The Man With No Name Trilogy - A Sergio Leone Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (12th July 2010).
The Film

Debate with me if you want, but Sergio Leone is underrated. His influence, far reaching; his talent, undeniable; his style, unmatched; the man was, simply, a genius. He was, and still is, one of the greatest directors of all time. Yet, people overlook him. Unless they’re some diehard fan, I seriously doubt anyone mentions Leone in the same breath, or cast him in the same light, as Akira Kurosawa or Martin Scorsese. The reason for this is simple: to elitists Leone, who primarily directed Spaghetti Westerns, is lesser somehow. The Western, especially the cheap Italian kind is like a dirty word in the modern film lexicon of a film snob. It’s true that over the years, Leone has gotten more recognition. Quentin Tarantino has always held him in high regard, and once remarked that, “[“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”] is the best-directed film of all time”, and with that, a certain small amount of College kids, who just discovered cinema and think that Tarantino is the greatest director who ever lived, began to take notice. But, certainly in his time, Leone wasn’t that well respected by American film critics, partly because studios and their censors increasingly butchered his works, but mostly because of some unwritten code that said Spaghetti Westerns could never be anything more than B-movie slop. Even to this day, I think the man, much like Rodney Dangerfield, “doesn’t get no respect.” At least not the amount of respect he deserves.

Some food for thought: in the 30 or so years that he was active, Sergio Leone only directed seven films from start to finish. Of those seven directorial endeavors, six are now widely considered excellent films, and three of them – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984) – masterpieces (yet he never won an Oscar, furthering my point that he didn’t get any respect). That’s amazing. The man has a better track record than the similarly selective Stanley Kubrick who has nearly twice as many directorial credits to his name, but just as “few” masterworks as Leone. I don’t mean to belittle Kubrick, or over-inflate the importance of Leone; they were both expert craftsmen, and masters of cinema, no doubt. I just find it maddening that one man is openly heralded as one of the Gods of Filmmaking, while the other is left to dusty backroom discussions where people whisper words like “auteur” and genius in fear that if they say them too loudly they will be shouted down and berated. I don’t know, maybe I hang around with the wrong kind of people, and elsewhere, Leone’s name is shouted from rooftops and he’s widely discussed and recognized as a once misunderstood mastermind – but I doubt it. Not outside of enthusiast forums, anyway.

In the States Leone is most widely known for one thing: making Clint Eastwood a movie star. He did that with three pictures: “A Fistful of Dollars” (1963), “For A Few Dollars More” (1964) and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966), otherwise known as “The Man with No Name Trilogy” or “The Dollars Trilogy”. Either name is correct – The Man with No Name was born out of a United Artist marketing meeting, and Leone coined the other himself. Now, four years into the format, MGM has decided to debut this loose trilogy on Blu-ray, almost a year to the day after they already put out a single disc version of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The new boxset contains hours of previously released bonus content, plus some new exclusives, brand-new high definition transfers of “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For A Few Dollars More”, and, unfortunately, the exact same problematic dual layer BD-50 of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” circa 2009.

As much of a favorable and sure thing as it may seem now, “A Fistful of Dollars" was actually born from the most inauspicious of motives – a young man’s wish to remake a Japanese Samurai movie. This man was Sergio Leone, who saw Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961) and instantly decided it was perfectly adaptable into an Italian, or “Spaghetti” Western. (On a side note: many mistake “A Fistful of Dollars” as the first Spaghetti Western, and Leone as the creator of the genre. That’s incorrect; although “Fistful” was the first of it’s kind to be released in the United States, here had already been a few Italian Westerns that saw distribution in Europe.) Indeed it seems that Leone was at least partly right in his assumption that Kurosawa’s film would translate to his more European sensibilities, because “Yojimbo” and “Fistful” share an almost identical plot without much issue.

Just how similar are the films? Compare Kurosawa story of a lonesome ronin, Sanjuro (Toshirô Mifune). He stumbles upon a god-forsaken Japan village run by two warring Lords. The samurai plays each faction off of the other, while remaining somewhat of a middle man, until the more powerful Lord’s son, Unosuke, returns and confronts Sanjuro, who in the meantime has reunited a helpless woman with her husband and son. Unosuke overpowers our hero, beats him to within an inch of his life, and then destroys the opposing gang. The hero escapes, but returns when he learns that Unosuke is holding the town’s innkeeper hostage and has plans to kill him. The film ends with a showdown between the wandering samurai and the ruthless gangster. Leone’s tale… well, is about a lonesome gunslinger (Clint Eastwood). He stumbles upon the god-forsaken town of San Miguel, run by two warring gangs – the Rojo’s and the Baxter’s. The cowboy plays each side off of each other, until the Elder Rojo, Ramón (Gian Maria Volonté), returns to confront the nameless hero, who in the meantime has reunited a helpless woman with her husband and son. Ramón overpowers our hero, beats him to within an inch of his life, and then destroys the opposing gang. The hero escapes, but returns when he learns that Ramón is holding the town’s innkeeper hostage and plans to kill him. The film ends with a showdown between the wandering gunfighter and the ruthless gangster. With the exception of two additional sequences, Leone literally copied Kurosawa’s film, at times shot for shot. The similarities were so identifiable that Kurosawa would see “A Fistful of Dollars” and almost immediately sue the Italian filmmaker… and win.

