The Unintended Problem with Ghostbusters 3

There’s something to say about the commercialism of the 1980s, and that something is that Hollywood loves to cash in on it.

Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with liking stuff from the 80s, but there is a lot to say as to why people were able to like so much from that decade. For example, it was a golden age of animated television, but only because of the Reagan administration’s deregulation of advertising in programming designed for children, leading to “program-length commercials” causing an increase in toy-related franchises. (Singer, D. G. & Singer, J. L., 2012) The fruits of that capitalistic labor were not wasted, as many of those properties are still getting milked for all they’re worth today, and those that aren’t are because of something causing it to fail.

And speaking of failing, let’s talk about Ghostbusters.

What a crossover! Makes me wanna do coke and vote for Ronald Reagan!

Before anyone starts yelling at me, I don’t mean any one thing in the Ghostbusters franchise failing, because honestly, I don’t think anything outright failed. From many of the things I’ve heard and read, a lot of why the Ghostbusters isn’t as big as it could be has to do with a lot of external factors. The original films, while popular, couldn’t make any grounds in a third installment for decades, and when a complete reboot of the concept occurred in 2016, there was a lot of controversy before and after the film’s release that contributed to its reputation. Now we are finally getting Ghostbusters 3, over 30 years since the last and probably only because of the perceived failings of the 2016 reboot. In this essay, I’ll be looking at the circumstances surrounding these films, what about Ghostbusters (2016) made it a ‘failure,’ and what this new film coming out means.

Background

Ghostbusters from 1984, directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is one of the most recognizable films of all time. Think of that distinctive poster or the phrase “Who you gonna call?” followed by a blast of synthesizers and “Ghostbusters!” It took the world by storm and the world was glad for it. It was backed by a very lucrative advertisement campaign, and it inspired a very popular animated show that ran for seven seasons between 1986 to 1991.

Hmmm, it feels like something is missing here.

And it was pretty much downhill from there, because in 1989 Ghostbusters II came out. It was fairly successful financially and had a mixed critical reception, but Columbia Pictures practically forced the original director and writers to make it due to how popular the property had become. Ironically, it became the first nail in the franchise’s coffin as the thing most people remember about it today is that it was a mediocre sequel to a good movie. Or rather, its remembered today for being remembered as a mediocre sequel to a good movie. Confusing, yes, but it has gotten some defenders the past few years, possibly out of spite towards the 2016 reboot.

Ghostbusters II didn’t help the franchise as much as the studio hoped, and while Dan Aykroyd had better hopes for Ghostbusters 3, that movie would not be made because of the studio’s reluctance to make it and because Bill Murray, the highest-billed star, would not commit to participating in the project. The plot, which involved the original Ghostbusters training a new generation and passing the mantle, has been used in other mediums such as a second animated series, Extreme Ghostbusters from 1997, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game from 2009. Extreme Ghostbusters only lasted one season, purportedly due to bad airing schedules, but Ghostbusters: The Video Game was very well-received, in part due to having most of the original cast involved with the voice work and Aykroyd and Ramis as writers.

Still, Sony Pictures, who had acquired Columbia Pictures, wanted to create a viable film franchise for easy and consistent cash flow, and Ivan Reitman wanted to return to the well that was one of his most successful films. However, there were some problems including Bill Murray still not committing, Harold Ramis’ death in 2014 and the involvement of Amy Pascal, then co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Pascal wasn’t a fan of the direction Reitman was taking the film, thinking it relied too much on nostalgia for the original films. She eventually ousted Reitman from the project in what some people called “a hostile takeover” and replaced him with comedy director and writer Paul Feig. Personally, I don’t think Reitman’s vision was any more promising than Feig’s idea of a complete reboot, because its premise had been done before and its only purpose would be as fanservice, which wouldn’t guarantee wide appeal. Without knowing any personal details about Reitman’s removal from the project, I can’t say how bad a decision this was, but more on that later.

With Feig creating a complete reboot, where an all-female team gets to design their own equipment without taking the idea from men, it was already setting to be controversial. Fans didn’t want a reboot, they wanted a continuation of the films, and misogynists were already interjecting bad faith arguments into that desire because they didn’t want an all-female team in a franchise that had previously been saturated with men. There was also the troubling business of Amy Pascal being removed from her position of co-chairperson following the Sony Hack in November of 2014, though she kept her position as producer of Ghostbusters (2016). This led to the film’s budget being reduced, and there were a lot of other financial problems going on with the film such as Feig having to reshoot scenes later on.

