(Sergio Leone, 1966)
Truly vulgar and truly epic, this is an amazing piece of work. Leone's incredible visual sweep and sure, sustained rhythm are here applied to a remarkable assortment of true lowlife, for whom the director shows great affection. All three are self-interested mercenaries, but where Lee Van Cleef's cunning Army man will kill anyone for the right price, and Eli Wallach's sleazeball criminal is just a greed-crazed maniac, Clint Eastwood operates by an actual moral code - a complex and fallible code, but even at that he's as close as the film gets to 'civilization'. Certainly closer than the indiscriminate slaughter of the civil war which rages in the background of the protagonists' money-grubbing odyssey; Leone doesn't just blow up that bridge, he blows up the idea that built it. From the war-cheerleading coward innkeeper to the wooden Indians on the target range, here is a remarkably informed, ironic and arms-length treatment of Wild West folklore. And while Eastwood may be the spiritual center of the film, it's Wallach that really makes it what it is - conniving, cunning and Catholic, his comedy is as deep as it is broad, cutting a defiant channel through all this spectacularly operatic grandeur.