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"Looks like we're... looks like we're shy one horse."
February 16, 2014 6:19 AM   Subscribe

The movie itself is a classic, and that greatness is evident right off the bat with one of the best opening scenes in film history.

Clocking in at about fourteen minutes, it certainly is one of the longest (during which, less than 60 words are spoken). It can be roughly divided into two parts: The title sequence during which the suspense is slowly built up and then, finally, the inevitable showdown. And then there are the actors involved: One a legendary African American actor who also happened to play for the NFL and practice the art of SeishinDo Kenpo. One a memorable character actor whose character has a distinct way to deal with houseflies. One an actor who tragically committed suicide before filming of the scene was complete. And then there is our hero, who usually lets his gun or harmanica do his talking for him, yet manages to deliver one of the best badass boasts ever.

The Film League offers a deconstruction of the scene.

And here’s a look at all of the filming locations for the movie then and now, which starts chronologically with the opening scene.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (27 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
One aspect of that scene that has always fascinated and perplexed me is the enormous platform of shitty, warped, twisted, and rotten planks, seemingly tossed on the ground and damned near impossible to walk across safely, let alone move cargo. It's utterly useless as a platform, really.

It's such a huge part of that opening scene, like a gigantic (and crappy) stage, and the cowboys are our introduction to the play about to unfold.

I do love this movie.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:31 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


"From a story by Dario Argento" - I had no idea.
posted by SkinnerSan at 6:44 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


One aspect of that scene that has always fascinated and perplexed me is the enormous platform of shitty, warped, twisted, and rotten planks, seemingly tossed on the ground and damned near impossible to walk across safely, let alone move cargo. It's utterly useless as a platform, really.

Several years ago I got it into my head to recreate this scene in LEGO and ended up doing a lot of research on it (I never completed it, but may yet do it one day). I seem to recall an interview with the set designer that said the platform was made up of railroad ties just slapped together. And the station, such as it is, is an actual railroad car that has been added on to. You can see the rows of seats next to the windows on some of the interior shots.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:45 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Keep meaning to watch this and it's on Netflix so no excuse.
posted by octothorpe at 7:11 AM on February 16


Oh my god yes, this is a massive, massive classic. Worth seeing on the big screen if you ever get the chance, absolutely.

It's such a weird movie, and it has this bizarre optimism about frontiers - consider the ending sequence. I think part of that is because the movie is basically about the aftermath of Italian fascism as much as it is about the US West, and the "frontier" at the end is really a temporal frontier, a political frontier where popular democracy breaks out. I suppose this is the reason that the film handles the dispossession of native people so terribly - and so peripherally. That's to me the really disturbing aspect of the film, even though I get that "the West" is basically post-fascism Italy.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Agree that this movie is fantastic. I saw it in the cinema many times. But the soundtrack was hugely popular here in Holland. (Number 1 in the album top 100 for over a year!) My parents used to play the album often when we were sent to bed. Whenever I think of my days as a 7/8 year old there is this memory of me trying to fall asleep while "the man with harmonica" softly sounded around the house.
posted by ouke at 7:36 AM on February 16


My favorite Spaghetti Western. I think this and the long version of Once Upon A Time in America are Leone's greatest works.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:59 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The opening scene in full.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:02 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Charles Bronson in this film is to me what Helen of Troy was to Menelaus, although I am neither Bronson's contemporary, nor do I have a navy by which to retrieve him.

Still: YOWZA!
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:18 AM on February 16


The opening scene in full.

Technically not. For whatever reason, the uploader fades out on the windmill and you don't get to see Bronson slowly getting up, slinging his arm and walking away (which is why I ended up not using that link).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:25 AM on February 16


I love watching the Westerns. But, all through my entire life, they are a sure ticket to dozing off before the end. I've got to stop watching them on Saturday afternoons, but there is just something magical about it. Best feeling in the world just as you are falling off in to dreamland with the sounds of horses, gunfire and trains in the background.
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:28 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


We've slowly been soaking in this oeuvre (FYI, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is the world's best movie to watch on a very long transcontinental flight). This is the movie that finally made me understand why people blame the Western for glamorizing violence. It's almost a fetish in the movie. Every gun glints and every shootout is so lovingly and endlessly filmed.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:42 AM on February 16


If I've never seen this, should I start with the theatrical version or the restored version (the blu-ray has both)?
posted by bluecore at 9:16 AM on February 16


bluecore: "If I've never seen this, should I start with the theatrical version or the restored version (the blu-ray has both)?"

