The film is known for Leone's use of long shots and close-up cinematography, as well as his distinctive use of violence, tension, and stylistic gunfights. The plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find fortune in a buried cache of Confederate gold amid the violent chaos of the American Civil War (specifically the New Mexico Campaign in 1862), while participating in many battles and duels along the way. The film was the third collaboration between Leone and Clint Eastwood, and the second with Lee Van Cleef.
During the American Civil War, mercenary Angel Eyes interrogates former Confederate soldier Stevens, whom Angel Eyes is contracted to kill, about Bill Carson, a fugitive who stole a cache of Confederate gold. Stevens offers Angel Eyes $1,000 to kill Baker, Angel Eyes's employer. Angel Eyes accepts the contract, and kills Stevens as he leaves. Angel Eyes returns to Baker for his fee, then shoots Baker, fulfilling his contract with Stevens. Meanwhile, Mexican bandit Tuco Ramírez is rescued from three bounty hunters by "Blondie", who delivers him to the local sheriff to collect his $2,000 bounty. As Tuco is about to be hanged, Blondie severs Tuco's noose by shooting it, and sets him free. The two escape on horseback and split the bounty in a lucrative money-making scheme. They repeat the process in another town for more reward money. Blondie grows weary of Tuco's complaints, and abandons him penniless in the desert. A vengeful Tuco tracks Blondie to a town being abandoned by Confederate troops. As he prepares to force Blondie to hang himself, Union forces shell the town, allowing Blondie to escape. Following an arduous search, Tuco recaptures Blondie and force-marches him across a desert until Blondie collapses from dehydration. As Tuco prepares to shoot him, he sees a runaway carriage. Inside is a delirious Bill Carson, who promises Tuco $200,000 in Confederate gold, buried in a grave in Sad Hill Cemetery. Tuco demands to know the name on the grave, but Carson collapses from thirst before answering. When Tuco returns with water, Carson has died and Blondie, slumped next to him, reveals that Carson recovered and told him the name on the grave before dying. Tuco, who now has strong motivation to keep Blondie alive, gives him water and takes him to a nearby frontier mission to recover.
After Blondie's recovery, the two leave in Confederate uniforms from Carson's carriage, only to be captured by Union soldiers and remanded to the POW camp of Batterville. At roll call, Tuco answers for "Bill Carson," getting the attention of Angel Eyes, now a disguised Union sergeant at the camp. Angel Eyes tortures Tuco, who reveals the name of the cemetery, but confesses that only Blondie knows the name on the grave. Realizing that Blondie will not yield to torture, Angel Eyes offers him an equal share of the gold and a partnership. Blondie agrees and rides out with Angel Eyes and his gang. Tuco is packed on a train to be executed, but escapes.
Blondie, Angel Eyes, and his henchmen arrive in an evacuated town. Tuco, having fled to the same town, takes a bath in a ramshackle hotel and is surprised by Elam, a bounty hunter searching for him. Tuco shoots Elam, causing Blondie to investigate the gunshots. He finds Tuco, and they agree to resume their old partnership. The pair kill Angel Eyes's men, but discover that Angel Eyes himself has escaped.
Tuco and Blondie travel to Sad Hill, now held by Union troops on one side of a strategic bridge against the advancing Confederate troops. Blondie decides to destroy the bridge to disperse the two armies to allow access to the cemetery. As they wire the bridge with explosives, Tuco suggests they share information, in case one person dies before he can help the other. Tuco reveals the name of the cemetery, while Blondie says "Arch Stanton" as the name of the grave. After the bridge explodes, the armies disperse, and Tuco steals a horse and rides to Sad Hill to claim the gold for himself. He finds Arch Stanton's grave and begins digging. Blondie arrives and encourages him at gunpoint to continue. A moment later, Angel Eyes surprises them both. Blondie opens Stanton's grave, revealing just a skeleton. Blondie states that he lied about the name on the grave, and offers to write the real name of the grave on a rock. Placing it face-down in the courtyard of the cemetery, he challenges Tuco and Angel Eyes to a three-way duel.
