The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the final third of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns that transformed Clint Eastwood from another TV star failing to make the leap to the big screen into pop culture icon. The first two films in this trilogy (a trilogy in the thematic sense rather than a trilogy connected by narrative tissue) were A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood is unquestionably the star of the film, but in reality he is on screen less than co-star Eli Wallach.
After the wild commercial success of the first two films, Leone actually had a sizable budget with which to work for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The lap to a million dollars from the $200,000 on which A Fistful of Dollars was made is clearly evident on the screen despite the fact that all three films share a very definite “look.” The commercial success enjoyed by the first two films did not translate over into the critical arena and the same holds true for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. While not panned or sliced or diced by any means, the initial reception given the film by critics at the same certainly do not square with the widespread critical contention that Leone’s final film in his Eastwood tragedy represents a turning point in the demythologizing of the west that resonates through subsequent creative works as disparate as Eastwood’s own Unforgiven and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.
No doubt that the dampening of the film’s so-called “sadistic violence” by far more graphically violent westerns in its wake was a contributing factor in helping elevate the artistic quality of the film in the eyes of critics.