Remember the Sony Hack? And that it was started over this thing getting released?

Possibly the worst thing to happen to the film was its release year being 2016, the year of the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With its female-centric story and its already adamantly sexist detractors, the last thing Ghostbusters (2016) needed was to get involved in politics. But it did, both directly with a tweet referencing #Imwithher and indirectly by the sheer gall of being an action comedy starring women.

Political or not, can we all agree this is just a weird Tweet?

This turned the film itself into a hot political topic, as its success or failure would be seen as one for women everywhere.

The movie did okay, with a mostly positive but lukewarm reception and a modest box office, but the film had trouble in international markets due to its stars being women and the big issue of being banned from a China release, the biggest market outside of America. The views of the Ghostbusters fanbase were decidedly mixed, with some believing it was too different from the original while others believed it was a good movie by itself. The real problem was the battle of the sexes overriding the fanbase’s comments, as liking it meant you only cared about replacing men with women and disliking it meant you were sexist and racist. This especially became a problem after Leslie Jones, one of the new Ghostbusters, was harassed off Twitter by trolls and especially former Brietbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, which only enflamed the issue. What happened basically amounted to Jones being harassed with racist and sexist comments and Yiannopoulos doubling down on it, leading Jones to request he be suspended. He is still banned from Twitter, and also millions in debt, so this story doesn’t have a completely sad ending at least.

Yikes. And is he ignoring Ernie Hudson?
Because a gay pederasty-advocate is so interested in female eye-candy.
Isn’t it ironic? At least he’s not massively in debt or anything like that…

Over the next few years, plans for a sequel came and went, with no official movement towards making the film. But then Jason Reitman, son of the original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, announced on January 15, 2019, that he was directing and co-writing a new Ghostbusters film set in the old continuity, thus finally making Ghostbusters 3. Fan reception to this announcement was mixed, as some fans were excited to be going back to the original characters while others would have preferred to see a continuation of the 2016 film’s characters. However, that conversation was again overwhelmed by the sexist vs feminist discourse, with some seeing the apparent rejection of continuing the 2016 film’s story as “a win for the misogynists.” Even Leslie Jones, who had returned to Twitter long before, stated that doing this was “Something Trump would do.”

Considering all the crap she got over being a Ghosbuster, wouldn’t you be upset too?

While I agree that it is something Donald Trump would do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that his intent to do so is the same as Jason Reitman’s intent for this upcoming film. According to People.com, Jason Reitman is a fan of the 2016 film, but if his previous statement about “returning the franchise to the fans” is any indication, that does imply he has preconceptions that the 2016 movie failed because it did not meet expectations, which can be seen as delegitimizing it.

Ghostbusters (2016): The film vs the audience

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain my opinion about Ghostbusters (2016). I think that it is an absolute and complete piece of… okay cinema.

It’s fine.

But as for my opinion on the original Ghostbusters (1984), I think that is a wonderful masterpiece… of okay cinema.

It’s fine.

Both had moments where I laughed. Both had moments where I didn’t. I thought both had okay action, good characters and great effects. To be fair, I did not grow up with Ghostbusters (1984), but I did see it before the announcement of Ghostbusters (2016).  I have no nostalgic connection to either film or the franchise in general.

(Fun story though, the first time I watched the original, it was during an overnight flight. I overheard the woman behind me talking to a friend about how she was concerned that I was “watching something with an awful lot of sex.” Take that as you will.)

Ignoring the whole Keymaster/Gatekeeper thing, WTH was with this scene?

In my thinking, there are two inherent qualities that made Ghostbusters (2016) ‘worse’ than the original. One, it was a complete reboot, which was going to alienate part of the audience regardless of anything else, and two, the original came out at the best possible time while the 2016 film came out at the worst, given the interaction between the political climate at the time and gendered rhetoric surrounding the film. The original, as previously implied in the intro, came out at the height of commercialization and the conservative politics in the film were not controversial in the Reagan era.