But, as alike as the films may be in overall plot, they’re also startlingly different in the details – details that make “A Fistful of Dollars” far greater than your run-of-the-mill remake. The distinctive changes run the gamut, from subtle superficialities like transposing the stories events from Edo-era Japan to the Post-Civil-War American Southwest, to larger more sweeping strokes in the narrative structure, which includes a further developing of the villains into a group of insane brothers – the Rojo’s – who cut-down two entire regiments of Mexican and US troops via machine gun in order to steal some gold, and the total shaping of The Man With No Name, who became less of a rouge-ish samurai and more how Eastwood depicts him in the final product (a strong-silent type with a questionable moral compass). Leone set about gathering the financing, casting the actors and “writing” the script with which he would tell his version of Kurosawa’s story, which, by the way, was itself a bit of a rehash of the Dashiell Hammett detective novel “Red Harvest” (anyone who thinks that Hollywood’s current lack of original ideas is exclusive to our time and place, I present to you two of the greatest filmmakers of all time: Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, along with many, many others), but no one really expected “A Fistful of Dollars” to do good business. I seriously doubt anyone, even those who had what we’ll call mild faith because they put up a bit of cash (i.e. the producers), imagined it would become the smashing success that it was upon release.

Shot on $200,000 in Spain with German money by a man who’s only previous directorial credit was a middling sword and sandal epic titled “The Colossus of Rhodes” (1961), (a film which probably wouldn’t be remembered today if it weren’t for it’s place in cinematic history as a glorified footnote), with a cast of nobody’s and Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) from “Rawhide” (1959-1966), “A Fistful of Dollars” nonetheless became one of the biggest winners of that year at the European box office. It also reinvigorated the Western by bringing a more modern, realistic and gritty sensibility to the stale and decaying genre that was populated by cheap John Wayne knock offs.

Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see that “Fistful” is a good movie. It’s well made; especially considering its budget limitations, and it showcases the beginnings of a director’s unique cinematic style. Leone’s mating of tight close ups, slow burn stand-offs and the intricate building of sound effects, including a reticent but effective score by Ennio Morricone (hiding behind the pseudonym Dan Savio) raises tension rapidly and efficiently. That said, the film isn’t great – not compared to the works that followed – and while “A Fistful of Dollars” on it’s own has a great story, a gleefully sadistic villain (played eagerly by Gian Maria Volonté) and one of the most enigmatic but beloved heroes to ever grace the silver screen, it seems, when viewed in sequence with “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, like an exercise. As if, it was all, somehow just an experiment in style and the art of pure cinema. It’s a good movie no doubt; but the film’s that followed are so much better. They feel finished – special even – and this one, sort of… doesn’t.

A year later Leone was back with a new film. “For A Few Dollars More” was produced in part because Jolly Films, the company behind “A Fistful of Dollars” demanded a follow up (to the point that they withheld a majority of the director’s paycheck until he delivered). Leone also made it because, not only did many of his friends and co-workers seem willing to work on a sequel, but he wanted to prove, to critics and to himself, that he wasn’t an unoriginal thief and that his ability to produce a decent movie wasn’t a fluke. Because of the lawsuit, which netted Kurosawa and his producers a large percentage of “A Fistful of Dollars” gross, Leone didn’t dare try and follow up his “Yojimbo” remake with anything even resembling it’s Japanese sequel, “Sanjuro” (1963).

Instead Leone created a wholly original tale about two bounty hunters and their quest to capture a depraved madman, who outright kills woman, children and his own men, nicknamed El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté). Eastwood was brought back of course, this time starring as Monco, which roughly translates to “the lame handed one” (Eastwood’s character curiously only fights and drinks with his left hand, his right used only to fire his gun) and Lee Van Cleef was cast as Colonel Douglas Mortimer, the meanest, dirtiest, most badass sumbitch to ever call himself a “bounty killer.” After a game of “my gun is bigger than your gun” – a darkly hilarious sequence, beautifully shot at night, in which Mortimer and Monco try to one up each other by shooting off their opponents hats (among other things), the voracious young buck – that’d be Eastwood – and the steady old mad – Van Cleef – decide to team up to capture Indio, and split the $10,000 dollar reward. When Mortimer hears news that Indio and his men plan to rob the Savings and Loan in El Paso – getting themselves a cool $1,000,000 in cash and coin – he suggests that Monco try and infiltrate the gang so that they have an inside man. Naturally the younger agrees, but when he sees an opportunity to make himself a rich man, does exactly the opposite of what he and his partner agreed.

“For a Few Dollars More” is a clear improvement over its predecessor, and with one success under their belt, everyone involved seems more willing and confident to step a little further outside of the box. The results are a perfect match of stronger visuals, leaner story, more adventurous scoring and less turgid acting. Leone, while still not yet at his sharpest, is more unrestricted in his direction, feeling comfortable enough to play around with a twenty minute prologue that introduces us to the characters, particularly Mortimer and Monco, without getting into the main story. Ennio Morricone’s score is more brilliant, brassy and big too. He began working with Leone to create individual themes for each character – a staple of their later work together. Eastwood, although still mysterious, actually is a little more approachable and amusing in this film. And whileGian Maria Volonté is perhaps a little too over the top and theatrical as Indio, his portrayal still mostly works (he is playing an unhinged dope-addict after all). Lee Van Cleef, and his good guy persona in this film, is made all the better by his turn as the creeper in the next film (and vice versa).

For my money, “For a Few Dollars More” is almost as good as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, and in some ways better. I recognize that the later is a masterpiece – it’s better directed, better acted and all around the better made movie – but, in many way’s I actually prefer the simpler, less ambitious “Dollars.” For one it doesn’t ask you to invest three hours of your life every time you want to sit-down and watch it. I also really like the father-son (or big brother, little brother) dynamic between Eastwood and Van Cleef where they continually try and assert their dominance over each other as the “alpha.” And the script is funnier too. The tone is more jovial than “A Fistful of Dollars” and isn’t bogged down with as much macabre weightiness as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – but, it is still serious enough, via the glimpses of Mortimer’s darkly depressing past to remain poignant and, somehow, worthy.