The trio stare each other down. Everyone draws, and Blondie shoots and kills Angel Eyes, while Tuco discovers that his own gun was unloaded by Blondie the night before. Blondie reveals that the gold is actually in the grave beside Arch Stanton's, marked "Unknown." Tuco is initially elated to find bags of gold, but Blondie holds him at gunpoint and orders him into a hangman's noose beneath a tree. Blondie binds Tuco's hands and forces him to stand balanced precariously atop an unsteady grave marker while he takes half the gold and rides away. As Tuco screams for mercy, Blondie returns into sight. Blondie severs the rope with a rifle shot, dropping Tuco, alive but tied up, onto his share of the gold. Tuco curses loudly while Blondie rides off into the horizon.Clint Eastwood as "Blondie" (a.k.a. the Man with No Name): The Good, a subdued, confident bounty hunter who teams up with Tuco, and Angel Eyes temporarily, to find the buried gold. Blondie and Tuco have an ambivalent partnership. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery where the gold is hidden, but Blondie knows the name of the grave where it is buried, forcing them to work together to find the treasure. In spite of this greedy quest, Blondie's pity for the dying soldiers in the chaotic carnage of the War is evident. "I've never seen so many men wasted so badly," he remarks. He also comforts a dying soldier by laying his coat over him and letting him smoke his cigar. Rawhide had ended its run as a series in 1966, and at that point neither A Fistful of Dollars nor For a Few Dollars More had been released in the United States. When Leone offered Clint Eastwood a role in his next movie, it was the only big film offer he had; however, Eastwood still needed to be convinced to do it. Leone and his wife traveled to California to persuade him. Two days later, he agreed to make the film upon being paid $250,000 and getting 10% of the profits from the North American markets—a deal with which Leone was not happy. In the original Italian script for the film, he is named "Joe" (his nickname in A Fistful of Dollars), but is referred to as Blondie in the Italian and English dialogue.
Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes: The Bad, a ruthless, unfeeling, and sociopathic mercenary who always finishes a job he is paid for (which is usually finding—and killing—people). When Blondie and Tuco are captured while posing as Confederate soldiers, Angel Eyes is the Union sergeant who interrogates and has Tuco tortured, eventually learning the name of the cemetery where the gold is buried, but not the name on the tombstone. Angel Eyes forms a fleeting partnership with Blondie, but Tuco and Blondie turn on Angel Eyes when they get their chance. Originally, Leone wanted Enrico Maria Salerno (who had dubbed Eastwood's voice for the Italian versions of the Dollars Trilogy films) or Charles Bronson to play Angel Eyes, but the latter was already committed to playing in The Dirty Dozen (1967). Leone thought about working with Lee Van Cleef again: "I said to myself that Van Cleef had first played a romantic character in For a Few Dollars More. The idea of getting him to play a character who was the opposite of that began to appeal to me." In the original working script, Angel Eyes was named "Banjo", but is referred to as "Sentenza" (meaning "Sentence" or "Judgement") in the Italian version. Eastwood came up with the name Angel Eyes on the set, for his gaunt appearance and expert marksmanship.