If there is anything to be said about the fact that the reboot starred only female Ghostbusters, I refer you to this clip:https://youtu.be/gR5lBE5Sq3I

The perceived need to justify a single gender team but only when they’re all female isn’t something new. It’s usually meant to indicate that it is supposed to appeal only to women like original series My Little Pony, or only to men on some fetishizing level à la Charlie’s Angels and its famous “jiggle TV”. Or, as displayed in a 1970 issue of the Avengers comic book, something to be mocked as women are easily duped under the banner of ‘feminism.’

Y’know, we’ve had all of these women in the MCU. Is it weird I’m disappointed we’ll never see this scene played out in that universe?

One can make arguments all day about how an all-female team is just as bad as an all-male one, but at the end it should not matter. Gender or race disparity shouldn’t outright mean the solution is “just use one of each,” because that’s how you result in tokenism. It’s okay for a team to be represented by a single demographic, if it makes sense.

As token-istic as this example was sometimes, it at least made sense. And at least it was trying, which is more than you can say for other franchises.

Using the original Ghostbusters as an example, it does make a kind of sense in the narrative why the team is made up of all men. I can criticize that decision on a modern level, due to how it created a sexist standard for future installments, but there wasn’t anything wrong with the all-male team by itself, just as there isn’t a problem with it being all-female in the 2016 film.

As to if Ghostbusters (2016) is sexist towards men due to its portrayal of them, that is a bit trickier. After all, the original’s treatment of women wasn’t good either, but it probably wasn’t intentionally harmful. Sigourney Weaver, who is famous for playing more badass female characters, is only a MacGuffin, or interchangeable plot catalyst, in both the original films. She also has to be the love interest of Bill Murray’s character and only seems romantically interested in him because that’s what damsels in distress are supposed to feel towards their saviors. They have great comedic chemistry, but absolutely no romantic chemistry. The love interest status of women isn’t even isolated to her, as Annie Potts’ Janine Melnitz only has two jokes in the original; she’s an obnoxious secretary stereotype and is in love with a man who doesn’t reciprocate. Janine is the undesirable beta-female that became popular around the same time.

However, it is clear that the movies aren’t trying to actively disparage women, and the fact that Janine became a popular character in the animated series and the extended franchise indicates that the character had appeal.

The 2016 film was critical and satirical towards types of men, and even reinforced some old female stereotypes onto certain men, but that doesn’t mean it meant harm either. In both Ghostbusters, the opposing genders are basically narrative props. At least the men from the 2016 version had some more variety, albeit with some more negative framing.

Chris Hemsworth’s character, Kevin, is the most obvious example, being an eccentrically stupid but attractive failed actor/incompetent secretary. While he can be seen as a parody of male entitlement and sex discrimination, he can also be seen as a one-note joke of a character that makes fun of athletic and attractive men. What makes this worse is that the movie never frames his character consistently, as the movie wants you both to laugh at and feel sorry for how stupid his character is, and he’s never developed enough for it to really work. But if that is the case, it’s hard to say if it’s sexist or just lazy writing.

Am I supposed to laugh, be sad, be turned on? I’m not sure the movie knows either.

I’d bring up the antagonist Rowan being sexist towards men too, if he wasn’t so clearly a parody of the film’s worse detractors. Personally, I’m more offended that he was turned into such a caricature that it ruined the character from being funny. Further, in my opinion, the actor was unable to pull off being a threatening villain too, leading to him to just be irritating.

The last point I would like to bring up is whether or not the 2016 movie fits into the Ghostbusters franchise. The answer is both yes and no. It does fit in because it’s about educated entrepreneurs providing busting ghosts as a service, and does so in a way that is equally comedy and sci-fi. The franchise is diverse but based on that one central idea, so it’d be hard for it not to fit. How it doesn’t fit, and is where the non-sexist detractors come from, is how its different from the original film. And while its okay to simply not like a film for being different, the expectation that it would be at all similar is kind of silly. I don’t mean to say that there should be no expectations of similarity, but several intelligent entrepreneurs banning together to fight ghosts is already a similar premise, and the characters roles are almost copying the original characters’, even if their personalities are completely different. Of course the comedy is different – it was made over thirty years after the original and written under different writers for different comedic actors. Of course the sci-fi and fantasy elements are different – it was trying to establish new rules to the universe and set up a multi-film story arc. And lastly, of course it takes place in a separate universe from the original.

