Release Date(s)1967 (April 27, 2021)
Studio(s)Rafran Cinematografica/Leone Film Group/United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
A trio of unsavory outlaws—played by Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, and Clint Eastwood (in order of their introduction)—tracks a fortune in stolen gold through Civil War-era Texas in Sergio Leone’s legendary 1966 “spaghetti” western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Though each man will stop at nothing claim the fortune for their own, two of them at least pretend to honor their occasional criminal alliance in this effort. But given the dictates of greed and human nature in the Old West, the odds are long that such a partnership—or any of these men, for that matter—will survive the quest.
Though many—including filmmaker Quentin Tarantino—consider The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to be Sergio Leone’s best work, it’s in Once Upon a Time in the West (released two years later) that all of the cinematic and thematic ideas we consider to be essential to the Leone style receive their fullest expression. Still, it’s easy to see why The Good, the Bad and the Ugly remains so popular; it’s certainly Leone’s most accessible film. Eastwood returns for a third and final round as “Blondie,” the iconic Man with No Name, while Van Cleef makes his second appearance in a Leone film (the first was For a Few Dollars More) this time in a more villainous role. But it’s Wallach’s performance as the comic-yet-cunning Mexican bandit Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez that steals the show. Tuco serves as an uneasy criminal sidekick to Blonde as they travel from town to town exploiting the West’s tenuous system of justice to the profit of both. Yet Tuco’s weaknesses—and they are many—make his character the most human. Wallach is so good here, that it seems almost inconceivable that this was his only collaboration with Leone. And though The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third and final installment in the director’s “Dollars” Trilogy, it’s technically a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, set as it is during the American Civil War (the other two films take place after the conflict).
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was shot on 35 mm photochemical film in 2-perf Techniscope format using Arriflex 35 IIC cameras with spherical lenses. It was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Multiple versions of the film have been shown over the years, including a 177-minute International Version. But for its debut on 4K Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has opted to include the 161-minute U.S. Theatrical Cut only (due to the cost of proper remastering and disc replication). But that remastering effort has paid off handsomely, as the Theatrical Cut has simply never looked better that it does here. Many of you will already be aware that the company first released this film on Blu-ray back in 2017 (see our review here), mastered from a 2014 4K scan of the original camera negative. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have the budget at the time to do a proper color grade, and thus the HD image quality was a decidedly mixed bag. For this 4K release—which is sourced from that same scan—they’ve finally gone the extra mile, digitally remastering the image and properly grading the color—and the result is glorious. Gone are the uneven color and the pale yellow cast visible throughout the entire film. And though this presentation does not include HDR (more on that in a moment), the Rec. 709 SDR benefits from a 10-bit color space. The palette retains its intended warm look, but skin tones, skies, and arid Spanish landscapes (which double for the American West) have never looked more natural. The overall contrast is improved too; blacks no longer appear gray as they did on the previous Blu-ray. There are still some shadows that looked crushed here and there, and the occasional highlight—particularly in bright skies—is a tad blown out. But this is an artifact of the age and condition of the original camera negative; had HDR been applied, these issues would only have been magnified. So it’s important not to be knee-jerk in your reaction to the lack of HDR. The simple reality is that not every photochemical negative has surviving contrast and color information to allow for HDR. The good news is that the added image detail visible in true 4K is a wonder to behold. Dirt, grit, stone, fabric—all of the fine texturing benefits from native 4K. Image grain is visible at a medium-strong level, certainly appropriate to this film, and it’s consistently even and organic throughout. On a personal note, I’ve seen this film many times over the years—the first time as the projectionist for a proper cinema studies screening—yet I have never seen it looking this good before. For that reason, and even though it isn’t perfect, the image quality here gets an A from me. One should never let perfect be the enemy of the good. And this presentation is very, very good.