Eli Wallach as Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez (known as "The Rat" according to Blondie): The Ugly, a comical and oafish but cagey and resilient, fast-talking Mexican bandit who is wanted by the authorities for a long list of crimes. Tuco manages to discover the name of the cemetery where the gold is buried, but he does not know the name of the grave. This state of affairs forces Tuco to become reluctant partners with Blondie. The director originally considered Gian Maria Volontè for the role of Tuco, but felt that the role required someone with "natural comic talent". In the end, Leone chose Eli Wallach, based on his role in How the West Was Won (1962), in particular, his performance in "The Railroads" scene. In Los Angeles, Leone met Wallach, who was skeptical about playing this type of character again, but after Leone screened the opening credit sequence from For a Few Dollars More, Wallach said: "When do you want me?" The two men got along famously, sharing the same bizarre sense of humor. Leone allowed Wallach to make changes to his character in terms of his outfit and recurring gestures. Both Eastwood and Van Cleef realized that the character of Tuco was close to Leone's heart, and the director and Wallach became good friends. They communicated in French, which Wallach spoke badly and Leone spoke well. Van Cleef observed, "Tuco is the only one of the trio the audience gets to know all about. We meet his brother and find out where he came from and why he became a bandit. But Clint's and Lee's characters remain mysteries." In the theatrical trailer, Angel Eyes is referred to as The Ugly and Tuco, The Bad. This is due to a translation error; the original Italian title translates literally to "The Good [one], the Ugly [one], the Bad [one]".
Aldo Giuffrè as Captain Clinton
Mario Brega as Corporal Wallace
Luigi Pistilli as Father Pablo Ramírez
Al Mulock as Elam
Antonio Casas as Stevens
Antonio Casale as Bill Carson/Jackson
Antonio Molino Rojo as Captain Harper
Rada Rassimov as Maria
Enzo Petito as Storekeeper
Chelo Alonso as Stevens' Wife
After the success of For a Few Dollars More, executives at United Artists approached the film's screenwriter, Luciano Vincenzoni, to sign a contract for the rights to the film and for the next one. He, producer Alberto Grimaldi and Sergio Leone had no plans, but with their blessing, Vincenzoni pitched an idea about "a film about three rogues who are looking for some treasure at the time of the American Civil War." The studio agreed, but wanted to know the cost for this next film. At the same time, Grimaldi was trying to broker his own deal, but Vincenzoni's idea was more lucrative. The two men struck an agreement with UA for a million-dollar budget, with the studio advancing $500,000 up front and 50% of the box office takings outside of Italy. The total budget would eventually be $1.2 million.
Leone built upon the screenwriter's original concept to "show the absurdity of war ... the Civil War which the characters encounter. In my frame of reference, it is useless, stupid: it does not involve a 'good cause.'" An avid history buff, Leone said, "I had read somewhere that 120,000 people died in Southern camps such as Andersonville. I was not ignorant of the fact that there were camps in the North. You always get to hear about the shameful behavior of the losers, never the winners." The Batterville Camp where Blondie and Tuco are imprisoned was based on steel engravings of Andersonville. Many shots in the film were influenced by archival photographs taken by Mathew Brady. As the film took place during the Civil War, it served as a prequel for the other two films in the trilogy, which took place after the war.
While Leone developed Vincenzoni's idea into a script, the screenwriter recommended the comedy-writing team of Agenore Incrucci and Furio Scarpelli to work on it with Leone and Sergio Donati. According to Leone, "I couldn't use a single thing they'd written. It was the grossest deception of my life." Donati agreed, saying, "There was next to nothing of them in the final script. They only wrote the first part. Just one line." Vincenzoni claims that he wrote the screenplay in 11 days, but he soon left the project after his relationship with Leone soured. The three main characters all contain autobiographical elements of Leone. In an interview he said, "[Sentenza] has no spirit, he's a professional in the most banal sense of the term. Like a robot. This isn't the case with the other two. On the methodical and careful side of my character, I'd be nearer il Biondo (Blondie): but my most profound sympathy always goes towards the Tuco side ... He can be touching with all that tenderness and all that wounded humanity." Film director Alex Cox suggests that the cemetery-buried gold hunted by the protagonists may have been inspired by rumours surrounding the anti-Communist Gladio terrorists, who hid many of their 138 weapons caches in cemeteries.
Eastwood received a percentage-based salary, unlike the first two films where he received a straight fee salary. When Lee Van Cleef was again cast for another Dollars film, he joked "the only reason they brought me back was because they forgot to kill me off in For A Few Dollars More."
