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How Theoretical Lenses Affect Interpretation: Using a Scene from Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly to Juxtapose Pentadic and Generic Criticism

by | Academic, Rhetorical Analysis

This is a rather odd rhetorical analysis. It was an assignment for Dr. Strain’s Rhetorical Theory class at The University of Dayton. The assignment was to look at the same artifact using two different rhetorical lenses and then contrast the two. I went overboard. Originally just the first lens (Burke) reached 30 pages and I was running out of time before the assignment was due. I chopped it up significantly, which probably improved it. I really like the second half of the essay but, looking back, I should have compared it to other Westerns of the era rather than generalizing about them and leaning on sources for these generalizations. If you love The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, this will make for an interesting read.

Sergio Leone’s classic western film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), tells the story of three rogues—Blondie (the Good), Angel Eyes (the Bad), and Tuco (the Ugly)—seeking $200,000 of stolen gold buried by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. Despite the Civil War backdrop, the three main characters appear to be largely unaffected by the sentiments usually evoked by war films. Patriotism, rebelliousness, horror, and sorrow are largely absent from the film, especially in the early scenes. The war presents itself as a mere obstacle, a prop functionally no different than a scorching desert that must be crossed. Cannon-fire indifferently interrupts and intersperses the action, Union and Confederate troops alike march through the New Mexican towns, and at one point the indistinguishability between the warring parties is underscored when Tuco foolishly proclaims “Hoorah for the Confederacy!” to Union troops who appear clad in gray because of the dust covering their uniforms (01:30:10). As the film progresses and the rogues inch closer to their goal the war further encroaches upon the main plot. Blondie and Tuco are twice captured by Union troops and encounter a battle that blocks their path to the cemetery containing the gold. To disperse the Union and Confederate troops fighting for a bridge crossing the Rio Grande, Blondie and Tuco blow up the bridge (02:25:35). While their scheme succeeds in clearing out both armies, the devastation wrought by the battle remains. Blondie and Tuco encounter dozens of corpses and then arrive at a bombarded structure containing a young wounded Confederate soldier (02:31:06).

Tuco and Blondie look into the structure but only Blondie enters. He approaches slowly, pausing to survey the scene and light a cigar. Then he removes the soldier’s hat and inspects the young man’s wound, briefly touching it, which elicits a painful wince. Blondie drapes his duster over the soldier and then shares his cigar with the young man. A horse nickering outside the structure momentarily draws Blondie’s attention away from the soldier. When he looks back, the soldier has expired and the smoke from Blondie’s cigar smolders from the young man’s mouth as a final exhalation. Blondie returns the cigar to his own mouth but thinks better of taking the duster, leaving it as a sort of burial shroud. He pats the dead solider and takes a poncho laying nearby. Tuco jarringly returns Blondie to his adventure by mounting the horse and galloping off to seek the treasure for himself.

This scene is of particular interest because of what it reveals concerning both Blondie’s character and the thematic message of the film. The following text will first examine Blondie’s motives utilizing Kenneth Burke’s “grammar” of criticism known as the Pentad: agent, act, agency, purpose, and scene (1298). Next, the scene will be examined more broadly utilizing generic criticism to investigate how Leone appropriates then deviates from typical western genre conventions. Finally, the results of these two critical inquiries will be juxtaposed, which will lead to both an assessment of the critical theories and also a more holistic look at the scene by taking both critical investigations into consideration.


Introduction. The five “grammatical” terms constituting Kenneth Burke’s critical theory of Dramatism seek to provide the critic with a lexicon capable of determining the motivating factor presented by a situation. The “act” describes what has taken place, the “scene” describes situation containing the act, the “agent” describes one who “performed the act,” the “agency” describes the “means or instruments” used for the act, while the “purpose” describes the reason for the act (Burke 1298). These terms are particularly well suited for describing the scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when Blondie comforts the dying Confederate solider. The scene is defined by a specific act—Blondie comforting the solider. Blondie fills the role of the agent while his cigar and duster function as the agency. The remnants of a small demolished structure function as the scene but the greater context of the post-battle scene, Texas, and the Civil War all contribute to the scene, as do factors external to the story such as the cinematography and score. The only problematic term is purpose because the purpose appears to be an intrinsic part of the act. One comforts for comfort’s sake. However, a distinction can be made between a description of the impersonal action of providing the duster and cigar and the personal empathetic expression Blondie conveys through this action. Comfort is the act while the compassion is the purpose. In fact, all of the dramatic terms depend upon the character of Blondie. The centrality of the agent—Blondie—to the other four terms of the Pentad indicates that it is, in Burke’s words, the “feature” term (1322). This indicates that, philosophically, the scene corresponds to idealism (Burke 1323). The ratios of the grammatical terms demonstrate that the scene places an emphasis on the character and volition of the protagonist, thus presenting him as a paragon of idealism.