Audio is present on the 4K disc in the same lossless English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio mixes found on the 2017 Blu-ray release, and that’s just fine. The 2.0 is closest to the original theatrical experience, so it’s definitely the preferred option, but the 5.1 mix still retains much of the same sonic character, albeit with a slightly wider soundstage and a bit of added surround activity for effects and music. The overall tone is full sounding and Ennio Morricone’s remarkable score is offered in excellent fidelity. You will still hear a bit of analog hiss occasionally, especially during blustering cannon fire, but the dialogue remains clear and clean. And of course, as Leone’s method was to loop all of his films’ dialogue in post-production (and many of his actors delivered lines in their native Italian and thus were later dubbed into English), the occasional lip sync mismatch must be forgiven. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 4K disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Tim Lucas
- Deleted Scenes (4K – 7 scenes – 17:58 in all)
- Extended Scenes (4K – 6 scenes – 7:29 in all)
- Alternate Transitions (4K – 2 transitions – :58 in all)
The Lucas commentary was a new addition for the 2017 Blu-ray. It’s highly informative, featuring an abundance of trivia, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and background information. In a very pleasant surprise, all of the deleted and extended material is presented here in native 4K and it’s also been remastered. Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ original plan was to release the Extended Cut of the film remastered in 4K rather than the Theatrical Cut, but fans overwhelmingly preferred the latter. Clearly, the studio did remaster the longer version, so there’s hope—if this disc sells well—that we might see the Extended Cut in native 4K one day too. (The Extended Cut is still available on 2017 Blu-ray, so we recommend you hang onto that in the meantime.)
Of course, this 4K package also includes the Theatrical Cut in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, and it should be noted that this is a new disc which also features the proper remaster and color grade. So this version too has never looked better. The Blu-ray adds the following extras:
- Audio Commentary with Tim Lucas
- Leone’s West: Making of Documentary (SD – 19:56)
- Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part 1 (SD – 7:49)
- Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part 2 (SD – 12:28)
- The Leone Style: On Sergio Leone (SD – 23:49)
- The Man Who Lost the Civil War (SD – 14:23)
- Reconstruction of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Extended Cut (SD – 11:10)
- Deleted Scene: Extended Tuco Torture Scene (HD – 7:15)
- Deleted Scene: The Socorro Sequence – A Reconstruction (SD – 3:02)
- Deleted Scene: Skeletons in the Desert (HD – 1:04)
- Deleted Scene: Extended Torture Scene (HD – 1:04)
- Vignette: Uno, Due, Tre (SD – :41)
- Vignette: Italian Lunch (SD – :44)
- Vignette: New York Accent (SD – :10)
- Vignette: Gun in Holster (SD – 1:00)
- The Optical Flip (HD – :55)
- Trailers from Hell with Ernest Dickerson (SD – 3:25)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly On the Set Image Gallery (HD – 8:13)
- Promoting The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Image Gallery (HD – 9:06)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Domestic Trailer (HD – 3:23)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly German Trailer (HD – 3:28)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly French Trailer (SD – 3:31)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Radio Spot (HD – :35)
- A Fistful of Dollars Trailer (HD – 2:26)
- For a Few Dollars More Trailer 1 (HD – 2:30)
- For a Few Dollars More Trailer 2 (SD – 3:50)
- A Fistful of Dollars/For a Few Dollars More – Burning at Both Ends Trailer (SD – 2:04)
- A Fistful of Dollars/For a Few Dollars More – Burning at Both Ends Radio Spot (SD – 1:02)
Much of this content was created for MGM’s original 2007 DVD release, so it’s nice to see it carry over here (and it’s worth noting that the quality is notably better than it was on the 2017 Blu-ray). The rest of this material was new to Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Blu-ray release, including the many trailers and radio spots, the vignettes, and the image galleries. Unfortunately missing here are the two audio commentaries by historian Richard Schickel and Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, but those were recorded for the Extended Cut (which again is not included). Also missing are the trailers for Duck, You Sucker! (aka A Fistful of Dynamite) and Once Upon a Time in the West, but presumably they’ll return in a future Leone 4K release. (We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention our own Tim Salmons for his role in providing the radio spot for this release.) Last but not least, the package includes a cardboard slipcover and reversable cover artwork. All in all, this is a great collection of bonus content that will be new to some of you at least.
If ever there was a filmmaker whose work deserved to be seen in 4K, it’s the Italian master Sergio Leone. Kino Lorber Studio Classics deserves enormous credit for releasing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on physical 4K Ultra HD with a proper remaster and color grade. We don’t know how much the company spent to do this work, but we’re sure it wasn’t cheap. We are confident, however, that it worth every damn penny. Here’s hoping that the company sells as many copies of this disc as it can print, so that we might all be so lucky as to see Duck, You Sucker!, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and Once Upon a Time in the West follow it to the format in the months ahead. In the meantime, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in 4K UHD is highly recommended. Miss it at your peril.
- Bill Hunt