Despite it’s monstrous runtime, the story that supports “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is actually quite simple. It’s all about $200,000 in gold, which is buried somewhere in Texas, buried in some cemetery to be exact, and the three men, our titular trio, who want nothing more than to find it. Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a stoic misanthrope, is “The Good.” Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a murderous, crazed psychopath is “The Bad.” Tuco (Eli Wallach) a dirty, greedy, vile, but mostly pathetic bandit, who’s full name, the hilariously complex Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez, is read increasingly stretched and lazily by each executioner about to hang him, is “The Ugly.”

As the film begins we’re introduced to Angel Eyes, a killer so evil he kills a sick man while he lay in bed, with no less than four shots to the face (through a pillow). He’s looking for a man who’s taken the name of Bill Carson. Carson, it seems, is the one who originally stole and hid that mountain of bullion, and ol’ Baddie wants it for himself. The two other men then appear, in an unlikely partnership, running a bounty hunting scam in which Blondie captures, collects on, and then saves Tuco. They run the con a few times, but the fair-haired gunslinger quickly tires of the bandito’s repugnant ways and abandons him in the desert, without food or water, riding off to enjoy the most recent of the their spoils. Tuco, after aimlessly wandering through the blistering heat, stumbles upon a town, rearms himself and sets out to kill or capture his old friend. The two finally meet, but only after a long game of cat and mouse, which Tuco eventually wins. Blondie captured, Tuco revels in recreating the absolute misery of being forced to wonder trough the desert without food, water or shade, only with their roles reversed. But what’s this? Out of the haze, a wagon full of wounded Confederate soldiers – among them Bill Carson! (Antonio Casale) The dying Carson tells Tuco the location of the gold – Sad Hill Cemetery – but collapses of thirst before he can reveal under which gravestone he buried that treasure. Tuco hurriedly returns with his canteen, only to find Carson dead, and Blondie, smiling. With his last breath, Carson spoke the name on the gravestone, not to Tuco, but to Blondie, and thus, the two must once again commit to an uneasy partnership. They set out across the State to find the gold, with Angel Eyes hot on their tail. Did I mention that the entire plot plays out with the American Civil War as its backdrop? Well, it does. And that is why “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” transcends its genre. Not only is it one of the greatest Westerns ever made – arguably the greatest Spaghetti Western – but also a mighty historical epic, an excellent adventure story, strong morality tale, and even a comedy (albeit a pretty dark one).

Everything just sort of meshes in the final film; Leone’s direction and rapid-fire editing became fully shaped and realized, Ennio Morricone produced not just one of his greatest scores, but one of the most iconic themes in all of moviedom, and Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef are all beyond memorable. Eastwood for his least-detached take on The Man with No Name, Wallach for his lovably idiotic, hopelessly pathetic Tuco and Lee Van Cleef for his complete 180-degree reversal of the steadfast father-figure in “For A Few Dollars More” to one of the most sinister villains to ever grace a Western in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

With a budget six times that of “Fistful of Dollars” (at $1,200,000) Leone was no longer playing in the little leagues, with small budgets and tired sets. His magnum opus is a giant, expensive looking spectacle, far out classing his previous works, and in many ways, because of it’s sprawling battle scenes, remains his most ambitious. No longer confined to a single small town and its surrounding hills, the director takes viewers on a journey through vast desert of unforgiving sand dunes, several towns, most of which end up almost complete destroyed by canon fire, a massive POW camp that rivals the likes of Andersonville, only run by the Union, and a 25-minute showdown between two war-torn armies, made up of thousands upon thousands of extras all stampeding across fields, and clashing on one lone bridge in a mass of blue vs. grey, not to forget that this all plays out amongst more pyrotechnical explosions and flying debris than you’re likely to see in a film outside of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). Making all of this even more bafflingly amazing is that none of it is computer assisted (duh, it was 1966) or CGI enhanced – it’s actually Eastwood, Wallach and the other stars actually in the thick of it. Wallach was almost decapitated on set during a dangerous stunt involving a train, and Eastwood almost lost it all when a large piece of exploded bridge landed literally two feet from his unprotected head, yet, Leone, the madman that he was, kept on rolling, and it’s that sense of uninhibited realism that makes “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – and to a greater extent, the “Dollars” trilogy itself – so spectacular.


Leone shot his “Dollars” Trilogy on the somewhat obscure Techniscope film format, developed by Technicolor Italia in 1963. The process was extremely popular with low-budget Italian filmmakers until the mid 80's, and was used by Universal up to the late 60's or very early 70's including by George Lucas on “American Graffiti” (1973). Techniscope utilizes standard 35mm film, with normal spherical lenses, but only half of the image area (two perforations instead of four, per frame) and thus was both economical – because half as much celluloid goes through the camera per frame – and allowed filmmakers to compose for the wider 2.35:1 ratio without the need for cumbersome (and expensive) Anamorphic lenses. A film shot via Technicsope has, when properly lit, far greater sharpness than anamorphic photography, and none of the inherent side effects, like soft texturing or shallow depth of field, while still maintaining a Scope ratio. The only downside, if you can call it that, is, because the film must essentially be magnified by a factor of two when shown theatrically (or transferred to video) in order to maintain it’s widescreen shape, a dense grain structure. Of the three transfers offered in “The Man with No Name Trilogy”, although all maintain consistent specs – 2.35:1 high definition widescreen encodes 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression – only one comes close to faithfully recreating the intended look of the Techniscope process and none of them are without fault.

Things start a little shakily with “A Fistful of Dollars.” The film is a definite upgrade over the comparable standard definition DVD, with sharper imagery, better color reproduction, and less edge ringing, but it isn’t quite the high-def knock out or the extensive restoration that fans might have hoped for. First, the Good: fabric and facial detail is excellent, and there are times that the image is clear and sharp enough that you can actually see individual particles of dust hanging in the air. The Bad: trivial amounts of print damage, inconsistent color fading, and occasional light bleed from the far right of the frame (most noticeable on interior shots), as well as amateurish day-for-night sequences that look like cloudy daylight scenes with no contrast, and not actual nighttime. The Ugly: minor DNR with inconsistently rendered grain and some infrequent edge enhancement.

