by Pauline Kael
The scale of the Italian-made Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is what most differentiates it from American-made Westerns. My guess is that everything is made vast because Europeans love the wide-open spaces in our Westerns and because Sergio Leone, the director, wanted to outdo the scenic effects in American Westerns. If a man crosses a street in Leone’s Santa Fe, the street looks half a mile wide; a farmer’s hut has rooms-opening into rooms into the distance, like the Metropolitan Museum; the hotel in a cowtown has a plush lobby big enough for a political convention. The movie is like High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident and a dozen others all scrambled together and playing in a giant echo chamber. The bad men must then be enormously, preposterously evil — larger-than-life parodies, as in a Kurosawa film — and each wound inflicted is insanely garish. Yet, stupid as it all is, and gruesome, the change of scale is rather fascinating. This Italian Western, set in our Civil War period, looks more foreign to us than an ordinary Italian film — which gives rise to speculation about how we alter the scale, and hence the meaning, in our movie versions of foreign stories. Because, although this huge Italian Western (shot in Spain) imitates the externals of American Westerns, it makes those externals so much bigger that what the American Western hero stands for — everything that audiences are supposed to identify with — would look too small, and so it has simply been omitted. The result seems to be popular with American men, who go to relax and enjoy the action; they probably hardly notice — and wouldn’t care anyway — that the Western theme is missing.
The New Yorker, March 2, 1968
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