While it is a tough pill to swallow seeing the original characters ignored, there is an important aspect that people ignore when it comes to the Ghostbusters (2016), and that is if it did take place in the same universe, and the new female Ghostbusters were using already created technology, they would be accused of riding on the coattails of men. That completely goes against the purpose of the narrative in that these women are supposed to be scientists at the top of their fields and deserve to be recognized as such. The idea that a woman can only succeed where a man already has is the very reason the new continuity was so necessary for the narrative. One can argue that making it related to Ghostbusters at all would imply these women are riding on men’s coattails, but that’s a stupid argument. If it wasn’t officially Ghostbusters-related, it would be called a pointless parody at best and a rip-off at worst, so there is absolutely no winning in that scenario.

Criticism about how Ghostbusters (2016) relates to the rest of the franchise also ignores the whole production process behind the film.  Regardless of how the outcome and rhetoric surrounding the film ultimately evolved, this movie was produced because the studio saw it as a way to make easy money through a proven formula. The current media landscape is saturated with reboots and sequels because executives assume that such films will make money no matter what by inheriting fans of the originals.  Ghostbusters (2016) is no exception and should not be treated or evaluated any differently from other reboots and sequels in this regard.  A third Ghostbusters movie of some sort has been “in development” for decades because the studio believed in the franchise’s ability to make money, which is ironic considering that it not being seen as profitable was why it wasn’t made anytime soon after Ghostbusters II.  The reboot was not created by a group of women intending to overthrow the existing franchise and the patriarchy along with it; instead, studio executives, both men and women, developed this film as a way to make money by both taking advantage of a pre-existing fanbase as well as modernizing the franchise to attract new audiences.  Studios do not want to produce polarizing movies that alienate large potential audience segments, but once conversations around the film became ideological and toxic, studio executives may have decided to embrace the conflict and pivot to using feminism as a marketing ploy.

My point here is that, at the end of the day, Ghostbusters (2016) is fine. It’s okay to like or dislike it, because it is an objectively flawed but reasonably entertaining movie, so subjectivity and personal taste is going to be the main “make it or break it” factor for audience members. Although the controversy surrounding the reboot is heavily discussed in some corners of the internet, most of the public is largely unaware of all of the problems behind the making of the film, and it may never occur to many casual moviegoers that the movie coud be “sexist towards men” or “disrespectful to the original.” At the end of the day, those mindsets are only from “fans” playing gatekeeper to the franchise by making it about winning points rather than caring whether a film does its job or not.

And this behavior has only worsened with the upcoming Ghostbusters 3.

The Implications of this new film

On January 16, 2019, a teaser for Ghostbusters 3 was released. While extremely short and having no indication of the film’s plot, it did have several elements that relied on nostalgia for the original film. The theremin music, the proton pack ignition and the reveal of the car all rely on recognition of the franchise.

What can be said is the reception of this movie’s announcement has been mixed because of its very nature. As it seems, Sony still wants its bankable franchise but doesn’t want to run the risk of continuing the 2016 film’s story, so it is taking the route it originally denied and is ‘un-rebooting’ the franchise back to the original continuity. Sony seems to have learned from the reception of Ghostbusters (2016) that in order to successfully continue the franchise they should give fans what they’ve been asking for years by cashing in on the fan’s nostalgia of seeing their old favorite characters before asking fans to accept a story focused on a new group of characters.

Still, just because one portion of the fandom seemed satisfied with it doesn’t mean the other was. Remember, Leslie Jones was very vocal about how she saw it as a blatant disregard of her and the other women’s time as Ghostbusters, and others agreed. There are people who did want to see the continuation of their story rather than go back to the original cast of characters

As stated before, Jason Reitman has stated he liked the 2016 film, and according to a tweet correcting his “back to the fans” statement, he clarified what he meant.

Even more interestingly, according to one news article, Ghostbusters 3 will be about a single mother played by Carrie Coon, and considering Jason Reitman’s previous success with Juno, that is a good sign. (Lussier, 2019) Granted, Ghostbusters II was also technically about a single mother, so while it might help make Ghostbusters 3 more diverse, it could be criticized for following the earlier films too closely. That is assuming a lot about the role the single mother will play in the narrative, however, so at this point there isn’t much else to say about it.

