The Good, the Bad and the Ugly all look pretty good on new Blu-ray

Sergio Leone’s masterpiece – without doubt the greatest western shot entirely in Europe – gets a near Criterion treatment (without the Criterion price tag) in a two-disc Blu-ray set containing two versions of the film and a massive collection of extras.

An Italian epic set during the American Civil War, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly follows three violent criminals out to find buried treasure. But their crimes pale against the slaughter of war all around them. Leone’s camera shows us towns corrupted and towns destroyed. The soldiers may have joined the fight out of patriotism, but now they only talk about the pointless carnage that will swallow them.

And through that carnage, the three protagonists – two likeable, one despicable – team up, break up, fight, and lie to get the gold buried in a cemetery.

I wrote about the film in 2014, and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I’ll just say that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a western like no other. It’s shocking, gruesome, funny, sad, epic, cruel, and humane. It’s also daringly staged, beautifully shot, and insanely edited, with one of the greatest music scores ever composed (by Ennio Morricone). And it tells its story with a passion for cinema found in few other movies.

Two versions, two discs

Kino Lorber’s new The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Blu-ray set contains two different versions. Leone’s original cut, which isn’t in this set, ran 175 minutes. United Artists insisted on a shorter version for the American release, so Leone cut it down to 161. That version is now called the Theatrical Cut – even though every other cut I know of has been shown theatrically.

In 2003, MGM/UA reconstructed Leone’s original cut, and added a scene that Leone removed immediately after the Rome premiere. That Extended Cut brought the film up to 179 minutes.

Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray set puts the Extended Cut on one disc and the Theatrical Cut on another. I don’t know why they didn’t use Blu-ray’s seamless branching capabilities to put both cuts on a single disc.

The last time I wrote extensively about this film, I said that I preferred the Theatrical Cut. Now, I’m not so sure. The Extended Cut has some pointless scenes, but it also develops the characters better, and gives more time to the anti-war message. I like them both.

How It Looks

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was shot in Techniscope, a low-budget, small-frame, widescreen format that sacrificed resolution to save money. You can’t get a razor-sharp Blu-ray out of a Techniscope negative.

But for what it is, it looks fantastic. You still see a great deal of detail, and the colors pop like a Technicolor IB print (well, almost). The transfer does more than justice to Tonino Delli Colli’s offbeat photography, with its extreme closeups and longshots, weathered faces, and David Lean-like battle scenes.

The movie presents both cuts in 1080p.

How It Sounds

Like most Italian films of the 1960s, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was shot without recorded dialog. Actors spoke in a language of their choice, and the dialog was dubbed later in various languages.

Both cuts on the Blu-ray offer three soundtracks (not including commentaries): English 5.1 (the default), English original mono, and Italian original mono. All of them are presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio.

I listened to the English mono, and it sounded great. It was clear, with a deep dynamic range and no noticeable flaws. I also listened a bit to the Italian track – which is truly the film’s original soundtrack. But the English subtitles come from the dubbed English soundtrack, not the original Italian. That’s a pity, because the dialog changed quite a bit in the dubbing process.

All three tracks give fine justice to Ennio Morricone’s magnificent score. I’m not just talking about the iconic theme, certainly one of the most recognizable pieces of movie music ever. The sad themes he wrote for the war scenes are less showy but just as powerful.

And the Extras

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly comes with three commentary tracks and more than 20 extras – most of them quite short. Going through them, I heard at least four slightly different stories about the bridge blowing up too soon. I also heard about dangerous stunts, linguistic misunderstandings, and the United Artists ad campaign that created the slogan “The man with no name” – despite the fact that Clint Eastwood has a different name in each film.

Disc one: Extended Cut

All of the extras on this disc are in low-resolution 480i. I suspect they were created for a DVD release.

  • Christopher Frayling Commentary: This is easily the best of the three commentaries. It covers themes, character complexities I’d never thought of, and how Italian culture effected this supposedly American story.
  • Richard Schickel Commentary: Not as interesting. He pauses a lot, and his views aren’t as interesting.
  • Leone’s West – Making of Documentary: 20 minutes. Interviews with Schickel and people who worked on the film. The discussion on dubbing is fascinating.
  • Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone…Featurette Part 1: Eight minutes. Film Music Historian Jon Burlingame discusses composer Morricone and how this score revolutionized film music.
  • Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone…Featurette Part 2: Twelve minutes. Burlingame, again. But this time, it’s boring. You don’t even get to hear the music he’s talking about.
  • The Leone Style: 24 minutes. Really fun. Shickel, plus stars Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, talk about the film and the dangers of shooting it.
  • The Man Who Lost the Civil War: 14 minutes. Documentary on the western Civil War campaign that inspired Leone’s story. Not well made and rather boring.
  • Reconstructing The Good, The Bad & the Ugly: Eleven minutes. Really interesting. It discusses Techniscope, redubbing, and why a scene that Leone chose to remove was put back in. From the 2003 reconstruction.
  • Vignettes: Four very short interview clips of Wallach and Eastwood, each less than a minute. Tiny little gems left over from other interviews.
  • Deleted scenes
    • Extended Tuco
      Torture Scene: Seven minutes. Too long. I’m glad the source print was in bad condition. If it had looked good, they probably would have put the whole thing into the Extended Cut. In Italian without subtitles.
    • The Socorro Sequence:
      A Reconstruction: Three minutes. Stills, intertitles, and very short clips (in Italian) from a scene that no longer exists in anything like it’s full form.
  • Original French Theatrical Trailer: four minutes. Includes shots not in any cut of the film.

Disc 2: Theatrical Cut

The bonus features on this disc are all in 1080p, suggesting they were created for Blu-ray.

  • Tim Lucas Commentary: Some interesting bits, but also a lot of worthless trivia. I really don’t need a biography and filmography of every bit player.
  • Trailers from Hell: with Ernest Dickerson: Three minutes. The great cinematographer turned okay director presents a bad print of the original American trailer, while he talks about the film. Nothing that will surprise fans.
  • Alternate scene: The Optical Flip: One minute. One transition appeared as a normal cut in some prints, but a comic flip in others. This shows both.
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Skeletons in the Desert: One minute. An interesting scene; no sound except at the very beginning.
    • Extended torture scene: One minute. Not really extended (as on Disc 1). Just one shot of the eye-gouging. I didn’t see much difference.
  • The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly on the set–Photo Gallery: Eight minutes. Making-of photos set to Morricone’s music. Fun.
  • Promoting The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Photo Gallery: Nine minutes. A selection of posters from all around the world, set to music. Fascinating how they change from one country to another.
  • Trailers: American trailers for all five of Leone’s westerns: A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad & the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West, and A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker).

The Blu-ray goes on sale Tuesday, August 15.