The film's working title was I due magnifici straccioni (The Two Magnificent Tramps). It was changed just before shooting began when Vincenzoni thought up Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Ugly, the Bad), which Leone loved. In the United States, United Artists considered using the original Italian translation, River of Dollars, or The Man With No Name, but decided on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Filming began at the Cinecittà studio in Rome again in mid-May 1966, including the opening scene between Eastwood and Wallach when Blondie captures Tuco for the first time and sends him to jail. The production then moved on to Spain's plateau region near Burgos in the north, which doubled for the southwestern United States, and again shot the western scenes in Almería in the south. This time, the production required more elaborate sets, including a town under cannon fire, an extensive prison camp and an American Civil War battlefield; and for the climax, several hundred Spanish soldiers were employed to build a cemetery with several thousand grave stones to resemble an ancient Roman circus. For the scene where the bridge was blown up, it had to be filmed twice as in the first take all three cameras were destroyed by the explosion. Eastwood remembers, "They would care if you were doing a story about Spaniards and about Spain. Then they'd scrutinize you very tough, but the fact that you're doing a western that's supposed to be laid in southwest America or Mexico, they couldn't care less what your story or subject is." Top Italian cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli was brought in to shoot the film and was prompted by Leone to pay more attention to light than in the previous two films; Ennio Morricone composed the score once again. Leone was instrumental in asking Morricone to compose a track for the final Mexican stand-off scene in the cemetery, asking him to compose what felt like "the corpses were laughing from inside their tombs", and asked Delli Colli to create a hypnotic whirling effect interspersed with dramatic extreme close ups, to give the audience the impression of a visual ballet. Filming concluded in July 1966.
Eastwood was not initially pleased with the script and was concerned he might be upstaged by Wallach, and said to Leone, "In the first film I was alone. In the second, we were two. Here we are three. If it goes on this way, in the next one I will be starring with the American cavalry". As Eastwood played hard-to-get in accepting the role (inflating his earnings up to $250,000, another Ferrari and 10% of the profits in the United States when eventually released there), Eastwood was again encountering publicist disputes between Ruth Marsh, who urged him to accept the third film of the trilogy, and the William Morris Agency and Irving Leonard, who were unhappy with Marsh's influence on the actor. Eastwood banished Marsh from having any further influence in his career and he was forced to sack her as his business manager via a letter sent by Frank Wells. For some time after, Eastwood's publicity was handled by Jerry Pam of Gutman and Pam. Throughout filming, Eastwood regularly socialized with actor Franco Nero, who was filming Texas, Adios at the time.
Wallach and Eastwood flew to Madrid together and between shooting scenes, Eastwood would relax and practice his golf swing. Wallach was almost poisoned during filming when he accidentally drank from a bottle of acid that a film technician had set next to his soda bottle. Wallach mentioned this in his autobiography and complained that while Leone was a brilliant director, he was very lax about ensuring the safety of his actors during dangerous scenes. For instance, in one scene, where he was to be hanged after a pistol was fired, the horse underneath him was supposed to bolt. While the rope around Wallach's neck was severed, the horse was frightened a little too well. It galloped for about a mile with Wallach still mounted and his hands bound behind his back. The third time Wallach's life was threatened was during the scene where he and Mario Brega—who are chained together—jump out of a moving train. The jumping part went as planned, but Wallach's life was endangered when his character attempts to sever the chain binding him to the (now dead) henchman. Tuco places the body on the railroad tracks, waiting for the train to roll over the chain and sever it. Wallach, and presumably the entire film crew, were not aware of the heavy iron steps that jutted one foot out of every box car. If Wallach had stood up from his prone position at the wrong time, one of the jutting steps could have decapitated him.
The bridge in the film was reconstructed twice by sappers of the Spanish army after being rigged for on-camera explosive demolition. The first time, an Italian camera operator signaled that he was ready to shoot, which was misconstrued by an army captain as the similar-sounding Spanish word meaning "start". Nobody was injured in the erroneous mistiming. The army rebuilt the bridge while other shots were filmed. As the bridge was not a prop, but a rather heavy and sturdy structure, powerful explosives were required to destroy it. Leone said that this scene was, in part, inspired by Buster Keaton's silent film The General.