At this point though, it all feels hollow. All of the previously attempts to tell the story of the Ghosbusters passing the torch, in almost all other mediums (comic books, video games, animation, etc.) had already been done before. It feels doubly hollow after Harold Ramis’ death, whose character was the one who created the first new generation of Ghosbusters in Extreme Ghostbusters. The idea of the Ghostbusters having to pass the torch just feels like a tired premise, and with any luck that will only be an extremely minor focus on the old vs new generation.

Now, I want to make it clear that a several-decade-after the fact sequel is not inherently bad. A recent sequel that managed to be a successful follow-up several decades after the original is Mary Poppins Returns, which was released just last year (2018). This movie was made over 50 years after Mary Poppins, but still felt like a film in the same vein as the original. However, the filmmakers were very conscious about making it its own film as well, and even Julie Andrews believed that if she was in it, even as a brief cameo, that would detract from Emily Blunt’s take on the character.

To me, that is the most important takeaway about how sequels and reboots should be made; at some point it becomes necessary to replace characters and actors for the sake of the new film. Ghostbusters (2016) fell victim to this by wanting to have its cake and eat it too, by including all of the original actor cameos, which were not only pointless but didn’t really add anything. Now we’re getting the same thing from Ghostbusters 3 except it isn’t a cameo, it’s the entire film. The whole reason the reboot was even considered in the first place was because of uncertainty to how much anyone, minus die-hard fans, wanted to see these older actors return to a franchise that hadn’t had a film in so long. Heck, one could say the same thing about the modern sequels to Star Wars, but that is honestly a way bigger can of worms I don’t want to get into.

Ignoring the problem with using older characters and actors,there is the idea that the only reason Ghostbusters 3 is possible is due to the ‘failure’ of the 2016 film. The 2016 film didn’t meet enough financial expectations to warrant a sequel, but the franchise itself could still have potential. For Sony executives, Ghostbusters 3 makes financial sense because the son of the original film’s director expresses interest in making a movie, set in the original continuity, and checking all of the boxes that the 2016 version didn’t, including bringing the original all male Ghostbusters back. Moving forward, several aspects of Ghostbusters 3 will probably be controversial, especially who will make up the new Ghostbusters team, because some people will complain no matter how the characters’ genders are distributed. If the new team is mostly male, it will look as if the filmmakers are actively trying to disparage the 2016 version. If the new team is mostly female, the sexist detractors of the 2016 film will come back with a vengeance and the fans of the 2016 version won’t understand why Ghostbusters 3 isn’t a sequel to the reboot instead of one to the original franchise. If the new team is evenly male and female, critics on all sides will find something to complain about.

Despite all of the new hopes of the filmmakers and Sony executives, Ghostbusters 3 is not guaranteed success based on nostalgia. Nor would it be based on how it genders its characters. Right or wrong, people will complain about those aspects regardless of what decisions are actually made. The only true way to judge if Ghostbusters 3 is a success… actually watch the film. I know that sounds anti-climactic, but we cannot know a movie’s quality or potential for success based on heated internet debates about its superficial characteristics. Instead, we must judge this and other films by their own merits as unique stories, not on how they may or may not fit into existing canon or on whether a film’s cast is “progressive enough” (or “too progressive”) for the time period in which it’s made. Maybe Ghostbusters 3 will also have a troubled production like Ghostbusters (2016). Maybe it will be terrible and the franchise will finally be put to rest, or at least shelved for a few more years. Maybe it will be amazing and better than all the films combined. Or maybe it will be a movie that is neither bad nor good, which might make the controversy its received all the more silly in hindsight.

My point is, we can’t judge the yet-unfinished Ghostbusters 3 for being disrespectful to the 2016 film, or the originals for that matter, without actually watching it and seeing how they address the original films and the reboot. I can complain about how much the premise feels tired to me, or how it is valid for the 2016 actresses to feel like they’re being snubbed, but that has no bearing on the merits of the film itself. Besides, Ghostbusters 3’s very existence doesn’t immediately erase the 2016 version, just as the 2016 version didn’t erase the 1984 version, and so claims that the new film is inherently sexist and anti-equality because it discounts the reboot are based on conjecture and ideology, while in reality Ghostbusters 3 probably won’t make feminism and equality go backwards.