Some of the faults, the color fading, print defects, even the light bleed and especially the day-for-night footage, are without a doubt actually part of the original production. The low budget (a mere $200,000, which wasn’t much for a film, even in 1963) forced Leone to make a few less than satisfying compromises in his choice of printable takes. His forced hand resulted in many frames that had debris and minor damage, like vertical scratches, burned into the negative when originally shot. The instances of light bleed may also have been part of the original production; perhaps a poorly exposed negative, which Leone didn’t have the money or time to re-shoot. But, some of the faults may lie within MGM current master. We must also consider the Italian Blu-ray release by RHV, which sports different color timing – brighter and less drab looking colors – and looser framing. The color timing is debatable and I have to wonder if the Italian release isn’t at least somewhat boosted. The framing on the other hand… let’s just say that the framing seems off, a bit too tight, which made me investigate further. It does seem that a slight crop was performed on the MGM disc, with the most severe image loss along the right edge of the frame. It’s not perfect, but in all, the MGM Blu-ray of “Fistful of Dollars” is a favorable, if flawed, presentation.

“For a Few Dollars More” is a better looking disc all around compared to “A Fistful of Dollars”, with my only complaint being an unnaturally hard-edged appearance running throughout most of the film. Aside from the edge enhancement though, which is slight, I might add, there isn’t much to whine about. “Dollars” is a far handsomer production; the whole film feels more polished than to its predecessor, not just from a visual standpoint in direction (Leone’s camera seems more fluid; more sure of itself), but in the overall quality of the materials put on screen – and it should; “Dollars” had a budget approximately three times more. “For a Few Dollars More” would still be a learning picture for Leone and cinematographer Massimo Dallamano, but a far less experimental one than “Fistful.” The two collaborators would solidify the director’s signature style in this picture, playing with the use of light and dark, focus and framing, working in more elaborate ways to create a more visceral experience for the viewer.

From a technical standpoint, the disc is pretty spot-on: blacks are inky and consistent and colors and contrast much richer. The film elements have been transferred to Blu-ray without any sort of digital noise reduction, which leaves the entire grain structure untouched. Yes, the film is gritty and grainy, but, aside from a few occasional white specks, it looks great. Sure, there’s a bit of dirt here and there, a little flicker in a few scenes and maybe on or two odd instances of image wobble, but it doesn’t matter, “For A Few Dollars More” almost looks as good as the day it was shot. The dense 2-perf aesthetic is terrifically rendered and compressed, the picture retains excellent detail and sharpness, especially on the numerous extreme close ups. “Dollars” serves as an interesting tool for comparison, both in the progression of Leone’s visual style, and the way in which the trilogy has been authored on Blu-ray. After watching the mostly gorgeous “Dollars”, look back at the uncertain and scrubbed “Fistful” and forward to the confidently directed, but unholy total grain-less-ness of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and you’ll see just how off either film is in recreating the original look of the Techniscope process. Watch the second and third films back to back you should definitely notice how weird and unattractive the particular DNR process used on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is.

On that note, lets move to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – there hath never been a title that so succinctly described a film’s home video transfer. In 2002, the film was meticulously reconstructed to the closest approximate representation of the original Italian Premiere Cut, during which time the film underwent a restoration of it’s 35mm elements. A good majority of the eighteen or so minutes spliced back into the negative were pretty badly damaged and only mildly savable. The remaining six or so minutes that haven’t been reinserted are either damaged beyond repair or lost forever (the deleted scenes included in the special features amount to the missing material, made up of footage from the French trailer, still photos and some rough, rough looking negative). When a film’s history includes the words “lost footage”, you can bet that, at least partly, you’re in for a spotty transfer and that’s mostly true for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – it is spotty: disappointingly so even. In fact, quite literally, for every scene that looks good, there’s three more that look bad and another that’s just plain ugly.

Believe it or not, even though it had a large budget, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was still shot on Techniscope just like the other two films in the series, because Leone liked the fact that he could get the sharpness and focal depth of traditional 35mm in the Cinemascope ratio, but looking at it on Blu-ray, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The film looks nothing like the slightly de-grained, but still detailed “Fistful of Dollars” and certainly doesn’t bare even the slightest resemblance to the gritty untouched “For a Few Dollars More.” That’s because the film has had a heavy helping of digital noise reduction, or DNR, applied to every single frame therein. At first glance, I could see the passive viewer thinking that “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” looks good. It’s still a fairly sizeable upgrade over the six-year-old standard definition DVD, and it has this weirdly sharp-yet-soft appearance that almost appears photographically intended. Many shots are deceptively detailed. The early extreme close up that opens the film; Tuco’s sweaty face as he hangs by a noose; the detail of Eastwood’s patterned shirt as he wanders through the desert; many of the wide shots – these all look, admittedly, decent. But, then when you look closer, the transfer begins to unravel and show it’s more sinister side.