As an international cast was employed, actors performed in their native languages. Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach spoke English, and were dubbed into Italian for the debut release in Rome. For the American version, the lead acting voices were used, but supporting cast members were dubbed into English. The result is noticeable in the bad synchronization of voices to lip movements on screen; none of the dialogue is completely in sync because Leone rarely shot his scenes with synchronized sound. Various reasons have been cited for this: Leone often liked to play Morricone's music over a scene and possibly shout things at the actors to get them in the mood. Leone cared more for visuals than dialogue (his English was limited, at best). Given the technical limitations of the time, it would have been difficult to record the sound cleanly in most of the extremely wide shots Leone frequently used. Also, it was standard practice in Italian films at this time to shoot silently and post-dub. Whatever the actual reason, all dialogue in the film was recorded in post-production. Leone was unable to find an actual cemetery for the Sad Hill shootout scene, so the Spanish pyrotechnics chief hired 250 Spanish soldiers to build one in Carazo near Salas de los Infantes, which they completed in two days (at 41°59′25″N 3°24′29″W).
By the end of filming, Eastwood had finally had enough of Leone's perfectionist directorial traits. Leone, often forcefully, insisted on shooting scenes from many different angles, paying attention to the most minute of details, which would often exhaust the actors. Leone, an obese glutton, was also a source of amusement for his excesses, and Eastwood found a way to deal with the stresses of being directed by him by making jokes about him and nicknamed him "Yosemite Sam" for his bad temperament. After the film was completed, Eastwood never worked with Leone again, later turning down the role as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), for which Leone had personally flown to Los Angeles to give him the script. The role eventually went to Charles Bronson. Years later, Leone exacted his revenge upon Eastwood during the filming of Once Upon a Time in America (1984) when he described Eastwood's abilities as an actor as being like a block of marble or wax and inferior to the acting abilities of Robert De Niro, saying, "Eastwood moves like a sleepwalker between explosions and hails of bullets, and he is always the same—a block of marble. Bobby first of all is an actor, Clint first of all is a star. Bobby suffers, Clint yawns." Eastwood later gave a friend the poncho he wore in the three films, where it was hung in a Mexican restaurant in Carmel, California.
Director Sergio Leone noted that the film's main theme is its emphasis on violence and the deconstruction of Old West romanticism. Like many of his films, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was considered by Leone as a satire of the Western genre. Critic Drew Marton described it as a "baroque manipulation" that criticizes the American ideology of the Western, by replacing the heroic cowboy popularized by John Wayne with morally complex antiheroes. Negative themes such as capitalism and greed were also given focus, and were traits shared by the three leads in the story. Many critics have also noticed the film's anti-war theme. Taking place in the American Civil War, the film takes the viewpoint of people such as civilians, bandits, and most notably soldiers, and presents their daily hardships during the war. Although not fighting in the war, the three gunslingers gradually become entangled in the battles that ensue (similar to The Great War, a film that screenwriters Luciano Vincenzoni and Age & Scarpelli had contributed to).
In its depiction of violence, Leone used his signature long drawn and close-up style of filming, which he did by mixing extreme face shots and sweeping long shots. By doing so, Leone managed to stage epic sequences punctuated by extreme eyes and face shots, or hands slowly reaching on a holstered gun. This builds up the tension and suspense by allowing the viewers to savor the performances and character reactions, create a feel of excitement, as well as giving Leone the freedom to film beautiful landscapes. Leone also incorporated music to heighten up the tension and pressure before and during the film's many gunfights.
In filming the pivotal gunfights, Leone largely removes dialogue to focus more on the actions of the characters, which was important during the film's iconic Mexican standoff. This style can also be seen in one of the film's protagonists, Blondie (aka The Man with No Name), which is described by critics as more defined by his actions than his words. All three characters can be seen as anti-heroes killing for their personal gain. Leone also employed stylistic trick shooting, such as Blondie shooting the hat off a person's head and severing a hangman's noose with a well-placed shot, in many of its iconic shootouts.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly opened in Italy on 23 December 1966, and grossed $6.3 million at that time.