Oops, nevermind. They're only a 40 seconds difference, due to a shot/shots of a previously blacklisted actor being restored to the film. It's not choosing between a longer 159 minute cut.
posted by bluecore at 9:18 AM on February 16


The dialogue was memorably sampled by Colourbox in the early days of sampling, for a track called 'Looks Like We're Shy One Horse'. I doubt they'd get away with that these days.
posted by Hogshead at 9:34 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Best feeling in the world just as you are falling off in to dreamland with the sounds of horses, gunfire and trains in the background.

I love it. In at least one human's heaven, there will be gunfire in the background, mitigated by horses and trains. For me, it will probably be stock cars droning in big, lazy circles.
posted by philip-random at 10:40 AM on February 16


I don't like this movie, because I can't take it. I prefer The Good, The Bad and The Ugly mostly the same way I prefer chocolate or cake over eating sugar by the spoonful. This movie is too perfect in its genre for me to take it straight. I must watch it again now.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:25 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


"From a story by Dario Argento" - I had no idea.

And Berny Bertolucci also. I was dumbfounded for a moment when I first saw this in the credits. Makes sense in retrospect, this film twists at it's genre with a touch of arty sparse minimalism, and a subtly unsettled vibe that feels borrowed from a horror flick.
posted by ovvl at 1:43 PM on February 16


I just re-watched this a couple weeks ago, a newly-purchased DVD bargain, after several years away. It is now IMDB's #24 top-rated film. I'd heard years ago that some distributer had chopped most of the opening scene - an AMAZING understated mix of humor and tension - and so I was trepidated about that.

No worries. This recent Paramount widescreen DVD, UPC 8-83929-30320-5 (for future reference) has the whole opening scene.

While Morricone's music sings through most of the film, the "music" in the beginning is made up of samples. This is 1968. People didn't do this - nobody even knew what a "sample" was.

(GBU is still my Leone fav tho)
posted by Twang at 8:54 PM on February 16


Is the version on Netflix full or chopped?
posted by gottabefunky at 9:09 PM on February 16


And don't forget that Woody Strode married a Hawaiian princess!
posted by gottabefunky at 9:57 PM on February 16


"One aspect of that scene that has always fascinated and perplexed me is the enormous platform of shitty, warped, twisted, and rotten planks, seemingly tossed on the ground and damned near impossible to walk across safely, let alone move cargo. It's utterly useless as a platform, really."

It looks like railroad ties left out to cure. After they dry, they're covered in creosote.

I'm just guessing, though. Could also be an early example of environmental art.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:23 PM on February 16


Chitownfats, that's a better theory than I've ever had.

It's utterly useless as a platform, really.... like a gigantic (and crappy) stage

I think it probably did mainly have that as a design constraint. But in a real world sense I always supposed it was something relating to the railroad construction or a seasonal facility not currently in any use. The beautiful comedy of the one small box being dropped onto it is sublime.

Is the version on Netflix full or chopped?

It's the 165 minute version, so probably the same one you'd get at the video store. I believe this is the version that was cut for the 1984 re-release, so technically it is a theatrical.

I do have to say that while I love Leone, I personally classify his work as an offshoot of the Western rather than its purest distillation. It's hyperreal, abbreviated, and deliberately mythic in ways that, I think, belie the simplicity of the stories. It's like Gauguin painting in Polynesia in that regard -- a society seen through the eyes of outsiders.
posted by dhartung at 11:57 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I just watched it on Netflix, and if this bit from Wikipedia is to be believed, it's the full version:
Whether a copy is of original length or not is clarified during the first sequence. In the original length version, the three men who wait for a train remove a female passenger and the "station master" from the small train station. This is the first difference in comparison with the shorter version.
Additionally, the Netflix version has all the scenes the article says were cut for the American version.
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:17 AM on February 17


Regarding the rotting (curing?) planks and the mise-en-scène, it's worth noting that straight-up realism was never a thing Sergio Leone particularly cared about. This was a common attitude in contemporary Italian genre filmmaking at the time, where the emphasis was on having vivid, striking sets and plots, in contrast to the oftentimes relatively realistic style even of Hollywood.

Throughout his movies, note how lovingly he shows off the various types of guns. Leone spent an incredible amount of time researching the different shapes, sizes, and personalities of guns. He also completely, willfully ignored which guns would be practically or historically realistic! It's not as if he wouldn't know - the dates of the guns would be right in the catalogs that he would study - it's just that he didn't care.

