the third there, but the alliance is very uneasy.
In an era when the Western had become a dull genre, Sergio Leone was making what came to be known as Spaghetti Westerns, so called because they were made in Italy and often were quite bloody. He managed to not onto reinvigorate the genre, but also to hire relative unknown Clint Eastwood, and make him an icon of the Western genre and help launch his career.
The film is shot in Leone’s signature style, where long wide shots that idolise the landscape of the western are juxtaposed with extreme close ups of eyes or little details to increase tension, supported, of course, by the classic score by Ennio Morricone. Interestingly, according to 1001 Movies You Must See, the plot itself is adapted from Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” which was adapted from Dashiell Hammet’s “Red Harvest”. Beyond the surface of the Western movie styling, you can find the morally ambiguous characterisation and double crosses that were so popular in the kinds of detective stories that Hammet made so well.
It’s a film that’s so well known and so often quoted or parodied that it has become iconic. At times, it feels a bit hammy and over the top on re-watching it, but it’s always entertaining, and the performances of Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef are masterful. They work so well against each other, and their path is so twisted, you’re not sure who will end up on top or of any of them will. Watching Westerns that came just before it, you can really see how this one took the format in a new direction, and one that works so well.
See It If: a classic Western that changed the genre forever, this film is iconic and entertaining, and well worth a watch, even if you’re not a lover of the Western.