The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a 1966 Italian spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone. Like so many spaghetti Westerns of the time, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a tough-minded tale about changing loyalties and pure human greed. It follows the adventures of a mysterious loner (Clint Eastwood), a bandit (Eli Wallach) and a bounty hunter (Lee Van Cleef) who are after hidden gold. This film made a huge impact on the United States during this time period and was largely successful in the box office and the charts- its theme song rose to second on the pop music chart.
The Good, the Bad and the Uglywas the third film director/writer Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood, a cinematic trilogy that served to establish Eastwood as a major actor. This trilogy was called the “dollar trilogy” because of the monetary themes crossing all three films. The other films, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More had the word “dollar” in their title. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was also intended to include the word in its title to capitalize on the connection between the other two films. Each movie in the trilogy was released within a year of one another, making a rapid-fire impact on American culture.
During this time period, the late 60s, the United States was going through major social changes. A counter culture of sorts formed in the United States and a revolution in rejecting social norms controlling clothing, music, drugs, sexism, racism, and schooling. Political conservatives generally denounce the decade as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and decay of social order. The fight for equality in race and gender was still going strong, advocating for the advancement of rights of women and minorities. The gay rights movement was also taking place during this time, promoting equal rights for sexual preferences as well. This was a time period in which many conservative citizens believed that American morality and what it was to be an American was disintegrating. Calls from right-wing activists demanded a return to “appropriate” gender roles and sexuality. The spaghetti western provided the American public with this fantasy of a return to the all-American western frontiersman image.
Clint Eastwood’s character is strong, independent, and manly. He dominates the landscape around him and always triumphs over his adversaries. He is a direct metaphor for the classic United States stereotype. Even though the makers of this film were Italian (hence the name spaghetti western), American racism and sexism shown through, perhaps to make the films appeal to a larger audience. Generally, African Americans and women were placed in subservient and miniscule roles- African Americans acting as dumbed down minions and women acting almost exclusively as damsels in distress.
This film within the context of the dollar trilogy managed to appeal to a large audience to advertise the appeal of a classic American image of a man and of society.