Review: Peter Hanley’s book on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – prepare to be overwhelmed.
Sergio Leone’s epic western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has become something of milestone in terms of its cultural following. For fans, it is a film that doesn’t tend to gather dust on the shelf, there is something magnetic about its pull, something that practically demands an annual revisiting. It is an ‘experience’ that must be seen on the big screen should anyone be afforded the opportunity. Viewing it at home, even with the benefit of a large high definition screen and a Blu-ray, only serves as a reminder of its genuine widescreen theatrical splendour.
In fact, ‘splendour’ is a perfectly befitting term to describe Peter Hanley’s long awaited and long anticipated book ‘Behind the scenes of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. It’s all too easy to perhaps take a bias opinion of this book. As a fan of its star, its director and the film as a whole, one’s perspective has to remain objective. A step back is perhaps required before ever thinking of stepping forward. However, when a book of such immense quality arrives, it doesn’t take more than 4 or 5 pages before it becomes all consuming. Its presentation is nothing less than momentous, while its content possesses the rare ability to simply take your breath away.
Objective? Impartial? Hell no, let’s be clear from the outset, this is a book that was born to be loved…
It is practically impossible to initially avoid the wealth of archival pictures that appear in Hanley’s extraordinary book, so don’t even try. As a fan, I thought I had pretty much seen the majority of the movie related images, but each page seemingly revealed something startling and new. Before you know it, you are compelled and the irresistible urge of rapid page turning becomes inevitable. Browsing through it from beginning to end is perhaps the suggested rule of thumb. You owe it to yourself. After all, this book has been a long time coming. Uphold the initial guilt; indeed guzzle upon its visual splendour before savouring it again with more subtle sips. The book’s illustrative plates are quite exquisite and immediately you realise the author’s decision to make this a large format book is perfectly justified. There’s simply no better way of displaying these visual delights. It should also be noted that this book makes additional good use in presenting some incredibly rare photos from both Fistful of Dollars and For a few Dollars more.
After satisfying the reader’s initial gluttonous tendencies, and turning towards Henley’s in-depth analysis and research, it becomes rather obvious where the time has been spent. The sheer magnitude and breadth of content is simply astounding. Every element of the film’s production is examined in fine detail. Henley’s layout is based upon simple chapters dividing key elements of production. Starting with its historical background, the author takes us through the principal and supporting actors, art direction, cinematography, music score, deleted scenes and just about every other aspect of the film’s production. Henley’s interviews provide an incredible wealth of information. Co-stars such as Aldo Sanbrell (who appeared as one of Angel eyes’ gang) and Frank Brana, who was one of the killers from the opening sequence (and also starred in ‘Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a few Dollars More’) are among many who recollect their thoughts and their unique perspective of Leone. The deleted scenes chapter is excellent and explored deeper than ever before in terms of analysis.
The Blondie/prostitute scene is perhaps nothing new to serious admirers of the film; furthermore we have all seen at least one or two images that we might believe to be the only surviving evidence from the lost scene. However, Henley not only provides a vast variation of onset photos, but also tracks down the actress Silvana Bacci who provides some fascinating insights. There are even full page reproductions of her original contracts; such is the extent of the author’s commitment to detail.
Leone’s visual style is also examined thoroughly through art direction (Carlo Simi), and assistant directors Fabrizio Gianni and Giancarlo Santi – all of which again provide an entirely new level of detail.
In addition to the incredible photographs, the book is generously woven with various forms of memorabilia including posters and Lobby cards. But again, it doesn’t stop there, with detail stretching far and beyond the expected norms. Looking at the original Italian fotobusta and the generic artwork that surrounds the central image, Henley manages to link its original source to that of the lithograph title page of the 1866 Book of the War! It’s just one of several extraordinary examples in relation to the depth and detail that has been so lovingly applied to Henley’s pages.
On reflection, I was left with a feeling of minor sadness in that two of the three principal actors are no longer here to appreciate this book and the amazing work which has gone into its production. It is a book that should be truly respected. It’s also a cherished insight. The dedicated chapter on Leone is almost reflective of a privileged browse through a family album. With Leone’s wife and children accompanying him on location or Eastwood drinking wine during an impromptu (Italy v Spain) crew game of football, it’s all just very intimate and very special. Fans of the film, the genre, the actor or director will adore every page of this book.
Now, if someone would only apply the same degree of dedication and analysis to a book on Siegel’s Dirty Harry…