It's hard to fathom precisely what it is that makes The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly so compelling. Surely it's a combination of many things, but is there one essential, one key to the picture's timeless success? And if so, what would it be? It is Leone's majesty? The director's shot composition and pacing are damn near perfect, creating a mood and an atmosphere that is equal parts stark realism and surreal mythology. Is it Morricone's incredible score? Surely the music plays a critical role in the operatic nature of the piece, transforming the action playing out so leisurely before us into drama of the highest order. Or is it that magnificent cast? Both Eastwood and his effortless cool and Van Cleef and his deathly stare are frequently overshadowed by Wallach's fire and gusto. Yet these three performances are interwoven to such an extent that (as the title suggests) there is no way to weigh them individually, for none of these powerful figures could be drawn so neatly without the presence of his peers in this celebrated classic.
No, it can't be that one of these ingredients rules the recipe, for what this picture represents is surely a stew, expertly seasoned, never failing to entertain not by virtue of a key component but rather because everything comes together in perfect harmony. Some classics can't help but age; maybe they were stellar examples of quality films for their era, or perhaps some were vastly overrated to begin with. Some, however, are cut from such a different cloth and executed to such perfection that they retain all of their glory and wonder throughout the ages. Nearly fifty years after it revolutionized the western genre, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is still fresh and damn near hypnotic, drawing us in and mesmerizing us with a winding tale that never ceases to delight. That it manages do so can't be explained simply with a nod to Leone, Morricone, or any of the gifted actors who worked wonders with a script that would have fallen flat had one of them lacked the required charisma. Leone excels, as always, Morricone gives the picture wings, and Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach shine; as a result, there can be no doubt that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly will forever remain perhaps the finest example of what a western can aspire to be.