Shots that were usually the grainiest in the other films – Leone’s patented extreme close ups – are the softest here, because the grit has been wiped away by noise reduction, and with it the detail went too. Many shots look like they were shot slightly out of focus, which is a curious sight because “For A Few Dollars More” and most of “A Fistful of Dollars” are almost uniformly, perfectly sharp. Again, I believe it’s the noise reduction at work. Most faces look slightly plasticine, and while the film never looks quite like a wax museum, it certainly doesn’t look realistic. Landscapes take on an almost painterly quality – and not it a good way; I’m not using fluffy language to describe the film’s beauty. I mean, literally, the hillsides to look like someone painted them with a brush. I don’t imagine Leone wanted the Spanish countryside or the stone work in the Sad Hill “showdown arena” to have such a mushy, texture-less appearance. Nor that he intended for the poncho, Eastwood’s stubble, the military uniforms or the desert dunes to have such an unnaturally smooth appearance, totally lacking the fine detail you’d expect. Frankly, the film just looks processed. Not overly so at first glace, mind you (it isn’t as readily in your face with it’s DNR as some of the worst offenders on the format like “The Longest Day” (1962) or “Out of Africa” (1985), and, at the very least we can be thankful that MGM didn’t try to sharpen it back up with loads of Edge Enhancement) but it still looks processed.

Frustratingly, even with the level of noise reduction that’s been applied to the disc, print defects still appear. White specks run throughout and at 1 hour 29 minutes 30 seconds horrible green and yellow splotches run in all directions over the screen – vertically, horizontally and sideways, down-ways, long-ways. All over. Stray hairs exist along the bottom of the frame at a frequent pace, and severe damage marks (some that almost look like cigarette burns) crop up sometimes too. It begs the question, why use noise reduction to any degree, which obliterates grain, detail and pisses all over directorial intentions, if you’re still not even going to go all the way and clean up every knick, scratch, burn, hair and damage mark? I’d prefer that the DNR – especially the shoddy kind used here – not be used at all, but especially if the noise reduction leaves so much gunk on display.

The absolute worst part about any of this is that MGM has perfectly film-like elements in its vaults. Even if the noise reduction is baked into the current digital master of “The Good, the Band, and the Ugly”, all MGM would have had to do when preparing the new Blu-ray was rescan the elements, create a new master and encode it for Blu-ray; the last step they had to do anyway, only they chose to do it with this botched master. Much like Universal's “Spartacus” (1960) disc – another film that was recently improperly transferred to Blu-ray – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was restored photo chemically (and not digitally). A new master free of DNR, could, and should, have been minted for this Blu-ray.

Sure, the film does have its moments. Almost immediately after the terrible splotches of vomit present at 1:29:30, when Blondie and Tuco arrive at the prison camp, the film momentarily springs to life. Sharpness is acceptable, and the film is rather vibrant. Similarly at around the 2 hour 12 minute mark, as Tuco and Blondie arrive at the Union encampment along the riverbank (with the Confederates on the other side, and the bridge in-between), the camera does a slow, deliberate pan and I’ll be damned if every inch of that frame isn’t rife with rich detail, strong color and, while there’s some DNR present (which most certainly there is) it’s of the faintest thickness that it near makes no difference. But these brief moments of brilliance make “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” all the more aggravating; the film could look, and should look exceptional. It doesn’t, because of unneeded tinkering. It’s really a shame that “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is so unpleasant looking. Especially because MGM knew that the critical reception to this disc lackluster upon it’s original release, and has had a year to correct it. They chose not to, and we, the viewers suffer for it.


In 2002, with the restoration of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, and 2004, when “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For A Few Dollars More” received similar treatment, the English language versions owned by MGM had their soundtracks remixed in 6-channel format. With that remix came many new sound effects. The 2002/2004 5.1 remix is the basis for the DTS-HD Master Audio track included on each disc. The optional mono tracks, are actually down mixes of the “restored” audio, and use the new sounds as well. Luckily purists have the option to hear the original effects on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” because it includes the original “untouched” Italian audio. However, due to rights issues, and the exorbitant costs demanded by the Italian copyright holders, neither “A Fistful of Dollars” nor “For A Few Dollars More” includes an optional Italian mix. Purists are out of luck on those two films.

The debate of original versus new effects notwithstanding, there is also a question as to what the trilogy’s “original” language is. Many say Italian, because Leone originated from Italy and these are his movies. There is some weight to this, mostly in my eyes because the Italian language versions remain one of the only ways to hear the original sound effects. But, you also have to remember that even in their native homeland the films were dubbed and the only way to hear Eastwood’s actual voice is in the English language version. Ah, how the plot thickens….

Like most Spaghetti Westerns, and definitely most Leone films, no useable sound was recorded on the set of “A Fistful of Dollars”, “For A Few Dollars More” or “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Because these were co-productions between German, Italian, Spanish and sometimes French financiers and production companies, the intention was, from the very beginning, for each film to receive theatrical distribution across Europe. Not only that, but no matter if the film was produced in Italy or Spain, the truly lucrative market for these films was going to be the English speaking United States. Because the film’s would need to be dubbed into English, French, and whatever else language needed so it could be shown across the globe, and because the cast and crew on these pictures were usually made up dozens of nationalities, who spoke near as many different languages, it was decided from frame one that all the actors would just speak the dialogue in their mother tongue, and be re-tracked into the needed language via a recording studio at a later date. Due to the unique way in which they were shot, the “Dollars” films have always been sort of weird when it comes to sound. Actor’s mouths don’t move with their words in a natural manner, and it just looks strange. Likewise, sound effects like gunshots and explosions don’t always exactly match up, because those too were added in postproduction. Because of that, the “Dollars” films have this sort of artificial, manufactured quality about them when it comes to audio, because, well, each film’s sound was totally synthetic and completely manufactured from the ground up, in studio. It may take some getting used to for the uninitiated.