In the United States, A Fistful of Dollars was released 18 January 1967 (28 months after its initial Italian release); For a Few Dollars More was released 10 May 1967 (17 months); and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was released 29 December 1967 (12 months). Thus, all three of Leone's Dollars Trilogy films were released in the United States during the same year. The original Italian domestic version was 177 minutes long, but the international version was shown at various lengths. Most prints, specifically those shown in the United States, had a runtime of 161 minutes, 16 minutes shorter than the Italian premiere version, but others, especially British prints, ran as short as 148 minutes.
Upon release, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly received criticism for its depiction of violence. Leone explains that "the killings in my films are exaggerated because I wanted to make a tongue-in-cheek satire on run-of-the-mill westerns... The west was made by violent, uncomplicated men, and it is this strength and simplicity that I try to recapture in my pictures." To this day, Leone's effort to reinvigorate the timeworn Western is widely acknowledged.
Critical opinion of the film on initial release was mixed as many reviewers at that time looked down on "spaghetti westerns". In a negative review in The New York Times, critic Renata Adler said that the film "must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the "temptation is hereby proved irresistible to call The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, now playing citywide, The Bad, The Dull, and the Interminable, only because it is." Roger Ebert, who later included the film in his list of Great Movies, retrospectively noted that in his original review he had "described a four-star movie, but only gave it three stars, perhaps because it was a 'Spaghetti Western' and so could not be art". Ebert also points out Leone's unique perspective that enables the audience to be closer to the character as viewers see what he sees.
Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The rule is that the ability to see is limited by the sides of the frame. At important moments in the film, what the camera cannot see, the characters cannot see, and that gives Leone the freedom to surprise us with entrances that cannot be explained by the practical geography of his shots. There is a moment, for example, when men do not notice a vast encampment of the Union Army until they stumble upon it; a moment in a cemetery when a man materializes out of thin air, even though he should have been visible much sooner; the way men walk down a street in full view and nobody is able to shoot them, (maybe because they are not in the same frame with them).
Despite the initial negative reception by some critics, today, the film has since accumulated very positive feedback.
It is listed in Time's "100 Greatest Movies of the Last Century" as selected by critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 97% percent of film critics gave the film positive reviews. It is ranked #78 on the site's "Top 100 Movies of All Time". The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has been described as European cinema's best representation of the Western genre film, and Quentin Tarantino has called it "the best-directed film of all time" and "the greatest achievement in the history of cinema." This was reflected in his votes for the 2002 and 2012 Sight & Sound magazine polls, in which he voted for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as his choice for the best film ever made. Variety magazine ranked the film number 49 on their list of the 50 greatest movies. In 2002, Film4 held a poll of the 100 Greatest Movies, on which The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was voted in at number 46. Premiere magazine included the film on their 100 Most Daring Movies Ever Made list. Mr. Showbiz ranked the film #81 on its 100 Best Movies of All Time list.
Empire magazine added The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to their Masterpiece collection in the September 2007 issue, and in their poll of "The 500 Greatest Movies", The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was voted in at number 25. In 2014, The Good the Bad and the Ugly was ranked the 47th greatest film ever made on Empire's list of "The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time" as voted by the magazine's readers. It was also placed on a similar list of 1000 movies by The New York Times. In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly placed 52nd on their list. Additionally, Films101.com ranked the film as the 152nd best movie of all time in a list of the 10,790 most notable.
The film was first released on DVD by MGM in 1998. The special features contain 14 minutes of scenes that were cut for the film's North American release, including a scene which explains how Angel Eyes came to be waiting for Blondie and Tuco at the Union prison camp.
