The Message I Missed

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, is one of my all-time favorite movies.  It’s in my top five and close to number one.  It’s one of those movies that I could watch a thousand times and I may have watched it a thousand times in my life.  If it happens to be on as I surf through the channels I’ll watch if for the one thousand and first time.

And the other night was no exception.  I was surfing and there is was, so I watched.

This night I had a revelation about the movie.  I saw something in it that I had never really seen before.

I always watched the movie so focused on the main characters and the main storyline of greed, violence and betrayal.  I saw how through all this antagonism the two characters, Blondie and Tuco, managed to actually share moments of friendship even if they are bred out of convenience.

I was always aware of the war going on, the Civil War, and how it managed to get in the way, how it affected the lives of these three men even though they had no allegiance to either side.  The war was just a side note to their lives and to the movie, or so I thought.

This time as I watched I was amazed at the message I had always missed.

Like most movies involving war (except for the propaganda films made during World War II), this one shows the death and destruction of war.  It shows how war affects those who aren’t participating in the war.  But what I never really noticed before was how strong the antiwar message was in this film.

Again, to me being so fixated on the three main and extremely interesting characters, the fact that it was set during the Civil War was just part of the setting, the background.

As I watched I saw just how the antiwar message was conveyed and how strong it was.

I noticed how every time these rough, violent men came in direct contact with the war they were taken aback by the senseless death, dismemberment and destruction of war.

These men who had killed numerous men, stared at death and lived with death, gave pause when they saw the horrific results of war.  These callous and cold blooded killers were left wondering about what they were seeing.

Watch the film and you’ll see that every time one of the three come across the maimed and dead soldiers they have a look of shock and in some cases even show compassion.

It is a look that says: I’m a killer, I kill almost daily and even I am appalled by this senseless destruction of life.

I then realized that for whatever warped or perverted reason, when these three killed, they always had a reason.  Maybe it was revenge or greed or self-defense because the person trying to kill them had the same reason, revenge or greed.

As convoluted as it sounds they were justified in their killings.  It was one on one, personal, it had meaning.

They didn’t just wander the streets indiscriminately killing people they never knew, they didn’t kill innocent bystanders.

Even these killers had limits.

They see the killing and the wounding of war.  The look on their faces is as if they were saying: “Damn, I’m about as cold blooded of a killer as you’ll ever come across but even I am shocked at what I see.  Even I have limits.”

The film points out the indiscriminate and senseless death of war, as opposed to the calculated and reasoned if not justified killing by the main characters.

I especially thought of this when watching the scene where the two armies battle for control of the bridge.

The soldiers from both sides had no idea about each other.  They didn’t know each other.  They didn’t know who they were, where they came from or what they did prior to the war.  For all intent they probably were just honest farmers trying to do good in life.  They never had any prior contact and now here they are trying to kill each other.

They’re trying to kill each other for no reason other than someone told them to.  They weren’t doing it out of greed or revenge.  It wasn’t personal.  It was just because they were supposed to do it to satisfy other men’s desires.

And this time viewing the movie the words of Tuco took on a new meaning for me.

It was during the scene where Wallace, the union sergeant, is taking Tuco from the POW camp in order to collect the bounty money on Tuco’s head.

While they are walking through the Union train station they come across a union soldier who has lost his arm.  The wounded soldier says to Wallace, “Where are you taking this confederate spy?”  Wallace replies, “To hang with a rope around his neck and a $3000 bounty on his head.”

Tuco responds to the maimed soldier, “$3000, that’s a lot of money for a head.  I bet they didn’t give you nothing for this arm.”

What Tuco is saying, what the film is saying is, yea I’m no angel but at least there is some reason, some worth, even if it’s just worth to me, to what I did.  What was the sense of your action, what was the sense of losing an arm?

The film was made in 1966 and release in 1967, so I don’t think Sergio Leone was protesting any war in particular.  I think the statement is just the same as it has always been about the senseless destruction of war.  The cold impersonal killings, so cold and so senseless that even the most cold hearted, rough and rugged are taken aback.

© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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