What of the actual quality of the new lossless soundtracks? Well, there’s an upgrade to be had, that’s for certain, and the films sound better than ever. They’re not perfect, though. I’d rate them above average, with solid fidelity and decent depth, but overall dialogue and most of the sound effects have a slightly clipped dynamic range, and low-end bass is lacking, especially during the explosions toward the end of the first and third films. Honestly, the mix’s modest activity isn’t the least bit surprising, given the first two films meager budgets, and the fact that the newest film here is still almost 45 years old, not to mention that they were all originally recorded in mono. For the most part, the remix spreads out over the front three channels, and dimensionality, especially across the fronts is good – maybe a little phony, but still, mostly good. Hiss is noticeable in a few scenes in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, but pops, cracks and whir are not an issue, which is surprising, given the age of the material. Where the new Master Audio tracks really shine though are with Ennio Morricone’s majestic scores. You almost forget – or forgive – any issues you have with the dialogue and directionality of sound effect, because the music is so crisp, clear and beautiful. Even the brash trumpets are smooth and clean, and the choir and vocal work, which the composer began to add more aggressively in the later films, comes through precise, loud and lucid. “The Man with No Name Trilogy” provides a consistent, if admittedly still imperfect, set of audio tracks. In short, the sound of the three films is far more stable, and at times more satisfying, than the clashing video transfers.

“A Fistful of Dollars” defaults to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (48kHz/24-bit/~ 2.5 Mbps), and includes an optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (48kHz/224 kbps), plus dubbed mixes in French DTS 5.1 (48kHz/768 kbps) and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (48kHz/224 kbps). Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are included.

“For a Few Dollars More” defaults to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (48kHz/24-bit/~ 3.6 Mbps), and includes an optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (48kHz/224 kbps), plus a dubbed mix in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (48kHz/448 kbps) as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” defaults to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (48kHz/24-bit/~ 2.8 Mbps), and includes an optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track (48kHz/224 kbps), plus dubs in French Dolby Digital 5.1 (48kHz/448 kbps), German DTS 5.1 (48kHz/768 kbps), the “original” Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (48kHz/224 kbps), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (48kHz/448 kbps), Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 (48kHz/448 kbps) and a Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track (48kHz/224 kbps); English, Cantonese, Chinese, German, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai subtitles are also included.


MGM has provided hours upon hours of special features for this new Blu-ray release of “The Man with No Name Trilogy”, including audio commentaries, featurettes and documentaries, photo galleries, deleted scenes, audio interviews and a selection of vintage promotional material including radio spots and theatrical trailers. A majority of the material comes from each of the three film’s latest 2-disc Special Edition DVD's, but the distributor has also produced two new Blu-ray exclusive featurettes – one each for the first two films in the “Man with No Name Trilogy” – and recorded a new audio commentary for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with Sir Christopher Frayling. The new footage is presented in high definition, while the older SD featurettes are nearly all 16x9-enhanced widescreen.

First, a note on my scoring in this section: I feel that, by themselves, each film in the trilogy includes an excellent collection of supplements, but because so much of the material comes from previous editions, and will be familiar to so many fans (at least to those who owned the films on DVD at some point, and actually watched the supplements), that I cannot give the separate films a score better than a “B”. However, I also feel that together, regardless the age of the material, the complete package – the combined sum of the three films and their supplements – is such a well rounded offering that it is worth the “A”.

DISC ONE: “A Fistful of Dollars”

First up is an audio commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, author of “Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone.” The film historian and Leone expert offers gobs and gobs of anecdotes, facts and other info concerning “A Fistful of Dollars.” Simply, this is how a commentary track should be done. The discussion is informative without being pretentious and consistently worth your time.

“The Christopher Frayling Archives: A Fistful of Dollars” (1080p, 18 minutes 40 seconds) is a featurette, exclusively recorded for the Blu-ray release, in which the author shares some of his vast collection of Leone memorabilia with viewers. He talks about maintaining the large assortment of “Trilogy” goods, how he amassed the collectables and provides a bit of historical perspective on key pieces, including theatrical one-sheets and rare photos.

Frayling returns for “A New Kind of Hero” (480p, 22 minutes 54 seconds), a making of documentary that focuses on the innovations that were born out of Leone and crew trying to invigorate new life into the dying Western. The discussion begins with the obvious parallels between Kirosawa’s “Yojimbo”, moves on to the Techniscope process and it’s impact on the films cinematography, the importance of editing in Leone’s style, and the creation of the gritty anti-hero that personified Eastwood’s nameless man, which stood in direct opposition of the earlier John Wayne archetype.

“A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film” (480p, 8 minutes 33 seconds) is another featurette. Eastwood reminisces about the production, sharing stories about the notorious Leone, who stole a tree from a man’s yard so that he could perfect one of the opening shots in the film (the hanging noose) and lied to a Catholic Bishop in order to get permission to shoot on a Sunday, when all other movie companies had to be shut down, so that he could force the use Dino De Laurentiis’ crane.

“Tre Voci: ‘Fistful of Dollars’” (480p, 11 minutes 12 seconds) – or “Three Voices” in English – is a discussion about “A Fistful of Dollars”, with interviews from three of Sergio Leone’s friends and associates. This featurette includes comments from producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati and American actor Mickey Knox who provided dubbing on each one of the Dollars films. They talk about writing and working on the film with the aggressive Leone, the original wish to have Charles Bronson star, Leone’s favoritism of visuals over dialogue, and the cultural significance of “Fistful.”

“Not Ready For Primetime” (480p, 6 minutes 20 seconds) is a featurette with Monte Hellman in which he talks about the 1977 Network television premiere of “A Fistful of Dollars” and more importantly the rarely seen, long thought lost, prologue that was shot to give Eastwood’s character a “moral justification” for killing dozens. Hellman is obviously a bit ashamed of his work, but discusses it rather frankly. The prologue was not sanctioned by either star Clint Eastwood or writer/director Sergio Leone, and is shot in a way so that the man with no name, with his poncho, hat and cigarillo, is only seen from behind. It’s actually pretty interesting.

