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The Good, The Bad And The Ugly And The Problem With Extended Cuts

I had the privilege of seeing the seminal Western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in a movie theatre not too long ago. As the movie began to play I realized the version we were watching was the extended cut. This was fine by me, as many times as I had seen the movie my old DVD copy predated it. As did the original way I use to watch it by renting two VHS tapes together from the local movie store because of its extensive running time.

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This was a movie I hadn’t seen in a long time, I once thought of this as a masterpiece of the genre. While it is still an excellent movie, it always had problems with its pacing and length. The original Italian version of the movie (i.e. extended cut) was damn near 3 hours but was trimmed by 16 minutes to a total of 2 hours and 41 minutes for its international release which was the version everywhere outside of Italy had seen. When this footage was restored in 2002 Clint Eastwood and a very old Eli Wallach came back to overdub their lines (Lee Van Cleef sadly had already passed away).

As I watched it I realized the majority of these scenes are unnecessary. They help explain some things that don’t need explaining like when Tuco arrives in town with a posse to hunt Blondie we see how he got those men and likewise how Angel Eyes and Blondie form up with their gang. The problem with this is that none of these people who join up with the main characters have a personality or shelf life. They are just there as cannon fodder and all die almost instantly. So it doesn’t matter that they just “appear” in the next scene without explanation. I never questioned it in the past. Spaghetti Westerns have an interior logic of their own; nominally they don’t really need to make sense.  The only extra scene really worth a damn in my eyes, is a lengthier shot of Tuco mentally and sadistically torturing Blondie in their trek across the desert. Mostly just because when Tuco is being the gloriously unhinged Tuco, it’s hard not to crack a smile.

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A few of the other scenes show more with the Civil War and how it’s affecting America and the South. This seems to help build Leone’s message of a war torn country and its disaster that you catch glimpses of during the shorter version of the movie. In this way, it become much more true to Leone’s vision and what he was trying to put across. However, I’ve always felt that the war scenes take away from the heart of what makes The Good, The Bad and The Ugly the movie that it is. In fact, if it was up to me I’d excise the 20 minute scene near the end when Tuco and Blondie get caught up in the war and have to blow up the bridge. It really detours the pacing badly and make its feel like you’re watching two different movies. Another issue is that the actors are 40 years removed from their parts when they recorded the new dialogue. They did the best they could, but it’s very clear anytime you’re seeing (hearing) one of the new scenes.

As a whole it was fun to watch the extended cut that one time, but I also knew that was likely to be the only time I ever did. A new problem arose when I took out a Blu-Ray/DVD combo I bought a few years ago when I first got a Blu-Ray player but never decided to watch. I thought I’d take a look at the shorter cut of the movie to compare the two. Curiously it listed the Blu-Ray as 179 minutes and the DVD as 161. Taking no chances, I went with the DVD. After I put in and the menu came up I didn’t have many options other than the play the movie. Everything started off fine, but when I got to the scene where Tuco was ranting to himself alone in a cave swinging around a dead a chicken I knew something was wrong. What happened?

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It seems in my research the extended cut has basically supplemented the original. This is an issue but also a double edge sword. The movie now stands as the director Sergio Leone originally intended it and it also contains the cleanest looking print of it. However, it’s not fair to rob the public of the version that was prominent for 40 years. The copies of the extended cut should be labeled so on the cover but let the shorter original still have a spot in the market place. Or if it’s absolutely mandatory to only push the extended cut, that’s fine but please have an option (on a second disc perhaps) for the original version. I don’t want to have to re-write how I feel about a movie, just because some more material has been unearthed.

This is a problem Star Wars fans have had ever since Lucas began to tinker with his movies. The thing is the public can make amends with a director pushing their view of what their movie should be like, but it’s not fair to deny us a way to purchase both. Every Star Wars fan would gladly pay double the price of a standard Blu-Ray “latest and greatest” version of the trilogy was packaged with cuts of the original movies.

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Fans may want to have their cake and eat it too, but some directors owe us that. The countless times we’ve bought the same movies repackaged over and over again just doesn’t seem fair.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on September 3, 2014, in Geekology, Movies, Rants and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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