Friday, 13 September 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1966: Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Lee Van Cleef did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Angel Eyes in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Lee Van Cleef plays the titular bad of the film which is the antithesis of his role in the Sergio Leone's previous effort For A Few Dollars More where he played the heroic Colonel Mortimer. Despite the extreme change in character type for Cleef he still is perfectly at home in Leone's film especially in his very first appearance which is a classic moment of brilliance as the dark figure of Angel Eyes slowly comes from a distance to a secluded farm house to talk to a family man about a mysterious man who changes his names and some misplaced money. The built up is tremendous just to the point in which Angel Eyes finally first speaks and Van Cleef deserves a great deal of the credit for the strength of the scene.

Angel Eyes only joins the man apparently in a meal the man starts to slowly break down as Angel Eyes watches him. The break down is made inevitability through Van Cleef's uncompromising stare which oozes in menace. Van Cleef doesn't say a thing for quite awhile but makes it undeniably clear what the purpose of Angel Eyes's visit is. When he finally does speak there is no loss in the intensity of the situation and Van Cleef makes Angel Eyes a truly threatening presence in the way he portrays Angel Eyes's attitude in the questioning. Van Cleef gives Angel Eyes an unwavering assurance of his own skills in his profession and his ability to intimidate. Van Cleef has such a viciousness of his conviction as he shows that Angel Eyes knows what he does to people.

One of the things that makes Angel Eyes the bad and Tuco (Eli Wallach) different is the manner of fun found in their character. Eli Wallach's performance has a welcoming quality despite his rough hide and we can have some of the fun Tuco has right along with him. Lee Van Cleef's performance does not although for this same kind of fun even though Van Cleef makes it clear, particularly in the scene where he dispatches one of the men who hired him, that Angel Eyes has plenty of fun himself. Van Cleef makes it a most unpleasant enjoyment though that Angel Eyes feels and it doesn't help that Angel Eyes expresses the most pleasure when he is terrorizing or killing someone. Van Cleef has the perfect evil smile and makes Angel Eyes a fearsome villain who loves seeing a job through although he won't anyone else share in his enjoyment. 

Lee Van Cleef does something very important in his early couple of scenes up to the point where he is introduced as the bad because his appearances are sparing for quite awhile after this point as the film switches focus over to Tuco and Blondie (Clint Eastwood). Van Cleef needs to make a strong impact quickly to make it so remember him for the rest of the film and know exactly what it means when he appears again. Van Cleef absolutely fulfills this need for the part and makes a tremendous impact early on setting up exactly who his character up as a fierce villain who is the appropriate threat he should be. Also to be much more to the point about things Van Cleef brings that visceral sting to his performance as Angel Eyes that basically all the best cinematic villains have.

When Van Cleef does appear again it is in POW camp for confederate soldiers that Tuco and Blondie have found themselves in and Angel Eyes is acting as a Union captain he likely impersonated. In this series of scenes Van Cleef again is excellent in his portrayal of Angel Eyes although he creates a rather interesting dynamic in his attitude. When still dealing with people he doesn't really know he carries that same self assured killer tone but when he talks to Tuco and Blondie Van Cleef adjusts his performance in an interesting fashion. Van Cleef drops his other act and is far more casual to Tuco and Blondie properly showing that the three of them all do know each other therefore Angel Eyes's usual methods won't really work as Tuco and Blondie can't be made afraid of Angel Eyes in that way.

Van Cleef is great as he changes to Angel Eyes pretty much laying things out in the bluntest way possible. Van Cleef doesn't portray Angel Eyes trying to use fear to get the information from Tuco, as Tuco knows him too well, instead he plays it straight all the way. As Tuco is tortured Angel Eyes stay very calm letting his henchman do most of the work. Angel Eyes mostly watches occasionally moving out of the way, smoking his pipe, and calmly bringing a quiet question or comment in between Tuco's screams and grunts. Van Cleef's calm reserve works wonders for the scene as he shows that Angel Eyes knows he's going to get what he wants and personally can take fairly easy knowing that it will work. My favorite moment in the amazing scene is Van Cleef's delivery of the mocking "How's Your Digestion Now?" as it so perfectly exemplifies how comfortable Angel Eyes is with this brutality.

The final duel of this film is a glorious piece of film making from the editing, to the direction, to the score by Ennio Morricone and as well the acting. The actors do so much in just their silent expression of the scene not only building the tension but also each actor suggests which is especially noticeable when re-watching the film. Wallach basically keeps a strong stare which seems aimed at Angel Eyes no doubt to inflict revenge for his torture, Eastwood keeps Blondie assured the entire time suggesting properly the information he knows about the duel that the other two do not. Finally Van Cleef portrays a very different Angel Eyes from the beginning of the film who finally sees that he might be outmatched losing that confidence and for once as the desperately tries to watch both men at once not knowing which one to try and shoot first.

Lee Van Cleef doesn't have the showiest role in the film (that would be Wallach) or the coolest (that would be Eastwood) nevertheless he never lets Angel Eyes be forgotten or overshadowed despite also having the least screen time and development of the three. :Lee Van Cleef leaves his impression right along the other two finding his own distinct path in the film by making his impact strong and fast making it so the bad always a known factor even when the film would rather follow the good and the ugly. This is a great performance by Lee Van Cleef  which proves right along with his previous film with Leone that he made both a great hero and a great villain. Lee Van Cleef started his career in westerns as a henchman to the main villain being there to be killed, bossed around by the main villain, or to be easily beaten up by the hero. His turn at Angel Eyes suggests that Van Cleef should have been the one in charge all along.


Michael Patison said...

Brilliant performance. I really hope you review Gian Maria Volonté in both of the first two.

Psifonian said...

Genius performance. Van Cleef had presence for miles.

Michael Patison said...

On a different note, I highly recommend watching Paradise Now to add the performances of Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman to your 2005 Lead ranking.

Edward L. said...

Yes, another great performance from Van Cleef - and a lovely review.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. Van Cleef should have been nominated for GBU, but more so for " A Few Dollars More" he had such a strong presence that he stole the film from Eastwood. There was no other actor like him and never will be. His fabulous face--nose, eyes, his gorgeous body and strong voice made him special. Later in the Sabata films, the thin face, high cheekbones and that wonderful hat made him the sexiest man on two feet. Van Cleef is a legend--the best of the bad, "love and light" RIP Angel Eyes!