Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Worst Scene in the History of Film

This is a digression, but I've got to get this out in the public discourse. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a magnificent film. Everybody knows that. A genuinely fun and witty epic, it's one of the great achievements of cinema, but the restored 179 minute version is awful. It lays drunken waste to the film's already tenuous pacing, bloating the film with a few poorly dubbed and frankly exhausting slogs. They took a classic and added some bathroom breaks, basically.

This wouldn't bother me too much - hell, I survived Apocalypse Now Redux - except for the sad fact that this mess is the only version available on home video since 2004. The long but fast-paced film I remember simply doesn't exist anymore.

The worst added scene is the first, that one with Tuco and the chicken. It's up on youtube if you haven't seen it. I've thought about it, and I'm prepared to say it is The Worst Scene in the History of Film


That sounds like hyperbole, but in terms of the scenes it's presented in comparison and the effect it has on the film as a whole (which is easy to chart since this section of the film is otherwise identical in the older US version), I really believe it's that bad.

In part it's because the scene comes at a really delicate moment in the film. Blondie has just left Tuco for dead in the desert. By some miracle, he survived, and we follow a staggering, parched Tuco as he laps up some water and, without even a moment's rest, charges straight into a gun store to arm himself. In the old US version, the next scene is Tuco exacting his revenge alongside a small and uninteresting posse who get mowed down just to provide some misdirection. We don't know anything about them and we don't care. This scene is about Tuco and Blondie.

In this extended cut, we have a 3 minute interlude to watch Tuco collect his posse. It's a languid scene which is segued by a tension-killing fade to black and which ultimately tells us nothing except that Tuco knows the men he let Blondie kill. We already know Tuco is a killer and a sneak, so what we have here before us is nothing more than, at best, an actor's motivation.




On top of that, it's simply a bad scene. The cave set is flat and inexpressive, the music is unusually bad for Morricone (it opens with a silly little lilting bit which reminds me of that jokey theme they'd sometimes play in the original Star Trek), and Tuco's monologue is repeated much more effectively in the unforgettable scene with his brother.

But beyond all that, it's downright uncinematic, on a basic level. One of the great advances of cinema, as far back as 1902 in Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman, is the ellipsis - the ability and willingness to edit nonessential moments. Filmmakers learned early that we did not need to see every step in a journey. Leone didn't bother showing us Blondie and Tuco's trip to the POW camp later in the film, he was content to leave us with a shot of the Union army discovering them, then a shot of them in chains. So why, here, does he throw away 60 years of film history and waste three minutes of his film with a monologue repeated later, in the blandest set of his career, establishing characters we don't - and shouldn't - care about?

It's baffling and infuriating. It grinds the film to a halt right in the middle of one of its best moments. It's like having a commercial break on your DVD. It is The Worst Scene in the History of Film.

Director's cuts and special editions have been hot for closing in on a decade now. Some are terrific (Blade Runner), most are useless (hello every "unrated" comedy), but far too many are actively ruinous. I just want my movie back the way it was.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the set was pretty. I thought it wasn't in Tuco's nature to have a conversation with his food. His voice was dubbed over 40 years later which when fit into the whole film makes him sound badly in need of a Strepsil. Wouldn't it be funny if Eli from Animaniacs vented his feelings to Chicken Boo?

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