VINTAGE FILM
'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' gets better on the director's cut

By Ty Burr, Globe Staff, 8/1/2003

It's a little disconcerting to realize that the print of Sergio Leone's ''The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'' playing at the Brattle today through Sunday is better in every way than the one I saw at the old Pi Alley back in 1968. It's longer: 20 minutes of original spaghetti, cut before the film's first US release, have been restored. It's clearer: The uncut new print reclaims the widescreen majesty of Tonino Delli Colli's cinematography, allowing you to see every iconic wart and furrow on every bad guy's face. And it sounds great -- the newly Dolbyized soundtrack makes each wah-WAH-wah of Ennio Morricone's famous score sound like the laughter of the gods.

What all this means is that even if you've already seen the second-greatest Italian Western ever made on the big screen -- Leone's 1968 magnum opus ''Once Upon a Time in the West'' still takes the prize -- you haven't seen it at all. And if you've only seen it on video, you really haven't seen it.

The movie was conceived as an unofficial prequel to Leone's earlier two spaghetti Westerns, ''A Fistful of Dollars'' and ''For a Few Dollars More'' -- when Clint Eastwood finally dons that poncho for the climactic graveyard shootout, we're seeing the birth of those movies' Man With No Name. Eastwood's the ''good,'' of course, a gimlet-eyed but not amoral gunslinger squinting his way through the Civil War-era Southwest. Lee Van Cleef is Angel Eyes, the ''bad,'' a coldly sadistic hired gun searching for $200,000 in buried Union gold.

The 3-hour director's cut makes the case for Eli Wallach as the movie's real star, though. He plays Tuco, a snarlingly jovial fireplug of a bandito, and he is wondrous to behold, even if the actor didn't realize he was the ''ugly'' until he saw the opening credits on the night of the film's premiere. Much of the restored footage gives the character further dialogue and greater depth -- there's a sly bit where Tuco hires three assassins out of a cave, and the scenes in which he confronts his priest brother are now meatier and more touching.

Other additional scenes were clearly originally removed due to violence: There's an extra Clint shootout by a river, and Tuco's torture at the hands of Van Cleef's goons now goes on for more than a minute -- as the mournful strains of a Confederate prison band play audaciously beneath.

A number of the new sequences had never been dubbed into English, but MGM restorer John Kirk prevailed upon Eastwood and Wallach to return to the recording studio (Van Cleef died in 1989). It's sweetly easy to tell when the elder Wallach's voice kicks in -- just listen for the moments when the Mexican bandit starts sounding like a little old Jewish Mexican bandit from Brooklyn.

Eastwood's own overdubs sound deeper and darker, and as you watch the film, you may be prompted to consider how the star's own directorial career was influenced, if not inspired, by his work with Leone. In the late '60s, ''The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'' was dismissed as a trashy Italo-pop response to classic Hollywood horse operas. What you'll see at the Brattle is the gorgeously stoic art film it always was.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

This story ran on page C9 of the Boston Globe on 8/1/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.