Bean Soup & A Side of Gunfire
The food being eaten by Angel Eyes in the iconic first scene of the film is Minestrone, which is defined as a thick soup of Italian origin made with vegetables, often with the addition of pasta or rice, sometimes both. Common ingredients include beans, onions, celery, carrots, stock, and tomatoes.
According to the film commentary, it was mentioned that Sergio Leone’s English wasn’t very good, so during this scene, he just kept yelling to Van Cleef “eat the minestrone, eat the minestrone!”
An easy recipe for this classic Italian brothy soup is to use tomatoes, carrots, onion, celery and add it to beans, sometimes with pasta or rice. Chop and cook the vegetables in stages, starting with the onion, celery, and carrot. Sauté the vegetables over olive oil and butter, then add Parmesan. Add garlic. Then, cook some creamy cannellini beans and top with diced tomatoes and broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. For extra flavor, add pesto, and season with salt & pepper as needed. Serve with baguette for dipping. Now, you can eat alongside Angel Eyes for this classic.
Western Film Series #11:
“The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” (1966) is Sergio Leone’s most well-known and long beloved classic Spaghetti Western, starring once again Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, this time joined by Eli Walach, as Tuco. (You may not recognize him, but Walach is the charming Arthur from the 2006 film “The Holiday.” Also, despite the fact that I absolutely adore Eli Walach and believes he does a fantastic job here, I have to condone the choice of Walach to play a Mexican man, as opposed to having a Mexican actor play this character.) This film is, like it’s predecessors, met with a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone, but this one is the music that became a historic emblem of Western cinema – having the same lasting impact that the two major notes in “Jaws” (1983) or the screeching tune of the shower scene in “Psycho” (1960) left on the horror genre.
Similar to the previous two films in this trilogy, known as the “Dollars Trilogy,” the cinematography brings an unrelenting air of tension and drama that brings every scene from ordinary to mesmerizing. For the first two films, “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For A Few Dollars More,” Massimo Dallamano served as the director of photography, but in this third and final film, the cinematography was done by Tonino Delli Colli. Many suspect that Dallamano felt betrayed by Leone when he was not hired back for the finale, and made “Bandidos” in 1967 out of frustration, some even considering it an anti-Leone film in its style, however, their similar approaches to filmmaking is still felt in this picture. Delli Colli was rather unknown in the wider film world, but had been on the Italian scene since the 1940’s and was most recognized as the man who shot the first Italian film in color ( 1952’s “Totò a colori”). Though there is plenty of thoughtful discourse about who the better cinematographer was, many have concluded that the conceptualization was strictly from Sergio Leone shot for shot either way, and therefore, the cinematographer was a vessel rather than a visionary.
This film follows three men – a mysterious loner, a Mexican bandit, and a merciless hit-man – as they make their way through the American Southwest in search of a “treasure trove” of $200,000 in stolen gold, while the Civil War rages on in the backdrop. Cheekily, the tagline of the film reads: “For three men, the Civil War wasn’t hell. It was practice.” It’s a sprawling film (a whopping 2 hours and 58 minutes) that reflects on deeper themes than just action and violence. Leone brings about these three characters by tagging them with their own title – “Il Buono” or “The Good” is Blondie, “Il Brutto” or “The Ugly” is Tuco, and “Il Cattivo” or “The Bad” is Angel Eyes. However, the film seems to test these given titles, and allow the audience to reflect on whether or not they deserve them. It is a film about character development. Do the characters wrestle with their own morality in an immoral world? Are they bloodthirsty? Are they desperate? How does their behavior stand up against the backdrop of the actions of others in the film?
Unlike many of the films that take place in this time period, Sergio Leone decides to actually incorporate the American Civil War, and even goes as far as to provide commentary about the dueling sides. In the atmosphere of a war zone, the enemy is not any individual man, but the war itself. Leone also uses the war to continue to contemplate how man-made titles oversimplify the realities of life. He with the Civil War uniforms on various characters, having Tuco and Blondie switch sides at one point for their own safety, and at another point the Union soldiers appear with their coats covered in dust, making them look as gray as the Confederate uniforms. There is a man who is forced to play music to cover the sounds of Tuco’s agony as Angel Eyes beats him senselessly, and as the camera focuses closer, we see this man begin to tear up in pain over what he is doing. Blondie summarizes Leone’s sentiments while surveying the battle field, saying, “Never seen so many men wasted so badly.”
Each image is composed so meticulously, it is as though they have been painted on a canvas. This is an aspect of “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” that solidifies it as one of the greatest films of all time. It is easy for a non-filmmaker to overlook the complicated nature of all of Leone’s shots, but it is something that he took special care to incorporate and plan intricately. Not only does he ensure that the visuals are exemplary, but he uses them to tell the story, a skill that makes any excellent filmmaker stand out. In a brilliant sequence, Tuco is making his way through the desert searching for Blondie, he follows a trail of cigars, sucking each one along the way, until one lights, and so do his eyes as he realizes he is close. In another, the famous finale of the film, Leone pays close attention to the sweat, the squints, and the stance of all three characters, exemplified by Morricone’s flawless score. Angel Eyes’ hand creeps slowly closer to his gun, until Blondie’s sharp glare locks with his, and slowly his hand pulls back just so. Not only does he thoroughly deliver an entertaining, operatic final scene here, but he incorporates key notes of character development that have been building throughout the entire film.
Though, this is considered the third and final film of a trilogy, Sergio Leone never intended for the films to be consecutive. The same actors clearly play different characters, some who meet their demise in one film and return as a new person in the next. Some fans have speculated that this film is actually a prequel to the other films, as Blondie dons his iconic poncho worn in the first two films by the end of this one. Be that as it may, most viewers see the Dollars Trilogy as spiritual successors, a directors experimentation with one character, placing him in different scenarios and improving upon his film techniques (especially in this particular landscape) in each project.
The final film is a journey of character, of a man learning to value human life. It is a serialized adventure, where every twenty minutes or so, a new explosive action occurs. This is a film that inspired so many films to come, but also pulled from incredible films before it. Leone praised Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film “Yojimbo” and he stole shot for shot some of those brilliant scenes. Then, the Japanese animated show “Cowboy Bebop” made in 1998, took shot for shot scenes from “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” and mimicked the opening titles of “A Fistful of Dollars” and much of Ennio Morricone’s music. There is a cycle of creativity that can be seen over and over again in film – something that is often discussed by the beloved director Quentin Tarantino – and much of his work certainly reflects his inspirations. There are some things that, unfortunately, did not age well – namely, the ADR – as the dubbing process was not as advanced as it is now. And as mentioned prior, it is important to note that Eli Walach, despite his fantastic performance, should have simply been playing a white man, not a Mexican, or a Mexican actor should have been hired. That being said, though, this just simply is the Western of all Westerns. This is the Western which all other Westerns continue to be compared.
As Blondie says, “Every gun makes its own tune,” and there is no question that with this film, Sergio Leone was saying every man does, too. No man is as simply as a singular title. No person and no situation is black and white, easily defined, or easily reduced to an uncomplicated morality. There may be a lot of redemption in a character, but no man is only good. Some are just better than the worst.
“You want to know who you are? Huh? Huh? You don’t, I do, everyone does… you’re the son of a thousand fathers, all bastards like you.”