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The good, the bad and the 'what if?'

June 19, 2003|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is the kind of film that for most people exists somewhere in the half-light of cultural memory.

You know it, sort of, but the details are rather foggy. After decades of routine showings on TV, it can be difficult to get back to the film as a glorious, unified whole.

Bottled up on the small screen, the film seems simply great, but unfurled in its full-size theatrical splendor is where it truly blossoms into something transcendent.

Starting a one-week run at the Nuart on Friday is, in the words of MGM studio archivist John Kirk, the "what-if" version.

About 14 minutes that were cut from the film before its initial U.S. release (but that have always been in the version shown in Italy) have been reinserted.

As those scenes had never been dubbed into English, Kirk enlisted stars Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach to record new voice-overs, with another actor filling in for the late Lee Van Cleef.

Also added was a four-minute scene that had been cut even from Italian versions of the film following its Italian premiere.

A project some five years in the making, the movie is now just about as close as possible to the one screened for the first time in Rome late in 1966.

For most any other director, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" would have been a career-defining achievement, but Sergio Leone was just warming up, as he had the much-discussed "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America" still ahead of him. Leone's uncanny ability to shift between scales, from the intimate and personal to the sweepingly epic, as well as from extreme close-ups to wide-open vistas, makes "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" still seem surprisingly spry and agile, held together by an undercurrent of absurdist humor and the spaced-out feeling of too much time in the sun.

The reinserted and re-dubbed footage, if not revelatory, does makes the film just "new" enough that even longtime aficionados will want to revisit it.

Kirk, who has also spearheaded restoration work on such films as "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Mississippi Mermaid," will be present for the Friday showing.


`The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'

Where: Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.

When: One-week run begins at 8:30 p.m. Friday.


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