In our society of consumerism and urban sprawl, we sometimes forget what life was like in the old west. Back then, you did what you had to in order to survive against the daunting circumstances of life on the frontier. Law was mainly ignored as long as one could shoot better than the rest. Hollywood has been producing movies that use the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of the western hero for years now. Even if the western genre has begun to decrease in more recent years for movies that favor constant action and CGI, there are some classics of cinema that fit right into this archetype. This week’s films make us all want to hop on a horse and ride into the sunset. And yet, even though it’s easy to be isolated in the old west, if things need to be done, it’s best to do them in a group; be it three or a bunch.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Length: 161 minutes / 2.68 hours
Isolation is becoming more difficult to come by. In the old west, it was almost a fact of life. When there’s a lot of empty space around, running into another person could be challenging. That is, of course, unless there’s treasure involved. Suddenly, everyone comes out of the woodwork to rush toward the riches (sometimes to hilarious results). However, even if you can manage to keep the treasure a secret, who knows if you have all the information to find it? Someone might know the territory, someone else might know a cemetery, and yet another could know a specific gravesite where to dig, but without all three, the search for buried treasure could be a fruitless endeavor in the scorching desert. In situations like this, it’s best to work together and split the loot, unless of course you plan on betraying your partners, in which case you’d better watch your back as well.
Clint Eastwood’s character, nicknamed “Blondie”, is the “Good” in this trio, rounded out with Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) as the “Bad” and Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach) as the “Ugly”. Tuco and Blondie swap back and forth between betrayal and partnership when it comes to the reward on Tuco’s head of $2,000. Eventually, Tuco is able to capture Blondie, who had abandoned him in the desert. As Tuco marches Blondie through the desert in an act of retribution, they come across Bill Carson, the one man who knows where $200,000 worth of Confederate gold is buried. Unfortunately, he dies before giving Tuco any information other than the graveyard where it’s located. Blondie, on the other hand, now knows in which grave it’s buried. When Angel Eyes enters the picture, he’s ready to make a deal to get to the grave and get all the gold within.
The Wild Bunch
Length: 145 minutes / 2.42 hours
Even though living alone in the old west is possible, things are just easier when you live in a group. And yet, in a lawless land, most groups consisted of outlaws. This is partly why the law was so difficult to come by in the old west: they were vastly outnumbered. Similar to the street gangs of today, the outlaw gangs of the old west used violence to get whatever they want. Of course, as groups become larger, not everyone will agree with the choices of the gang as a whole. There could be backstabbing and betrayal and, before you know it, the whole bunch implodes upon itself. Still, what’s more dangerous is becoming enemies of a rival gang. There’s power in numbers, but only if your numbers are bigger. However, when all else fails, all you really need to do is to bring out the big guns in order to win. And I mean BIG GUNS.
Long before the ensemble of action heroes that fills the cast list of the Expendables series, The Wild Bunch brought together a similar amount of stars, including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Warren Oates. When you’ve lived your whole life as an ace gunslinger in the old west, accepting change can be difficult. That’s why Pike Bishop (William Holden), the head of a gang of outlaws, is ready to retire. He’s lived long enough to have earned a few enemies, including his former partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). The surviving members of Pike’s gang escape a deadly shootout and begin planning their final score. Instead of searching for treasure in the desert, the bunch of outlaws decides to work in weapons. With the thoughts of recent betrayals fresh on their minds, they manage to get their hands on quite the insurance policy: a Browning machine gun.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 gritty groups