In Hollywood, the western began as little more than a B-Movie franchise — cranking out one 62-minute quickie after another for the booming world double feature matinees across the country. Some time after that, the genre bumped up several notches when movies started getting produced in color and (later) widescreen. But, up until that point, most westerns centered on a truly “hero” type of a character (and his goofy sidekick) who rode in to save the day. Said hero was a do-gooder in every extreme: he believed in law and order (often working for the law). He had a strong sense of morals. And he never asked for anything in return for his services rendered.
And then, in 1964, an up-and-coming Italian writer/director made a low-budget spaghetti western entitled Per Un Pugno Di Dollari. The film itself was an uncredited remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai period piece, Yojimbo, which itself was born out of Hollywood’s western genre (see such entries as George Stevens’ Shane with Alan Ladd, amongst others). But whereas many previous westerns had featured a strong hero as their protagonist, Leone’s film upped the ante in the genre for years to come by a) infusing his picture with (for the time) graphic onscreen violence and b) by giving us our first view of the quintessential antihero: the Man with No Name.
Portrayed to the hilt by a then bit-player and television actor named Clint Eastwood, the Man with No Name blew audiences across the globe away in a trio Spaghetti Westerns that have gone on to become a part of silver screen history (whilst turning its lead actor into a superstar): A Fistful Of Dollars (Per Un Pugno Di Dollari), For A Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollaro In Più), and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo).
The trilogy has appeared on home video numerous times throughout the years; sporting several different VHS and LaserDisc releases (issued both as a set and individually) as well as on DVD (also in one or two incarnations). And now, a little more than a year after MGM released The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly on Blu-ray, the entire trilogy has made its High Def debut in MGM’s The Man With No Name Trilogy, which sports all three movies and a fistful (or two) of special features.
Special feature-wise, The Man With No Name Trilogy contains all of the marvelous bells and whistles that were (for the most part) previously seen in the 2009 Blu-ray release of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and the 2004 and 2007-issued 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVDs of all three titles, as well as a box set, The Sergio Leone Anthology (look, I told you there were a lot home video releases for these movies!). The nice touch here is that, for once, all of these special features (which total well over six hours in length, and that’s not including any of the audio commentaries) are housed on the same disc as the feature film (go, 50GB discs, go!).
What’s new here, however, are the Audio/Video aspects of the set. Each film is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer, preserving the trilogy’s original aspect ratio(s) of 2.35:1. The video end of the spectrum is a mixed bag, which is a bit disappointing to anyone that’s been waiting for that one super-duper ultimate definitive release (dream on, guys and gals, dream on…). The first installment, A Fistful Of Dollars, really shows its low-budget origins, with a slightly soft picture and a less-than-lush color palate.
On the plus side, though, A Fistful Of Dollars looks infinitely better than it ever did in any of its umpteen home video releases — as does the second chapter of the trilogy, For A Few Dollars More. Without a doubt the best and brightest out of the bunch, For A Few Dollars More pulls off its introduction to HD with much gusto: showing off some strong colors and contrast. Lastly in the mix is The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, which (and this may disappoint some of you) is the exact same transfer that MGM released in 2009: boasting a relatively soft appearance, and signs of heavy restoration.
But, of course, I am not dismissing any of these video transfers: they are all superior to what we had in the past.
On the Audio front, each title has a strong DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless 5.1 track, which has taken the original mono soundtrack and upgraded it. Some sound effects have been replaced completely, while the rest of the tracks have been remixed in order to give your stereo system a fairly nice workout. The biggest improvement for all three titles is how well Ennio Morricone’s epic musical scores have been re-incorporated into the audio mixes — and, while they may tend to overtake the soundtracks every once in a while, the end-result is an extremely pleasing experience. French and Spanish DD Mono tracks are also available in this set, with subtitles offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Overall, The Man With No Name Trilogy is most definitely a godsend. Any fan of classic westerns (Euro or otherwise) will want to make this a part of their collection. True, some of the video aspects of the set may be a bit upsetting to the average purist, but this is by and far the best possible way to view Sergio Leone’s timeless collaborations with Clint Eastwood. Highly recommended.