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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. 2 Comments.

  1. I hadn’t seen TGB&U for years and thought I would look at the extended version last night. After seeing it my sentiments almost exactly mirror yours regarding the added scenes. First, in the original we may asked the same question the Sundance Kid would ask years later and in a different place “who are those guys?” regarding both Tuco’s and Angel Eyes’s fellow henchmen. Where did they come from. The newer version seemingly wants to answer that question with additional footage. However, the extended version didn’t answer it either, one just simply asks the question earlier in the movie. The Tuco-in-the-cave scene is very strange. He seems to go completely out of character and morphs into some strange David Carradine-“Kung Fu” philosophy with his rubber chicken. Here we see his fellow bandits, but where are they from and why are they at this place at this time? In the original film we asked that question when we see Tuco in the city at Blondie’s hotel. Now, we just ask the same question in the cave instead of the city. The cave experience added nothing to further explain anything, just confusion. I never really cared in the first place where these guys came from. If you could accept that Tuco could make it to town after wandering in the desert then nothing else mattered. If Jesus could do it, so could Tuco. The dubbing was so bad and out of sync I thought they had used some budget voice actors and primitive production techniques only to discover that Eastwood and Wallach were on hand to revoice some scenes. The “new” sound (but much older voices) was too lively and didn’t or couldn’t match the old sound. It doesn’t sound like the same person nor should it after so many years. I’m glad I saw the scene, but I don’t need to see it again. Perhaps the original is just too embedded in my mind.

    Angel Eyes has a posse too. They just appeared in a burning city in the original film. In the extended version now we know. They show up at a campsite outside of town. But like Tuco’s gang all the extended version did was shift the question from one location, the city, to another location, the campsite. Again I was never bothered where these guys came from. Like new characters on TV’s Star Trek the film needed bodies; lots of bodies, somebody had to die! Someone had to flip over from the top story of a hotel. All the campsite scene do was to put another notch on big Clint’s death tally by one. I can take the scene or leave it.

    One change in the film, I just hated.Tuco and Blondie were doing their final capture and reward scam, and when Blondie’s first shot didn’t cut the hangman’s rope, he had to take another shot. After that second shot cut the rope we see Tuco’s horse wildly galloping away with him on it–in the original version. Eli Wallach said this scene wasn’t suppose to happen that way and he could have been seriously injured or worse. He had no idea where the horse was going and there were no handlers because it wasn’t suppose to be shot that way. On the extended version we don’t see the horse galloping away, instead we see Tuco running away in the streets ON FOOT! On the first version it is easy to understand how he got away–on horse back, intended or not. Why he couldn’t have easily been shot by a local sheriff or deputy while on foot is not known. Even doubling up on Blondie’s horse would have made escape implausible, but on horseback it was easy to explain. Why not leave the run-away galloping horse scene in? It was already done, and it didn’t kill Wallach. Let it count for something, I say; use it!

    Finally, I didn’t really enjoy the added war scenes. Less of those scenes the better. War is hell, but director Sergio Leone seem to tell the actors playing the captives to just look pitiful, and more pitiful.These guys were in a prison camp, not at a funeral. There is a difference. The only thing, and let me stress ONLY thing accurate about the Battle of Glorieta Pass as depicted in the film was the opposing commanders and that the battle indeed took place. Other than that the film got almost everything else wrong. Of course that’s another story. So why ADD more to a long film more extended inaccuracies? This is one area where I had hoped they would have cut more out.

    All in all, I ended up just like you did. Again I think I was just too used to watching the original for so long that the old images are just too imbedded. People like to bitch about a classic movie being redone. Even though technically speaking it wasn’t redone (or it was?) because it is the same flick it had a redone feel about it. Glad I saw it, but in the future I prefer the version I grew up with.

  1. Pingback: Evil Geek Book Report – Copperhead Volume 1 | "The Brotherhood of Evil Geeks"

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