In 2002, the film was restored with the 14 minutes of scenes cut for US release re-inserted into the film. Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach were brought back in to dub their characters' lines more than 35 years after the film's original release. Voice actor Simon Prescott substituted for Lee Van Cleef who had died in 1989. Other voice actors filled in for actors who had since died. In 2004, MGM released this version in a two-disc special edition DVD.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary with writer and critic Richard Schickel. Disc 2 contains two documentaries, "Leone's West" and "The Man Who Lost The Civil War", followed by the featurette "Restoring 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'"; an animated gallery of missing sequences titled "The Socorro Sequence: A Reconstruction"; an extended Tuco torture scene; a featurette called "Il Maestro"; an audio featurette named "Il Maestro, Part 2"; a French trailer; and a poster gallery.
This DVD was generally well received, though some purists complained about the re-mixed stereo soundtrack with many completely new sound effects (notably, the gunshots were replaced), with no option for the original soundtrack. At least one scene that was re-inserted had been cut by Leone prior to the film's release in Italy, but had been shown once at the Italian premiere. According to Richard Schickel, Leone willingly cut the scene for pacing reasons; thus, restoring it was contrary to the director's wishes. MGM re-released the 2004 DVD edition in their "Sergio Leone Anthology" box set in 2007. Also included were the two other "Dollars" films, and Duck, You Sucker!. On 12 May 2009, the extended version of the film was released on Blu-ray. It contains the same special features as the 2004 special edition DVD, except that it includes an added commentary by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling.
The film was re-released on Blu-ray in 2014 using a new 4K remaster, featuring improved picture quality and detail but a change of color timing, resulting in the film having a more yellow hue than on previous releases. It was rereleased on Blu-ray by Kino Video in August 2017, in a new release that featured both theatrical and extended cuts, as well as new bonus features, and an attempt to correct the yellow color timing from the earlier disc.
The following scenes were originally deleted by distributors from the British and American theatrical versions of the film, but were restored after the release of the 2004 Special Edition DVD.During his search for Bill Carson, Angel Eyes stumbles upon an embattled Confederate outpost after a massive artillery bombardment. Once there, after witnessing the wretched conditions of the survivors, he bribes a Confederate soldier (Víctor Israel, dubbed by Tom Wyner) for clues about Bill Carson.
The sequence with Tuco and Blondie crossing the desert has been extended: Tuco mentally tortures a severely dehydrated Blondie by eating and bathing in front of him.
Tuco, transporting a dehydrated Blondie, finds a Confederate camp whose occupants tell him that Father Ramirez's monastery is nearby.
Tuco and Blondie discuss their plans when departing in a wagon from Father Ramirez's monastery.
A scene where Blondie and Angel Eyes are resting by a creek when a man appears and Blondie shoots him. Angel Eyes asks the rest of his men to come out (all are hidden as well). When the five men come out, Blondie counts them (including Angel Eyes), and concludes that six is the perfect number. Angel Eyes asks him why, mentioning that he had heard that three was the perfect number. Blondie responds that six is the perfect number, because he has six bullets left in his revolver.
The sequence with Tuco, Blondie and Captain Clinton has been extended: Clinton asks for their names, which they are reluctant to answer.
A scene deleted by Leone after the Rome premiere was also re-inserted:After being betrayed by Blondie, surviving the desert on his way to civilization and assembling a good revolver from the parts of worn-out guns being sold at a general store, Tuco meets with members of his gang in a distant cave, where he conspires with them to hunt and kill Blondie.
Additional footage of the sequence where Tuco is tortured by Angel Eyes's henchman was discovered. The original negative of this footage was deemed too badly damaged to be used in the theatrical cut, but the footage appears as an extra in the 2004 DVD supplementary features.
Lost footage of the missing Socorro Sequence where Tuco continues his search for Blondie in a Texican pueblo while Blondie is in a hotel room with a Mexican woman (Silvana Bacci) is reconstructed with photos and unfinished snippets from the French trailer. Also, in the documentary "Reconstructing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", what looks to be footage of Tuco lighting cannons before the Ecstasy of Gold sequence appears briefly. None of these scenes or sequences appear in the 2004 re-release, however, but are in the supplementary features.