Conclusion

The topic of the Ghostbusters franchise is a difficult one, no matter what film you’re talking about. The Ghostbusters fanbase has, unfortunately, become one of the many toxic communities ruined by internal discord, gatekeeping and the intolerance of small but vocal factions on all sides of the issue surrounding this franchise. Ghostbusters 3 will not solve that. What will solve it is having thoughtful and respectful discussion about what makes a person a fan of Ghostbusters. It isn’t liking one film more than the other, it is just liking one film, or comic, or animated series, or all of them. The announcement of Ghostbusters 3 has worsened the discourse, but it doesn’t have to. Instead of devolving into fandom tribalism, everyone can instead strive for a franchise that has a place for everything in it and for everyone who is a fan, and recognize that the sexists are the only real enemy here, because they are the ones who, by definition, don’t want everyone to be a part of the fandom.

Sources

Singer, D. G., & Singer, J. L. (2012). Handbook of children and the media. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=moifZwJHunsC&oi=fnd&pg=PA375&dq=Reagan deregulation of advertising towards children&ots=wjf_dtpkhM&sig=rajgBKdIxO1Ll3wPEAKUKJGgL7U#v=onepage&q&f=false.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Dir. Sergio Leone

Doowadoowawoo… Wah Wah Wah…

Intro

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the movie that is credited as one of the game-changers for the Western genre. And it shouldn’t have been made.

At least, according to some of director Sergio Leone’s contemporaries, including Orson Welles. Orson “show me how you can say ‘in July’” Welles himself tried to talk Leone out of filming due to the film taking place during the Civil War, a box office poison. (Susman, 2017) Other than that, the film had other problems such as Clint Eastwood demanding several benefits, including a new Ferrari, as well as having the general stigma of being a Western made first in Italian by an Italian filmmaker.

Still, the movie has become one of the most iconic films of the genre, thanks to its themes, characters and the score of Ennio Morricone.

Synopsis

Bounty hunter Blondie, played by Clint Eastwood, and his criminal partner Tuco, played by Eli Wallach, scam various towns for the latter’s large bounty, but each other’s greed and distrust cause a series of attempted murders that lead them to a dying Confederate soldier. The soldier, with his last breath, is able to tell the location of $200,000 worth of gold buried in an army cemetery. As it happens, only Tuco hears the name of the cemetery while Blondie hears the name on the grave, forcing the two to work together one last time. Their obstacles include Angel Eyes, an amoral mercenary also after the gold, both sides of an increasingly bloody Civil War and each other’s sense of survival. At the climax, the three men duel in a Mexican standoff, one of the film’s most iconic scenes, where only one man will be able to find the treasure.

Analysis

As previously stated, this film is an iconic example of the Western genre. You are probably already imagining the film’s main theme song in your head right now. Nowadays, it is most likely that your first experience with this theme was in something parodying not just The Good, the Bad and the Ugly but Western films in general, and it is really strange how pop-cultural evolution has made that the go-to soundtrack for a stereotypical gun duel because that isn’t even the song played in the film’s famous climax.

Still, as recognizable as many aspects of this film are, there seems to be just as many that aren’t. For example, did you know this was the third installment of a trilogy? And not only that, but it can be interpreted as the prequel of the first two films, as all three starred Clint Eastwood as “the Man with No Name” and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ends with him wearing a poncho similar to the one he wore in the two previous films. Thankfully for me, that means I’m not necessarily watching these movies out of order should I watch A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More at some point in the future.

It is possible that the rest of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy isn’t as remembered as the final installment due to the initial disapproval of the Spaghetti Western, films based in the American West but made by Italian filmmakers, filmed in Italian and shot in Europe. Leone represented the Western genre becoming not only more international, but less romantic and more grittily realistic, which didn’t sit well with jingoistic Hollywood elites who preferred the traditional, idealistic approach. As William McClain wrote in an article for the Journal of Film and Video, “They were bitterly resistant to what they saw as an existential threat to the Western genre and to some extent their understanding of the American cinema as a whole,” which resulted in similar trends creating what was called “New Hollywood.”  (McClain, 2010)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in particular, but also the other films in the Dollars Trilogy and other work’s by Leone and his Italian contemporaries, moved away from the West’s rigidly moral protagonists. Ever since the beginning of film and ending around the 1930’s, the Western genre had a very clear view of black and white morality. One side was good, the other side was bad, and that was about it.

