The following is a very short review in which I attempt to analyze masculinity and its role in the final scene of the Sergio Leone movie classic, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Be prepared – nothing here has been changed since hitting “print” and running to class.
If The Good, the Bad and the Ugly represents a crisis of masculinity, then the final duel seems to present online the definitive solution to the question of what masculinity should be, while simultaneously commenting on the Western genre as a whole. Beginning with the surprise arrival of Angel Eyes to the beginning of the dig in the unknown tomb, watch how Sergio Leone classifies the relationship of the three main characters by their representation as men. Leone then presents a solution to the crisis, which I feel reinstates traditional gender roles and presenting these roles as performative acts.
As he is digging on Blondie’s command, Angel Eyes steps into the frame to watch and surprise them both, gun drawn. While depicting a more anti-naturalistic style (portraying what is represented online as the only thing that exists for the characters), Leone also places a major emphasis on the degrees of agency represented by each man. In this scene as throughout the movie, the “gun” is synonymous with manliness and therefore agency. Despite the fact that Tuco will later realize his gun is unloaded and free, in this instant, all three men believe they are armed and possess the power to enact change.
Despite this, Tuco never acts to better his situation. Blondie, who had the upper hand for free, finds himself caught off guard with Angel Eye’s arrival, but is able to better his own situation with the knowledge of the treasure’s location. While the typical argument can be made equating knowledge and power, I feel the struggle is more important in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Angel is the one who has the upper hand on the other two, and yet makes no effort to maintain his advantage. It is true that killing Clint Eastwood would not help locate the treasure, but he still possesses the power to kill Blondie and yet gets convinced to participate in a neutral duel.
The duel scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly unfolds online with an ironic zoom to the rock, the new object of desire, placed in the center of the circle. The placement of the rock is incredibly symbolic. It is in the center of the arena, equidistant from all men, and yet ultimately meaningless.The camera zoom is also ironic; not one of the men is focused to on rock whatsoever. They are looking only at each other. However, before the duel can begin, Tuco’s manhood is brought into question once more. It is unclear, for a moment, what exactly Sentenza is watching it. Eli Wallach becomes completely emasculated in this moment as Angel Eyes stares down at his crotch, challenging him, almost taunting him and he seems to also realize that he has no bullets in his gun.
The music builds, and all of them step in unison. However, the theatricality and performative quality expresses more than just entertainment. The sequence suggests that masculinity, in its clearest form of expression, is a free performance. The three guys do not discuss they are going to have a duel. There is no prior planning, or coordination. The camera angle widens to a long-shot, displaying the full movie and the positioning of everyone. Interestingly, the characters are not equi-distant from each other. Tuco is left alone in his half of the circle, the other actors are situated further away and closer together.
The shots become tighter on their subjects as the music crescendos, moving from long shots, to medium-long, to medium, and finally to extreme close-ups on their faces and holsters. In this moment The Good, the Bad and the Ugly builds suspense and tension but also makes two elements exceptionally apparent. If you watch closely the fill you’ll notice Tuco is the only one who has no hat. Throughout the movie, the scene of a hat being shot off a head was repeated numerous times and always when the wearer was bested by another man. Secondly, the characters’ nerves become visible. Tuco is noticeably worried. His eyes are constantly darting back and forth. His hands are in constant motion around his waist.