Agent-Scene Ratio. The agent-scene ratio may appear to be the most tenuous because, as an individual man, the scenario containing Blondie so completely dwarfs him. However, a closer investigation of this scene reveals a subordination of the scene by the agent. Blondie controls the scene both internally, within the fictional context of the film, and also externally, as the actor, Clint Eastwood, and the directorial decisions regarding how he is used.

Concerning the latter, every scene in the film revolves around at least one of the titular characters. In the very first scene, for example, three gunmen arrive in a ghost town. It appears as if they intend to duel but Leone subverts this expectation when they barge into a building. Gunshots fire and Tuco crashes out of a window (00:02:56). The titular characters drive every scene even when offscreen.

Cinematography also highlights the actor. Leone utilizes close-up shots of Eastwood for the majority of the scene, emphasizing his facial expressions and using them in lieu of any dialogue. Ennio Morricone’s sorrowful song, “The Death of a Soldier,” compliments the close-up shots, adding an extra dimension to the empathy cracking through the typical stoicism of Eastwood’s character. Morricone’s song shares a motif with a song presented earlier in the film, “The Story of a Soldier,” which is the only song in the score with lyrics. The lyrics lament the destruction caused by war and its wastefulness of human life. By recalling this song, Leone tells the audience what type of thoughts may be going through Blondie’s head. This idea is reinforced by the previous scene as Blondie and Tuco watch Union and Confederate troops fight. Blondie says, “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly” (02:20:56). The combination of Eastwood’s subtle acting, the music, and the close-up shots creates a visual and auditory blend more emotionally poignant than the most poetic dialogue could hope to compose. As the protagonist, Blondie not only functions as the hero of the tale, but he also takes on a very idealistic role as a man shaping his own destiny through decisions and actions. Even the scene itself is subservient to his will.

Agent-Agency Ratio. The agent (Blondie) drives the agency (the cigar and duster) because these items are inextricably linked to his character. Blondie first appears when three bounty hunters shoot Tuco’s horse and have him surrounded (00:17:25). One bounty hunter unrolls a wanted poster with Tuco’s face and says, “Hey amigo, you know you know you’ve got a face beautiful enough to be worth $2,000?” Blondie, offscreen, retorts, “Yeah, but you don’t look like the one who’ll collect it.” A figure wearing a hat and lighting a cigar is all Leone presents to the audience. The camera pans down revealing the duster, stopping at the waste where Blondie’s hand awaits his revolver. Only after he defeats the bounty hunters in a duel and approaches Tuco does Leone reveal Blondie’s face to the audience. The cigar and duster transcend their status as mere items and become a part of the character. In an interview, Leone recalled that Eastwood, a non-smoker, asked to dispense with the cigar after their first film, A Fistful of Dollars. Leone refused, saying, “Clint, we can’t possibly leave the cigar behind. It’s playing the lead!” (Frayling 84).

Several scenes emphasize the relationship between Blondie and the cigar as being synecdochical. This is best illustrated when Tuco hunts down Blondie to exact revenge for abandoning him in the desert (00:53:56). Tuco inspects the ashes of a disused campfire and upon discovering one of Blondie’s cigars a subtle smile evinces his knowledge that by finding the cigar he has found Blondie. Tuco continues following this trail and at the next campfire the cigar is still warm but no longer smoking. When Tuco arrives at the next campsite and is able to draw smoke from the cigar he knows that Blondie is in the proximity. The heat of the cigar, in a very literal sense, tells Tuco that Blondie is nearby. But it is also emblematic of Blondie’s life and the one cannot be separated from the other.

Other key moments where the cigar stands in for Blondie are prevalent throughout the film. At one point a cloud of smoke introduces Blondie (00:22:30). When Blondie blows up the bridge over the Rio Grande, he uses his cigar to light the dynamite. After Blondie witnesses a scene between Tuco and his brother revealing the bandit’s troubling backstory, he offers Tuco a cigar as a form of camaraderie and Tuco accepts the gift (01:28:28).

