The movie has been called the first spaghetti western, despite the existence of a number of Italian-produced westerns at the time. It was the first to get a proper release in the US, which likely led to the thought of it being first. Leone's approach is very different from that of American westerns. Leone brought a gritty feel, a heightened realism, and a rather unique take to the distinctly American genre.
Extreme close-ups, unique framing, extreme violence (well, for the time), moments of humor, violence against women and children, moral ambiguity, and more make it a unique release. Sergio Leone takes the simple tale of a drifter taking on a pair of crime families and makes it something more, something involving, something special, and something that you can watch over and over again.
Besides Leone's inimitable style and Morricone's unique score, there is a third element that helps make this as good as it is. You know who I'm talking about. That's right, Clint Eastwood. Simply put, he is a classic bad ass. The combination of the trademark squint, short black cigars (not that I endorse smoking), the hat, and the way he carries himself speaks volumes. There may have been a long line of others ahead of him before he got the role, but there is no doubt that he makes it. Can you imagine anyone else bringing what he brought to the character? I think not.
Audio/Video. The movie is showing its age, although I cannot say that I am disappointed with how it looks. The is a noticeable grain throughout and the colors tend towards the pale side of the coin. On one hand I like the grain, it gives the movie texture and makes it look more like watching a film print. There is something about film that makes it tangible, it affects the impact of the film and a movie like this only benefits from it. As for the colors, sure, they tend towards the pale, but they are not bad by any stretch. I even saw some screen captures compared to the European Blu-ray and while those colors were a bit more full-bodied, I liked the detail in the US release. The close-ups on the faces have a bit more intensity, the detail is a bit more real, and the paler colors seem truer to the source.
Audio is also quite good. There is a sharp quality to it that makes it feel a bit harsh when compared to modern audio mixes, but it goes very well with the film presentation. The score stands out, almost becoming a character of its own. The highlighting some very good sound design, listen to the boots crunch down on the dirt, wind blow ominously, and revolver blasts that sound like powerful rifle shots. We get a decent DTS-HD 5.1 track which does a good job adding some directionality to elements like approaching horses. We also get the original mono English track, which I actually prefer.