On a partial first viewing, I didn't like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." I thought it was a slow, tedious story about a bunch of unpleasant jerk characters involved in a bog-standard conflict over money. It all seemed very macho and self-consciously cool, and it had obviously inspired all the overrated macho directors I don't like in my own generation - Tarantino, for example, and Robert Rodriguez. In short, I was unimpressed.
Years later, after hours of convinsing by my dad I gave the film a second shot, watching it all the way through this time. I loved it. What had changed?
For one thing, I took more notice of the technical side of the film. I paid attention to Leone's famous use of close-ups, his selection of memorable character actors, and his wonderful scene-setting. I admired the detailed sets and the sweeping landscapes, the props and the costumes and all those weird, wonderful faces that Leone clearly loved to photograph.
I also got hooked by some of the quieter moments that I had skipped over in my first viewing. One of the most effective scenes involves Eli Wallach's character, Tuco, quarreling with his brother when they meet after they've been apart for years. Their argument is great, emotionally charged stuff, made all the more effective by the suggestion that they really do love and care about each other. It's the kind of sensitive, human scene you never get to see in a Tarantino or Rodriguez movie.
Before I get too fuzzy-wuzzy, I should also like to point out that, on my second viewing, I LOVED all the action, too. Every gunfight is great, in its own way, and they're all a bit different. The greatest of them all is, of course, the final confrontation between the trio, which is accompanied by some of the most rousing music I've ever heard in a film. And hey, there's even a huge Civil War battle to provide a change of pace from all the small-scale action.
Ultimately, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is probably just a potboiler of a film, without too much to say about, for example, the human condition. But what a potboiler! It doesn't have to try to be cool - it simply IS cool. In fact, it probably defined heroic coolness for an entire generation. Eli Wallach's performance, Leone's direction and Morricone's music alone are enough to elevate it to classic status - and the fact that everything else in the movie is great, too, helps elevate it to the level of perhaps the greatest action film ever made.
And to think, I missed all that the first time through...