Classic Scene: Mexican Standoff

Mexican standoff

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

directed by Sergio Leone

The Scene: Even those who have never seen a western are familiar with this iconic scene. Hidden out in the desert is a stash of Confederate gold and Blondie (Clint Eastwood), Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), and Tuco (Eli Wallach) are all looking to claim it. The three men all end up at the graveyard where the treasure is buried and the confrontation becomes inevitable. With Ennio Morricone’s iconic score playing we get a high stakes Mexican standoff. Both Blondie and Angel Eyes try to take control of the situation and the name on the gravestone where the loot was buried is written on a rock and placed at the center of the cemetery. Without a word the three steely-eyed men take their positions as they stare each other down waiting on who will make the first move. Right as the anxiousness of the audience hits a fever pitch, Blondie guns down his black-clad nemesis while Tuco learns his weapon is not even loaded. With some fancy shooting to dispose of Angel Eyes, Eastwood’s famed antihero turns his attention to a defenseless Tuco telling him to start digging.

The Breakdown: The Mexican standoff has long been a trope of cinema but none have been as iconic as in this iconic spaghetti western. Set at the very center of a rundown cemetery, director Sergio Leone made it clear that each of these men are surround by death behind them as well as potentially in front of them. Amid the chaos of the Civil War these three world-weary and embittered men found their way to this cemetery and the threeway confrontation that was bound to happen. Throughout the film Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tucco had had complicated relationships to say the least filled with betrayals and uneasy alliances so any trust that may have led to them making a deal over splitting the gold had been thoroughly and completely shattered this is the showdown that was inevitably built towards. The tension between the trio is heightened by the film’s famed musical score and Leone’s decision to focus on quick edits on their facial expressions as they slowly reach for their weapons to see who can draw the quickest and cleanest. This shows the calm stoicism of Blondie, the wide-eyed ferocity of Tucco, and the coldness of Angel Eyes as the shots come closer and closer to their eyes.

Best Bit: After gunning down Angel Eyes, Blondie decides to show off by not only shooting the villain into an open grave but sending his hat with him.