If you’ve seen Hail Casesar!, think of this guy. If you haven’t, you’re getting two recommendations.

After the 1930’s, it got a little more complex. Black and white morality was still in place, but unlike some of the more purely good heroes of before, now heroes struggled with their goodness. The Old West was a corrupting force because of how difficult it was to live there, and avoiding that corruption entirely could have been a death sentence. The heroes may be good, but they are not innocent.

“The Man with No Name” aka “Joe” aka “Manco” aka “Blondie.”

That leads us back to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, because right in the very title it challenges people’s preconceptions of morality in the Old West. The “Good,” Blondie (no, seriously) is only seen as a good person in comparison to the “Bad” and the “Ugly.” He regularly scams towns out of thousands of dollars in reward money for hunting criminals before saving them to repeat the process, and is very cold and emotionless. Even though does exhibit mercy and compassion, and he’s the only member of the trio to never intend harm against innocent people, his motivation still boils down to one thing; money. He is not a hero. He is not even a very good person. But he does represent the trend Westerns will like to follow from now on, where morality isn’t a battle between black and white but between gray and gray.

But AWWWW, look, he has a kitty!

His contrast with the “Bad” and the “Ugly” further illustrates this. Angel Eyes (again, dead serious), the “Bad,” is also motivated by greed, but is far more amoral. He is a bounty hunter, and is one with a very strict honor code, as he’ll always finish a job once he’s paid. Even if that means he’ll end up killing his employers. He’s more than willing to beat and torture anyone he sees as an obstacle in his quest for money. The one time he doesn’t it’s made clear that it is only because he knows it wouldn’t work and doesn’t want to waste his time.

Don’t look too deep into those Angel Eyes.

Tuco, the “Ugly” played by Eli Wallach, is different. He doesn’t particularly relish killing others (excepting his ex-partner Blondie), but his hedonism and self-preservation means that he inevitably will. It is unclear how many of the crimes leveled against him, such as murder, theft and rape, he actually committed, and that ambiguity can either make him better or worse than the “Bad.” He’s worse than the “Good,” but unlike Blondie, Tuco at least expresses emotion and is given a reason as to why he’s become a greedy criminal. It’s revealed in the movie that his brother left Tuco in charge of the family so he could take a life of religion. While Tuco’s brother gets a free pass for abandoning his family, Tuco struggled to support his family, falling in to crime as a way to support them and is grief-stricken when he finds out his parents are dead.

Whaddaya mean Clint Eastwood was afraid of being upstaged?

While all three characters are framed as dangerous, all three are given moments to show that they aren’t completely unethical. Especially in scenes with Civil War soldiers. In one part of the film, the Union and the Confederate soldiers are fighting over a bridge that neither side particularly wants to die over, except for their superiors hundreds of miles away. As Blondie and Tuco watch them kill each other, they both lament over the pointless waste of human life. Even Angel Eyes pities some wounded Confederate soldiers he encounters, who are basically left to wait out the end of the war, although this scene was originally cut from the film to help with the pacing.

Conclusion

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an example of a film that had a lot stacked against it, but its quality ended up speaking for itself. Even Roger Ebert, on his revaluation of the movie, said he gave it a lower score at first “because it was a “spaghetti Western” and so could not be art.” (Ebert, 2003) It has a truly classic score and a cast of characters that revitalized the nature of Westerns.

And what other movie could force me to imagine Clint Eastwood being married to Dagwood?

If you weren’t thinking it, you never read Sunday morning comics, and I pity you.

Sources:

Ebert, Roger. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Movie Review (1968) | Roger Ebert.” RogerEbert.com, Brian Grazer, 3 Aug. 2003, www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-1968.

McClain, William. “Western, Go Home! Sergio Leone and the ‘Death of the Western’ in American Film Criticism.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 62, no. 1-2, 2010, pp. 52–66. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jfilmvideo.62.1-2.0052.

Susman, Gary. “19 Things You Never Knew About ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.” Moviefone, Moviefone, 16 Jan. 2017, www.moviefone.com/2017/01/17/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-facts/.