“The Network Prologue” (480i, 7 minutes 44 seconds) is a featurette that contains the full-uncut version of the unusual television addition, which “starred” Harry Dean Stanton as the smarmy politician who gives “Joe” his assignment – to clear out San Miguel of the two warring families, in exchange for a pardon. Leone collector Howard Fridkin discusses how he came into possession of the prologue, and then the footage is shown (duped off of Fridkin’s low-fi Betamax tape).

“Location Comparisons: Then And Now” (480i, 5 minutes 22 seconds) is a slideshow containing footage from the film compared against stills of the same location in present day – ca. 2004. The photos and video are set to excerpts of Ennio Morricone’s score.

Next, 10 vintage radio spots (1080p, 6 minutes) from the film’s original advertising campaigns are included. The audio is set against still photos from the set and promotional artwork for “A Fistful of Dollars”, all encoded in high definition.

Two theatrical trailers are included. A rare "Double Bill" theatrical trailer (480p, 2 minutes 3 seconds) for the film’s re-release with “For a Few Dollars More” has been cropped to 16x9. The original theatrical trailer for “A Fistful of Dollars” (1080p, 2 minutes 26 seconds) is also included; it too has been cropped, though it’s in much better condition than the tattered double bill.

Finally, Fox/MGM has included their now standard Java-based bookmarks. Use the red button on your Blu-ray remote to bookmark your favorite scene, or simply stop the film at any given time and when you return, the menu will ask if you would like to resume the film from where you left off.

DISC TWO: “For A Few Dollars More”

Sir Christopher Frayling sits down for another audio commentary, this time on “For A Few Dollars More.” The man is a veritable encyclopedia of “Dollars” trilogy and Leone info, and he provides another must-listen discussion on the ins-and-outs of the sophomore effort in the “Man with No Name” trilogy.

“The Christopher Frayling Archives: For a Few Dollars More” (1080p, 19 minutes 2 seconds) is part two of the series of featurettes, exclusively recorded for the Blu-ray release, in which the author shares some of his vast collection of Leone memorabilia with viewers. He talks about maintaining the large assortment of “Trilogy” goods, how he amassed the collectables and provides a bit of historical perspective on key pieces, including theatrical one-sheets and rare photos.

“A New Standard: Sir Christopher Frayling on ‘For A Few Dollars More’” (480p, 20 minutes 14 seconds) is a retrospective documentary, in which the author and historian discusses the making of the second “Dollars” film, where Leone, composer Ennio Morricone and Eastwood, as he puts it, “largely found their voice.”

“Back for More: Clint Eastwood Remembers ‘For A Few Dollars More’” (480p, 7 minutes 8 seconds) is another reminiscent featurette in which the actor retells stories about working on the second film in the series, including Leone’s notorious two hour lunch breaks, the director’s ambition to become the next David Lean, and how Eastwood’s desire to continue making smaller films clashed with that wish, which lead to their eventual falling out.

Producer Alberto Grimaldi, screenwriter Sergio Donati and actor Mickey Knox return for “Tre Voci: ‘For A Few Dollars More’” (480p, 11 minutes 5 seconds) a retrospective featurette comprised of interviews with three of Leone’s close friends. Grimaldi talks about his involvement in the picture, the first of Leone’s films that he would produce, while Donati talks about his uncredited rewrite of a majority of the film’s dialogue. The general theme here is the excitement that followed “A Fistful of Dollars” and Leone’s reluctance, but definite want to make a sequel, whether directly or indirectly related to his first great success.

Much like how “Fistful of Dollars” was altered for American audiences – albeit some fifteen years later for television – “‘For a Few Dollars More’: The American Release Version” (480p, 5 minutes 18 seconds) is a featurette that discusses the much more immediate trimming of scenes for the US theatrical release in 1967. This included the removal of a scene in which Eastwood’s character is referred to as “Monco”; executives had the scene cut because it didn’t gel with their current “Man with No Name” marketing campaign that’s still alive and well today.

“Location Comparisons” (480i, 12 minutes 16 seconds) is a slideshow containing footage from the film compared against stills of the same location in present day – ca. 2004. The photos and video are set to excerpts of Ennio Morricone’s score.

Next, 12 vintage radio spots (1080i, 7 minutes 36 seconds) from the film’s original advertising campaigns are included. The audio is set against still photos from the set as well as promotional artwork, all encoded in high definition.

Two theatrical trailers for “For A Few Dollars More” are included, both encoded in high definition. Theatrical trailer 1 (1080p, 2 minutes 29 seconds) has its 2.35:1 widescreen framing preserved. As does the retrotastic theatrical trailer 2 (1080p, 3 minutes 44 seconds).

Finally, Fox has included their now standard Java-based bookmarks. Use the red button on your Blu-ray remote to bookmark your favorite scene, or simply stop the film at any given time and when you return, the menu will ask if you would like to resume the film from where you left off.

DISC THREE: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

The original audio commentary by acclaimed film critic, historian and Eastwood biographer Richard Shickel from the 2004 DVD has been ported over to Blu-ray. Shickel, who knows his Leone, and certainly his Eastwood, goes on to deliver a populist commentary that’s probably enjoyed more by Eastwood-centric fans than not; still a very informative discussion.

A second audio commentary by cultural historian, critic and Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling is exclusive to the Blu-ray edition. You’d think that Frayling would get tiresome to listen too or repetitive in his information after discussing the “Dollars” trilogy at such great lengths in this set (he alone accounts for some 6 hours of material via commentaries and featurettes throughout the three discs), but that’s not the case. Unbelievably Frayling offers another compelling, downright entertaining talk-track about the production of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

“The Making of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Leone’s West” (480p, 19 minutes 55 seconds) is the first part of a making of documentary produced for the 2004 DVD. There’s a bit of over lap between some of the previous featurettes included on the two previous films – indeed some whole interview snippets are reused – but that’s bound to happen when you group together many of the same people to discuss a similar subject. Critic and Historian Richard Shickel, actor Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, Clint Eastwood, among others discuss the making of the “Trilogy”, the effect that all three pictures had on the Western genre and the stature they – in particular, “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly” – still hold today.

