Talking Blues: The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a 1966 Western film.

Starring in this classic are Clint Eastwood as “the Good”, Lee Van Cleef as “the Bad”, and Eli Wallach as “the Ugly”. For movie junkies, these names must sound familiar.

Clint Eastwood needs no introduction. Lee Van Cleef, also a veteran, co-stars with the legendary Chuck Norris in the martial arts movie The Octagon. Ninja stuff, action from start to finish.

Eli Wallach, among others, played as Mafioso Don Altobello, the primary antagonist in the 1990 film The Godfather Part III.

While these are great movies, they’re not the focus of our discourse today.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, widely considered the “Gold Standard” for “western” films, is our focus.

It is a story of three men caught up in a perilous and treacherous quest to find a fortune in a desert.

Amidst the American Civil War, two drifters, Blondie (The Good, played by Clint Eastwood), an opportunistic gunslinger and Tuco (the Ugly, played by Eli Wallach), a Mexican bandit, have a fool-proof money-making scheme.

Tuco happens to be a wanted outlaw with a bounty on his head.

Blondie ‘betrays’ Tuco to authorities, gets the reward money, then saves Tuco from the death sentence – at the very last moment – by shooting the hangman’s noose. Then Tuco “escapes”; they regroup, share the spoils and move on to repeat the scam elsewhere.

Ceteris paribus, a very lucrative scheme. Success guaranteed by the fact that Blondie is a marksman.

Fool-proof? Maybe.

For a while, this partnership thrives. However, since good things often come to an end, the partnership falls apart. Issues of trust or lack thereof.

What if Blondie claims the reward one day and disappears?

Just before they go their separate ways, they chance upon a runaway convoy full of dead and dying Confederate soldiers.

In this convoy is one Bill Carson, who was tasked with hiding a cache of gold. Dying from thirst, he persuades Tuco to give him water in return for the name of the graveyard where he buried the loot.

As Tuco goes to fetch water, Carson dies, but after revealing the name inscribed on the tombstone to Blondie.

As a result, Tuco knows the cemetery, but not the actual grave, while Blondie knows the name on the tombstone but not which cemetery.

Hence, despite their rivalry, trust issues and all, they must collaborate once more and keep each other alive.

Since there is a war afoot, they dress up in the uniforms of the dead Confederate soldiers and embark on their journey to find the gold.

Thus clad, they are captured by the enemy and held in a Union prison.

Unknown to them, a third man, an assassin called Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef playing the Bad), hears of the gold stash from someone he’s been hired to kill. His sole clue: find someone named Bill Carson. And off he goes, in search of Carson and through Carson, the bounty.

Angel Eyes follows what he thinks is the trail of Bill Carson. It leads him to the prison camp. He assesses the situation and impersonates a Union Sergeant. Thus disguised, he beats and tortures Tuco until Tuco reveals the cemetery. Only to find out that it is Blondie who has the name on the tombstone!

He changes tactics and proposes a tripartite partnership, and together, they set out to find the gold. Angel Eyes has the advantage anyway because he has a squad of gunslingers. Hence, technically, Tuco and Blondie are hostages. Not partners by any stretch of imagination.

Anyway, in this imperfect, unholy and imbalanced ‘partnership’, they set out to find the grand prize with questions galore in all the partners’ minds:

  1. a) Who will get the bounty?
  2. b) Once they do, will they walk away in one piece?
  3. c) What is going on in the other ‘partners’ minds?
  4. d) What about Angel Eyes’ gunslingers?

Perhaps due to these disturbing questions, Tuco runs away.

As fate would have it, in the next town, he encounters an old enemy, a bounty hunter he had hurt and now wants revenge.

Tuco shoots the bounty hunter. Blondie, who is in the same town with Angel Eyes, recognizes the sound of Tuco’s gun, seeks him out; they both shirk Angel Eyes and resume their old partnership.

In fact, they kill Angel Eyes’ gunmen but miss Angel Eyes, who escapes.

As they proceed, they stumble on a battle between the Union and the Confederates fighting for control of a bridge of some strategic value.

Since the cemetery is on the other side of the bridge, they decide to destroy the bridge to force the soldiers to fight elsewhere.

While they are setting up the dynamite, Tuco reveals that the cemetery is called Sad Hill and Blondie confesses that the gold is buried in a grave marked Arch Stanton.

Once on the other side of the river, Tuco grabs a horse and deserts Blondie. He reaches the graveyard, frantically searches for the grave of Arch Stanton, eventually finds it, but before he can begin digging, he’s held at gunpoint by Blondie, who in turn is held at gunpoint by Angel Eyes, who has finally caught up with them!

Since sharing was not among their virtues, how do you think this ended?

Allow me to digress.

You want to know what crossed my mind when I was, for the umpteenth time, watching this classic?

First, it was developments to do with the controversial 2021/22 Fuel Tender where on the one hand, you have those favouring supplier A and B; and on the other, those advocating for the inclusion of X and Y. To this controversy, add the Ex-tank versus DDU imbroglio.

Reminiscent of the proverbial Paguza ndi Saguza, isn’t it?

Second and more critical is the Tonse Alliance’s secret pact vis-à-vis election 2025. Like Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes, key alliance partners are asking themselves:

  1. a) Who will lead Tonse Alliance in 2025?
  2. b) Should Tonse win, will the leader respect the covenant?
  3. c) What is going on in the other camp?

Complicated, isn’t it?

Indeed, especially when one considers that:

  • there is no honour amongst thieves, and that
  • secret pacts made with greedy people are as risky as domesticating rabid hyenas when there are children in the house.

Back to the film, you want to know how it ended? Look for it.

Suffice to say, in a stalemate, there is no winner. As the legendary Lucius Banda cautioned, it is strangers who win and at any rate, what goes up always comes down, with a thud too.

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