They are beautiful examples of the masterful way that Leone’s stunning imagery and composer Ennio Morricone‘s haunting, powerful scores would meld together so seamlessly, enhancing each other to a rarely seen degree.
First, The Ecstasy of Gold. The three main characters – Clint Eastwood‘s noble gunslinger “Blondie” (The Good), Lee Van Cleef‘s evil “Angel Eyes” The Bad) and Eli Wallach‘s bandit Tuco (The Ugly) – are nearing the end of their hunt for buried gold. It’s hidden in a huge graveyard and the first to get there is Tuco, who frenziedly hunts for the grave he’s been told the loot is buried in, a grave bearing the name “Arch Stanton”.
Blondie then catches up and forces Tuco to dig up the coffin but as he does so, Angel Eyes catches up to them and orders them both to dig – sparking the greatest showdown in movie history, a five-minute, three-way Mexican stand-off.
The scene is a true masterpiece, starting with wide shots of the three men taking up their position then cutting increasingly quickly back and forth between their faces, close-ups of their eyes sizing each other up and then their hands hovering over their guns, again beautifully complemented and enhanced by Morricone’s perfect score.
The combined effect is to really put the viewer in the middle of the gunfight, graphically conveying the intense pressure and stress heaped upon the participants of a gunfight.