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Directed by Edwin S. Porter

Starting off my journey into the Western genre, I start with the very first. Or, at least the first popularly remembered Western film. There were at least a few films to take place in a Western setting before this 1903 film, but aside from their IMDB pages I couldn’t find much about them. Also, one has to consider the length of these films, as The Great Train Robbery is barely 12 minutes long and was revolutionary at the time, especially for its action-packed and composite narrative.

Aren’t guns a necessary part of a civil discussion in the West?

In summary, a few bandits break into a telegraph office for a railroad, forcing the operator to stop a train and give the engineer orders to stop at a water tank. The bandits proceed to knock out the operator and tie him up before rallying at the water tank to sneak aboard the train. Two of the bandits kill a man in the luggage and mail car before using explosives to open a locked box, while the other two kill the train’s fireman and hold the engineer at gunpoint to stop the train. The passengers are then herded off of the train and relieved of their expensive belongings. One passenger attempts to escape but is quickly stopped by a bullet to the back. While the other passengers crowd around the downed man, the bandits disconnect the train to the passenger cars and use it to escape to where they are keeping their horses. Meanwhile, the telegraph operator’s daughter shows up at his office to bring him food, and she uses the meal’s knife to cut his ropes and a cup of water to wake him up. Now conscious, the operator runs to a dance hall, where people are forcing a fancily-dressed person from the eastern U.S. to dance at gunpoint for some reason, and rallies them into a posse to hunt down the bandits. After a chase and a shootout, all the bandits are killed and the valuables are recovered.

CAN I GET AN AMEN?!

I won’t go to great lengths to summarize most of the other film’s I watch, but I feel it is important in this case. Just watching this 12 minute film, I can see so many iconic tropes of the genre already coming to life. For one, the tales of train robberies in the West were very common. In fact, not only was this film named and based after an 1896 play, but train heists were still a common occurrence in the time period, as not three years before THE Butch Cassady had robbed a train. (Kramer, 2013) This also means that this film was made in the exact period it was representing. It is fascinating to think about how the Old West died around the time the film industry was just beginning.

Speaking of the time period, this movie is extremely dated in its visual effects, but it is more than worth noting that this film was a technical marvel. The fact that the narrative changed location and had scenes taking place at the same time was very uncommon. The violent action was especially visceral for the time, no matter how silly some of the actors looked when they pretended to be shot. One death scene was so brutal that I was able to ignore that it was clearly a dummy having his head caved in by a lump of coal. And lastly, I want to commend that little girl who played the daughter. What is melodramatic overacting today was Grade A silent film acting back then. I salute you, little girl, you were a standout.

Going back to the specific tropes associated with the action and Western genre, there were two I wanted to specifically point out. Did you know that this was one of the first examples of the so-called Bullet Dance?

…This is another…

That worn-out gag of making someone dance via guns is older than the first public radio broadcast. It is almost as old as film-making itself. Remember that the next time you see it. One should respect their elders.

I’ll be taking that there popcorn.

My last observation is the film’s last shot, which according to the director could also have been placed at the beginning. The bandit leader, played by the appropriately named Justus D. Barnes, shoots his pistol directly into the camera. Aside from the thoughts of early film-goers ducking for cover at this scene, it is fascinating how this image has stuck. Not only will this scene be referenced in Tombstone, a Western made nine decades after, it also is very reminiscent of the most iconic ‘shot’ of James Bond.

No Mr. Bond, I expect you to shoot the audience.

And even outside of film, think of all the posters you’ve seen of the subject looking and pointing directly at the view. I can think of one very particular example.

This poster was made 14 years after “The Great Train Robbery.”

Still, this image is so common for action-oriented media, I’d be here all day just finding more examples. Instead, I’ll just finish by saying that The Great Train Robbery is a very outstanding film, for its revolutionary aspects both on film and behind the scenes. If you have 12 minutes to spare, I’d suggest you watch it. Due to its significance, it is a preserved film by the Library of Congress and can be found on their Youtube channel here.

Sources

Kramer, Fritzi. “The Great Train Robbery (1903) A Silent Film Review.” Movies Silently, 8 Apr. 2016, Accessed 4 Feb. 2019, moviessilently.com/2013/11/03/the-great-train-robbery-1903-a-silent-film-review/.

Porter, Edwin S., director. “The Great Train Robbery.” Youtube, Library of Congress, 11 Dec. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In3mRDX0uqk.