The Man With No Name, but with an Iconic Look

Clint Eastwood in ”The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, 1966 | Produzioni Europee Associate, MGM, United Artists

 

The hat, with a high crown and pulled down low, not the usual cowboy hat. The fringed buckskins and leather waistcoats, not anywhere in sight. The poncho, not like anything seen on an American horseman. The neckerchief, no pristine accessory, but gathering dust. The jeans, black, not the essential all-American blue jeans. The duster coat, olive green and long-waisted, rarely featured in westerns by then. The character, “The Good”, but not entirely good, nor entirely bad either, just a different type of scoundrel than the other two. Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) subverted the conservative cowboy type and reinvented him as a righteously ambiguous drifter. He didn’t want to be the hero, he wanted to wrangle the hero, and not just any hero, but the American hero, the western cowboy. And in Sergio Leone’s The Dollar Trilogy, he became the ultimate antihero, with strengths, weaknesses and a lack of virtue, laconic, cool, coming from nowhere, going nowhere, without a past, without a future. Clint was in his mid-thirties when he had his breakthrough in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), taking the roles with Leone because no one in Hollywood would hire him, except in a television western series (how resembling is this to Rick Dalton’s story in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood?). That was very anti-establishment, too. So was the rough devil-may-care look of his Man With No Name.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the last film in the trilogy, after A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (1965), had a huge success worldwide, was both acclaimed and disdained by critics, some of which finally started to take Sergio Leone seriously. As his long-time collaborator, Ennio Morricone, says in the book Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, Leone had the irony, lucidity and “a gun-slinger spirit emblazoned with rock ‘n’ roll arrogance” that enabled him to reinvent the western genre at a time when the American western was in decline, reimagining it as a mythical universe. It was not the story of pioneers, nor was it the story of law and order, of the bad or of the good sheriff, the two categories into which the classic western falls into, according to Howard Hawks, as Susan Liandrat-Guigues reports in her BFI monograph of Red River. Leone changed both the look and the style of the traditional western, the American genre, going for instinct over prudence and cynically transforming western clichés into operatic compositions, with everything starker, more brutal, more dramatic, more flamboyant, rewriting “the western genre by linking it both to the American model and to the Italian commedia dell’arte, deviating from either as little as possible so that they remain recognizable and also look fresh and innovative.”
 

Clint Eastwood and his olive duster in ”The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, 1966
Produzioni Europee Associate, MGM, United Artists

 

I recently rewatched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly after I had read Ennio Morricone’s book. What stood out for me was indeed the look, the sound, the overall style of the film. From the way Morricone’s music evokes “that common yet differentiated identity shared by the three characters” – the same melody played by different solo instruments is associated with each one of them: a flute for “the good” (Blondie), a voice for “the ugly” (Tuco) and the ocarina for “the bad” (Angel Eyes) – to the highly stylized costumes, Leone showed that cinema is as much image as it is sound. This film is image and sound, image and sound, long shots and close-ups and music, words come last. An exercise in style.

Carlo Simi was the costume designer, but Clint’s look is not attributed to anyone in particular. Eastwood reported that he had bought his costume from a Santa Monica wardrobe store, borrowed the leather gun belt, pistol and suede boots from Rawhide, the tv series he played in the 1960s, before starring in A Fistful of Dollars. Yet Sergio Leone had told Christopher Frayling that the transformation of Rowdy Yates (Eastwood’s character in Rawhide) into The Man With No Name had been mostly his idea. Wherever the truth may lie, Clint Eastwood’s character’s sense of visual style placed him in the collective memory in a way not many film costumes do and has stood the test of time to this very day. It was more about intuitive expression of character and the way it triggered a seismic shift in the public’s consciousness, capturing the zeitgeist of the time and of the spaghetti western.

Because it was about more than clothes, it was this blend of attitude and personality and laid-back approach to both character and costumes from the part of Clint himself that made The Man With No Name iconic, and Clint Eastwood himself summed it up well in his interview with Christopher Frayling published in the book “Clint Eastwood”, from 1992, and republished in the book “Clint Eastwood Interviews”, in 2013: “It was mostly the people who were in the clothes. Gian Maria Volonté had a good face, and all those Spanish, gypsy faces – that was just general…everything kind of tied together and made an interesting-looking film. You ask most people what the films were about and they can’t tell you. But they tell you “the look” [he mimes throwing the poncho over his shoulder] and the “da-da-da-da-dum’ [he hums the opening bars of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme], and the cigar and the gun and those little flash images that hit you.”

Eastwood further explained his contribution to the role in an interview with David Thomson appeared in Film Comment in 1984: “The character was written quite a bit different, I made it much more economical. Much less expository. He explained himself a lot in the screenplay. My theory to Sergio was, “I don’t think you have to explain everything. Let the audience imagine with us. […] I’d sort of coerce him into going for it on that level, like a B picture. But he did go for it. He wasn’t really coerced, he liked the style. I think the producers of the film were a bit shocked. They didn’t know what was going on. They said, “Jeez, this guy doesn’t do anything, doesn’t say anything, just stands there with the cigar.”

Indeed, The Man With No Name isn’t a man of many words, nor does he do much, nor does he let you in whether he is remorseless or vengeful. With his cigar permanently dangling from his mouth, his squinted gaze, his languid walk, his poncho wrapped around his shoulders, he is so ambiguous and far off a typical western character that sears into your mind and just keeps you guessing. The only sure thing about him is his gun shot. Devil-may-care about everything else. In the true spirit of Sergio Leone’s westerns.

 

Clint Eastwood in ”The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, 1966 | Produzioni Europee Associate, MGM, United Artists

 

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