Compare with the scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in which Tuco examines a gun before purchasing it, as he rolls the chamber between his hands, etc. This scene exists because Eli Wallach had had almost no real world experience with guns whatsoever, and so he improvised a (wonderful) scene which had been midwifed by that ignorance, in which he meticulously examines a gun in a way that no gun owner ever really would. Tuco, this filthy, scrappy, Chaotic Neutral crook, is examining his gun in a mysterious way that suggests wonder and secret wisdom. It's a wonderful bit, and it only really works because Leone is coming from a place of artificiality.

Compare with the bit from For A Few Dollars More, where they shoot one another's hats. Repeatedly. Causing the hats to fly in the air. Again, awesome scene, but it's aggressively unrealistic.

Compare with the bit from My Name Is Nobody, where the main character has to keep drinking and shooting and drinking and shooting. Terrific scene. No fucking way anybody had intended it to be any more realistic than a Looney Tune. Yes, the movie is a comedy, but it's a comedy that ostensibly takes place in, if not the real world, then at least the same world as other Westerns.

Compare as well with the infamous glass vestibule from Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Why does the main character get stuck in a glass vestibule? Because it's cool, silly. Because it's horrifying, and because it moves the plot forward, and because the scene itself is really scary as a result. Is it at all realistic that this person would be stuck in such a vestibule? Nope! Not really. The movie doesn't even bother to justify it all that much. But, in the context of a groovy giallo, it totally works, both as filmmaking unto itself, and as filmmaking that fits into the universe of 60s Italian genre movies.

Contrast with the climactic Darth Maul scene from Star Wars: Episode One, in which the combatants keep getting stuck in the zany pink laser vestibule thingamadoo. Many people disliked this aspect of this scene, in large part because it didn't make sense. Not only was it poor filmmaking by itself, but it also stuck out because, even though it's a sci-fi series, Star Wars actually does play by the more realistic rules of American filmmaking, where there is more focus on things having an internal logic for being there. There is often more of a demand that there be an internal logic in American plots and settings - not a whole lot of realism, but a hell of a lot more than you'll find in most gialli or Spaghetti Westerns.

Sure, Star Wars bends reality by having, say, impractical AT-AT Walkers, but that level of artificiality is, in its own way, much more subtle than having a random platform made of curing (rotting?) planks.

...

It's such a weird movie, and it has this bizarre optimism about frontiers - consider the ending sequence. I think part of that is because the movie is basically about the aftermath of Italian fascism as much as it is about the US West, and the "frontier" at the end is really a temporal frontier, a political frontier where popular democracy breaks out. I suppose this is the reason that the film handles the dispossession of native people so terribly - and so peripherally. That's to me the really disturbing aspect of the film, even though I get that "the West" is basically post-fascism Italy.

Have you seen Leone's Duck! You Sucker? If not, then you should! It's fun, and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

Regarding the treatment of native people, my mind turns to two things.

One, the bit in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where the main characters confuse the dust-covered Union soldiers for Confederates. The sequence displays an aggressive indifference and cynicism regarding the whole idea of the Civil War. It's a bit of a "through the looking glass" moment for many Americans, whose movies often skate over and through other people's history - here's this gigantic part of our history, reduced to a gag about dusty uniforms! It would be narcissistic to assume that this bit is really meant to be "about" American history. What's really striking is that it's a bit that takes an important part of American history, but only to the extent that it's striking in the movie itself.

Two, contrast the relatively absent native peoples from many Spaghetti Westerns with the overwrought "noble savagery" from German Westerns, viz. Winnetou.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:48 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Leone's use of the American Civil War in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly reminds me of Borges's use of the Irish struggle for independence in stories like "The Form of the Sword" and "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero." The individual conflict involved doesn't matter except as window dressing and as a convenient setting for the narrative trick Borges wants to play.

The American Civil War, likewise, is convenient for Leone because Westerns pretty much have to take place on the American 19th-century frontier, and the Civil War is the only war in the area where one side could be mistaken for the other. Maybe the Mexican War could serve, but then the story would change, having to be set farther south and in the thick of a one-sided fight, not in a vague and contested borderland.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:47 AM on February 17


Watching it right now and damn could Leone fill a widescreen. What a great looking movie.
posted by octothorpe at 9:41 AM on February 22


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