The score is composed by frequent Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone, whose distinctive original compositions, containing gunfire, whistling (by John O'Neill), and yodeling permeate the film. The main theme, resembling the howling of a coyote (which blends in with an actual coyote howl in the first shot after the opening credits), is a two-note melody that is a frequent motif, and is used for the three main characters. A different instrument was used for each: flute for Blondie, ocarina for Angel Eyes and human voices for Tuco. The score complements the film's American Civil War setting, containing the mournful ballad, "The Story of a Soldier", which is sung by prisoners as Tuco is being tortured by Angel Eyes. The film's climax, a three-way Mexican standoff, begins with the melody of "The Ecstasy of Gold" and is followed by "The Trio." Today, the iconic theme is considered one of the greatest instrumental film scores of all time.
The main theme also titled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was a hit in 1968 with the soundtrack album on the charts for more than a year, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard pop album chart and No. 10 on the black album chart. The main theme was also a hit for Hugo Montenegro, whose rendition was a No. 2 Billboard pop single in 1968.
In popular culture, the American new wave group Wall of Voodoo performed a medley of Ennio Morricone's movie themes, including the theme for this movie. The only known recording of it is a live performance on The Index Masters. Punk rock band the Ramones played this song as the opening for their live album Loco Live as well as in concerts until their disbandment in 1996. The British heavy metal band Motörhead played the main theme as the overture music on the 1981 "No sleep 'til Hammersmith" tour. American heavy metal band Metallica has run "The Ecstasy of Gold" as prelude music at their concerts since 1985 (except 1996–1998), and recently recorded a version of the instrumental for a compilation tribute to Morricone. XM Satellite Radio's The Opie & Anthony Show also opens every show with "The Ecstasy of Gold". The American punk rock band The Vandals song "Urban Struggle" begins with the main theme. British electronica act Bomb the Bass used the main theme as one of a number of samples on their 1988 single "Beat Dis", and used sections of dialogue from Tuco's hanging on "Throughout The Entire World", the opening track from their 1991 album Unknown Territory. The main theme was also sampled/re-created by British band New Order for the album version of their 1993 single "Ruined in a Day". A song from the band Gorillaz is named "Clint Eastwood", and features references to the actor, along with a repeated sample of the theme song; the iconic yell featured in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's score is heard at the beginning of the music video.
The film's title has entered the English language as an idiomatic expression. Typically used when describing something thoroughly, the respective phrases refer to upsides, downsides and the parts that could, or should have been done better, but were not.
The film was novelized in 1967 by Joe Millard as part of the "Dollars Western" series based on the "Man with No Name". The South Korean western movie The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) is inspired by the film, with much of its plot and character elements borrowed from Leone's film. In his introduction to the 2003 revised edition of his novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Stephen King revealed that the film was a primary influence for the Dark Tower series, and that Eastwood's character specifically inspired the creation of King's protagonist, Roland Deschain.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the last film in the Dollars Trilogy, and thus does not have an official sequel. Following the film's release, Leone went on to direct two more Westerns (Once Upon a Time in the West and Duck, You Sucker!) and was involved in the production of other Spaghetti Westerns (My Name is Nobody and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe), but none of these bore direct relations with his previous films.
However, screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni stated on numerous occasions that he had written a treatment for a sequel, tentatively titled Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo n. 2 (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 2). According to Vincenzoni and Eli Wallach, the film would have been set 20 years after the original, and would have followed Tuco pursuing Blondie's grandson for the gold. Clint Eastwood expressed interest in taking part in the film's production, including acting as narrator. Joe Dante and Leone were also approached to direct and produce the film respectively. Eventually, however, the project was vetoed by Leone, as he did not want the original film's title or characters to be reused, nor did he want to be involved in another Western film.