Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Mario Brega, Eli Wallach
SUMMARY: In New Mexico during the Civil War, a man named Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is looking for Bill Carson. Angel Eyes is a mercenary, and has been hired to find Carson and question him about a horde of stolen Confederate gold. Elsewhere, career criminal Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach) is captured by a group of bounty hunters. Before they can turn him in, the bounty hunters are killed by “Blondie” (Clint Eastwood), who takes Tuco as his own prisoner. Blondie does turn Tuco in and collects the reward, but just as Tuco is about to hang Blondie rescues him, and the two escape together. They continue to run this scheme in various towns, but Blondie soon decides that Tuco has exhausted his worth; he leaves the man in the desert without money or water. Amazingly, Tuco makes it out of the desert and back to civilization. He immediately begins looking for Blondie, and ultimately finds him in a town facing an imminent Union attack. Tuco finds and prepares to hang Blondie, but the just-launched attack allows him to escape. Once again, Tuco finds and captures him, and this time takes him 100 miles into the desert, recreating the torture Blondie inflicted on him. Tuco forces Blondie to march through the desert without shade or water, but just as he prepares to shoot Blondie a carriage barrels through the desert. Tuco leaves Blondie to investigate, and finds that the carriage is full of dead Confederate soldiers — and a barely-alive Bill Carson. In return for water, Carson promises to reveal the exact location of $200,000 in Confederate gold, buried somewhere in Sad Hill Cemetery. By the time Tuco returns with water, Carson is dead — but he has revealed the location (a particular grave) to Blondie.
Forced to work together (as each needs information only the other has — Tuco knows the name of the cemetery but not the grave, while Blondie knows the grave but not the cemetery).– Tuco and Blondie disguise themselves as Confederate soldiers and travel to a mission to recover. They leave after Blondie recovers, but are almost immediately captured by Union soldiers and imprisoned in a POW camp. When roll is called at the camp in the morning, Tuco answers to the name of Bill Carson, which attracts the attention of Angel Eyes, himself disguised as a Union sergeant. Angel Eyes tortures the name of the cemetery out of Tuco, but also learns that only Blondie knows the name on the grave. Angel Eyes knows that he will not be able to torture Blondie into revealing the name, so he offers a partnership, which Blondie accepts. Tuco is sentenced to execution, but again escapes before the sentence is carried out. All three men make their way to the same town, where Blondie runs into Tuco again. The two put their differences aside and agree to work together again; they kill Angel Eyes’ men, but Angel Eyes has disappeared. Tuco and Blondie head to Sad Hill, which is occupied on opposite sides by Union and Confederate forces. To get rid of them, the two men decide to blow up a critical bridge. As they work, they decide to share information in case one of them is killed. Tuco reveals the name of the cemetery, and Blondie announces that the name on the grave is “Arch Stanton.” When the explosives are triggered, Tuco tries to double-cross Blondie and get to the cemetery first. When he finds the proper grave, he starts digging, only to be joined and held at gunpoint by Blondie — and then Angel Eyes, who arrives without warning. When it is revealed that Stanton is not the right grave, Blondie writes the real name on a rock and puts it into a pile of others. The three men are then engaged in a three-way duel (a Mexican standoff), in which none can move without fear of retaliation. Finally everyone draws, and Blondie shoots and kills Angel Eyes, while Tuco discovers that his gun is unloaded (done by Blondie the night before). The two men then start digging in the grave next to Arch Stanton, and find the treasure. Blondie takes his half, but then forces Tuco into a noose, and leaves him standing on a wobby grave marker. Blondie then rides away, but from a distance shoots through the rope and drops Tuco onto the ground and his share of gold.
MY TAKE: This sounds like a really thrilling movie, but it take forever to watch. Consequently, the movie is actually rather slow. It is interesting to watch how the men, particularly Tuco and Blondie, try to outwit each other, but the pace could have done with a serious kick in the pants. Eli Wallach, as Tuco, stole the show for me because on multiple occasions he seems to have come out of a situation smelling like a rose, only to have it slap him in the face. An example is when he thinks he gets Blondie to reveal the name on the grave, then gets the jump on him after the bridge explosion. Unfortunately, the name is wrong and he didn’t get quite enough of a head start. It’s really quite miraculous that Tuco managed to stay alive until the end of the movie, because he ends up sentenced to execution or in an actual noose about five times. The man either has really good luck or none at all. After he and Blondie leave the mission disguised as Confederate soldiers, they mistake the oncoming group of dusty Union soldiers as Confederates; Tuco begins yelling out insults about the Union Army, including, “God is with us because he hates the Yanks too. HURRAH!” Blondie realizes who they’re really talking to, and announces, “God’s not on our side because he hates idiots also.” It’s perfect comedic timing from a movie that’s not really humorous. I have conflicting feelings about Blondie, who is categorized as “the Good”. Of the three, he probably has the most morals and compassion, but that’s not really saying much. I certainly wouldn’t say he was “good”, because he kills and steals just like the other two. I also wouldn’t say that Angel Eyes is the “bad”, in that he’s not that much more lawless than Tuco, but he’s certainly better at it. A more appropriate title might have been, “The Bad, the Worse and the Worst.”
P.S. Good luck not singing the theme song repeatedly after watching this. It’s become one of the best-known (and most spoofed) themes in movie history.
RATING: Intriguing plot but waaaay too long.