Whatever gripes I might have about my chosen profession, I generally keep schtum on the subject, since I figure that bitching about a job that consists in no small part of watching movies — and in an environment where you can actually find a projectionist to alert if the image slips out of focus — is not likely to meet with a great deal of sympathy. But one regret I'm happy to air in public is the extent to which keeping up with the constant flood of assignments prevents me from researching films. The main thing that gets in the way of watching movies is watching movies.
That's why I leapt at the chance to pen an installment of the A.V. Club's recurring feature "Better Late Than Never" on Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the third part of Leone's ad hoc Dollars trilogy, is one of my very favorites, particularly for its final scene, in which the camera itself seems to be overtaken by the intensity of the characters' lust for gold. There's a kind of divine madness in the way Leone stretches out the bandit Tuco's frantic search beyond all reason, going faster and faster until the screen is merely a blur. You could see it as simply excessive, but there's no question of the bone-deep conviction underlying Leone's dizzying display.
Perhaps I was waiting for the trilogy's first two chapters to turn up on the big screen nearby, since the scale of Leone's imposing Techniscope frames has to be experienced in the theater to have its full impact. Perhaps I feared that The Good, The Bad's precursors couldn't possibly live up to its example. Or maybe I just never got around to it. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that For a Few Dollars More is nearly the equal of its successor, and that Fistful, while markedly inferior, still has its ample charms.
For more on Leone, here's a review of the trilogy's new Blu-Ray set I did for the Los Angeles Times back in May, in which I take issue with the fact that all extant versions of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly feature the inferior "extended cut," which in my view does little for the movie except make it longer. My onstage interview with Eli Wallach from a few years back seems to be missing from the Philadelphia Free Library's site, but trust me when I say it was a thrill.