People really do love The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It’s number 9 in the IMDb’s ranking. People often regard it as Sergio Leone’s best film, and probably the best western ever produced, but I’ve never understood the love for the film.
Yeah, Clint, Wallach, and Marvin are all great. The production is fantastic. The score is amazing. The story is interesting and well-told, except…when it suddenly stops for 30 minutes.
I’ve had several conversations with different people about the movie, and none of them have defended the bridge sequence when I’ve brought it up. In fact, several of these people have trashed the sequence along with me, and then immediately pulled back and returned to the idea that the movie is one of the greatest of all time. It’s curious.
So, late in the movie, Blondie and Tuco have overcome their last major hurdle to finding the location of the mythical gold they’ve been chasing. The music is beginning to rouse up, when suddenly they encounter a Union army guarding a bridge that they have to continuously rebuild because of Confederate efforts at tearing it down. The commander of the Union forces laments the perpetual cycle that no one seems able to break. Blondie and Tuco then take a break from their treasure hunting (which they have very nearly completed) to steal some explosives, strap them to the bridge, and blow it to kingdom come. Once done, the Union commander smiles as he dies, the two outsiders leave, and we cut to Tuco mid-run and the music suddenly up into chase-like tones again. We then actually get back to the story.
There are two major things that bug me about this sequence. The first is the most obvious. It’s pointless in terms of the story of the film overall. It’s a complete tangent that has no relation to the rest of the movie. Blondie and Tuco could have been any two characters. It didn’t have to be them. It didn’t inform their journey in any way shape or form. From what I’ve read, Leone wrote the sequence in order to say something about the Vietnam War and its quagmire status, but that’s a poor reason to spend millions of dollars and waste a full half-hour of screen time. If this were a smaller sequence, maybe five minutes, I wouldn’t hold it against the movie as much as I do, but it’s a full 30 minutes. That’s a full one-fifth of the entire runtime dedicated to something that could be excised completely and never be missed.
The second major reason the sequence bugs me is because it’s obviously been moved. It doesn’t belong where it sits in the film, and should have come earlier in the movie. You could hard cut out the entire sequence, and the movie would flow perfectly from just before to just afterwards. Blondie and, especially, Tuco look cleaner in the sequence than both before and after it.
Sequences move all the time in editing, why does this bother me so much? Because of the first reason. Because it’s so obviously pointless and could have fallen anywhere in the movie to the same effect. Hell, this could have been our introduction to the two characters instead of Blondie saving Tuco from the noose.
A full fifth of this movie could be excised and it wouldn’t negatively affect the film at all, in fact it would positively affect the film. If it weren’t for this one sustained bit of pointlessness, I’d call The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Sergio Leone’s finest film.
5 thoughts on “The Problem with the Bridge Sequence”
First, “Bright Eyes”? To the extent he was called anything in the movie it was “Blonde”. Angel Eyes was Lee Van Cleef’s (not Lee Marvin) character but that’s an aside.
Secondly the Confederates weren’t trying to destroy the bridge – it was strategic to both sides so they both wanted it very much intact. The reality was that the forces were evenly matched at that location and neither was ever going to get it. Yea, a bit ham-handed with The Futility of War but it was 1967 for crying out loud. Beyond that it brought the Civil War right back into the center of the action and gave a larger context and scale to the story as a whole; It’s not just three guys scrabbling after some gold.
Thirdly it forced Blonde and Tuco to work together and maybe even develop some grudging respect? I like to think it played a role in Blonde’s decision to let Tuco live and even split the gold with him at the end.
Another thing to note that even though this was the third movie in the Man With No Name trilogy the events actually took place before the first two. There’s a scene right after they blew up the bridge that establishes that point.
Bleh…Blondie. I don’t know why I was thinking Bright Eyes…Fixed that embarrassment.
But…Tuco and Blondie had already learned to work together, the walk through the ruined town did that. The extra context is nice, but since it’s such a concentrated distraction right as the movie is ready to wrap up, it kills momentum instead of helping to build it. It introduces a new character that’s the center of the entire sequence and is gone as soon as the sequence is done. It’s so awkwardly thrown in, especially where it eventually dropped, that it, in my mind, seriously wounds the film dropping it from great to merely good.
You can’t simply cut the bridge sequence and have the film flow at all. A critical moment occurs during it, when Tuco reveals the name of the cemetery, and Blondie gives an inaccurate name on the grave. Try watching the graveyard sequence without never having heard that conversation. Doesn’t work.