““The Making of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Leone’s Style” (480p, 23 minutes 48 seconds) is the conclusion of the documentary originally produced for the 2004 DVD in which Eastwood, Shickel, Grimaldi, Knox, and Eli Wallach discuss Sergio Leone’s unique style, his way of telling a story and the often-grandiose nature of his films. Like the previous chapter of the documentary, “Leone’s Style” also has an overarching theme about not just the history of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, but the entire “Man with No Name” trilogy.

“The Man Who Lost the Civil War” (480i, 14 minutes 24 seconds) is a yet another documentary, again produced for the 2004 DVD. Unlike the two previous pieces, which focused on the making of the film, this takes an entirely different approach and looks at the failed southwestern campaign of a Confederate General. The “Sibley Campaign”, one of the biggest blunders in American military history, was the backdrop with which Leone set his gold-hunting trio against. This documentary, presented in low-fi 1.33:1 standard definition, looks at the truth behind the story, and it’s actually pretty interesting, if a little cheesy due to it’s overwrought narration and chintzy production value.

“Reconstructing ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’” (480p, 11 minutes 9 seconds) is a featurette that covers the long, difficult journey to restore Leone’s film to it’s proper runtime. Upon its premiere in 1968 United Artists insisted that the film be cut from its three-hour version down to a more palpable, American-friendly runtime. Leone fought, but lost and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was chopped some twenty-five minutes. In 2002, MGM and a handful of Hollywood directors commissioned Paul Rutan Jr. and his team at Triage Labs to reassemble the film, via photochemical restoration (that means on film). Eastwood and Wallach were brought in to record their lines in English for scenes that never appeared in the US. The result was the “Extended Version” that we now see to day – included on this Blu-ray – which reinserts some 18 minutes of excised footage. At present, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is still missing around 8 minutes of footage (some of which is seen in the French trailer included on this disc), but that is unlikely to be restored to the film proper as many of these missing bits are thought lost forever.

“Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Part One” (480p, 7 minutes 48 seconds) is a featurette with Film Music Historian Jon Burlingame. The journalist and film professor discusses Morricone’s unique scores, their importance to the “Dollars” trilogy and the role that the composer played in changing the landscape of film music.

“Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Part Two” (1080i, 12 minutes 26 seconds) is an audio essay by author and historian Jon Burlingame. He discusses the collaboration between filmmaker Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone – one of the greatest pairings of director and musician in the history of cinema, which he likens to the teams of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann, François Truffaut and Georges Delerue, and Federico Fellini and Nino Rota (or, perhaps a more modern and well known collab: Steven Spielberg and John Williams). He talks about how both artists fed off each other, to create their best work.

2 deleted scenes (480i, 10 minutes 19 minutes) are included. The deletions amount to an extended version of Tuco’s torture scene, which, coming from an archival print, is terribly worn, and the much talked about Socorro Sequence, which has also been reconstructed here from production stills, the French trailer and various bits of surviving film.

Both the original theatrical trailer (1080p, 3 minutes 21 seconds) and French theatrical trailer (480i, 3 minutes 31 seconds) are included.

Lastly, a “Fox Digital Copy” promo runs 1 minute 4 seconds.


“The Man with No Name Trilogy” swaggers onto Blu-ray in an almost insultingly slim 3-disc case (they managed to fit the 3 BD-50's inside a box that normally is reserved for one disc) with an outer slipcover that fits over sideways, as opposed to the more common up-down. It’s essentially a digi-pak. Each film is region free; not that it matters much – Europe recieved it’s own version of this boxset dubbed the “Spaghetti Western Trilogy.” As I’ve mentioned above, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is the exact same disc – warts and all – as the one released by MGM in 2009.


I really wish that MGM hadn’t released “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in 2009. With the strong, film-like transfers that the distributor is debuting each month, even on some of the lesser films, I really feel like had Leone’s masterpiece been a new-to-disc Blu-ray with the other two “Dollars” films it might have passed through unscathed by the wickedness of digital noise reduction. Then again, perhaps not. Maybe the film would have always been the weakest presentation in the series, and still arrived to high definition with its DNR-slathered transfer. We’ll never know. The bigger problem now is that many fans of the Trilogy will have already bought the 2009 Blu-ray. Without any standalone release of either “A Fistful of Dollars” or “For A Few Dollars More” on the horizon, they will be forced to buy the boxset, thus re-buying a film they already own, just to complete their collection. Only, the transfer on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is such an inconsistent mess, it’s going to be beyond difficult to get just about anyone to actually spend money to buy it again. Really, it’s a lose-lose situation for those who already bought first disc, which is a shame, because, as a whole, “The Man with No Name” Trilogy is something I highly recommend. I just wish that standalone were for the first two films had debuted along side it. If you don’t already own “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, buy away. With one good transfer, and one great transfer, generally improved audio, several hours of informative bonus features, and three must-own movies, MGM’s “The Man with No Name” Trilogy belongs in anyone’s blu-ray collection. Overall ratings apply but see below for a more concise breakdown:

The Films Overall: A
“A Fistful of Dollars”: B
“For A Few Dollars More”: A
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”: A+

The Video Overall: B-
“A Fistful of Dollars”: B-
“For A Few Dollars More”: B+
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”: C-

The Audio Overall: B-
“A Fistful of Dollars”: B-
“For A Few Dollars More”: B-
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”: B-

The Extras Overall: A
“A Fistful of Dollars”: B
“For A Few Dollars More”: B
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”: B

The Film: A Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: A Overall: A-


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