Of particular interest pertaining to the scene with the dying soldier is that Blondie takes his cigar back—despite being a consumable item that is always replaced by another—but leaves the duster. The cigar is first smoked by Blondie, then the soldier, and then by Blondie again. This demonstrates a reciprocal use of the agency, emphasizing a connection being established between Blondie and the soldier. The duster, on the other hand, functions as a sort of burial shroud. In this way, it is a gift that the dead can use..

Agent-Act Ratio & Agent-Purpose Ratio. Although, as mentioned in the introduction to this paper, the act and purpose can be disentangled from one another, for the purpose of analyzing the agent as the motivating force in the scene the two terms must be considered concurrently. If the agent, in this scenario, is viewed as the prime mover, then the first action he takes is to initiate the scene. The agency, meanwhile, exists a priori as characteristics of the agent. The act, then, can be viewed as the actualization of the agent’s purpose. Like the agency, the purpose is fundamental to the agent’s being. Hence the four subservient grammatical terms can be divided into two categories: that which is of the agent (agency, purpose) and that which is created by the agent (scene, act). Unlike the scene and agency, however, the act and purpose overlap in their own way as neither can be understood independent of the other. Burke acknowledges this connection between the act and purpose, describing an “act” as “any verb, no matter how specific or general, that has connotations of consciousness or purpose under this category” (1308). Therefore, this section will examine the act-purpose ratio. It will be demonstrated that determining a dominate term among these two is crucial to developing a comprehensive understanding of the motivational forces in the scene. Nevertheless, the assumption here is that both terms are hierarchically subordinate to the agent.

If the act is the dominate term then Burke philosophically associates the scene with realism (1323). By the very natures of an act and a purpose, it seems counterintuitive to assert that the act can drive the purpose.From this view, the act defines the purpose rather than the purpose defining the act. Blondie is a compassionate man because he acts compassionately.This view does not present a favorable view of Blondie when one considers his actions leading up to this point in the film. Compassion appears to be quite uncharacteristic for a man who kills eleven people throughout the film. As previously described, in Blondie’s first scene he murders three bounty hunters to take their prize for himself. Later, Blondie replaces Tuco with another wanted man, Shorty. Before he can shoot the rope attached to Shorty’s neck, Tuco arrives and holds a gun to Blondie’s head. Blondie looks toward Shorty and says, “And Shorty?” to which Tuco replies “No.” After assessing the gun Tuco aims at him, Blondie watches Shorty hang and mutters, “Sorry Shorty.” (00:56:41). Although Blondie acts as if he had no choice, he could easily have disobeyed Tuco’s order and risked his own life to save Shorty. Instead, a half-hearted apology is all he can muster. Blondie commits two good acts in the film: at one point he offers Tuco a cigar out of pity and comforts the dying soldier (notably, also with a cigar). Throughout the rest of the movie he relentlessly pursues wealth by committing fraud and murder. Even when he comments on the wastefulness of the battle scene he only does so as a passive observer. His subsequent destruction of the Langstone bridge is done to disperse the troops so he can pursue treasure, not so he can save their lives.

Other than Blondie’s comforting of the dying soldier, the only reason the audience has for viewing him as “good” is the film’s title officially designating him as so. After each sequence when one of the titular characters is introduced the shot freezes, Morricone’s distinctive refrain sounds, and respective titles are presented in a red cursive typeface. Tuco is labelled “the Ugly” when he crashes out of the window to flee from the bounty hunters. Angel Eyes receives his label after a more extended sequence. First there is a scene where he kills a man and extracts information as a paid hit job. Only after the next scene, when he murders his original patron, is he formally introduced to the audience as “the Bad” (00:06:01-00:17:04). Blondie, however, requires a much longer sequence before his formal introduction. First, he comes across three bounty hunters attempting to capture Tuco. He murders the bounty hunters only to collect Tuco’s bounty for himself. After collecting the bounty for Tuco he then saves Tuco from being hanged. The two form a partnership that recycles this scam but soon after Blondie dissolves the partnership and abandons Tuco in the desert without a horse. It is at this point that Blondie is designated as “the Good” (00:17:25-00:29:17). Unlike the introductions of Tuco and Angel Eyes, Blondie’s designation seems to be rather incongruous with his preceding actions.

If the act is to take precedence over the purpose then the original film title, Two Magnificent Rogues, appears to be much more apt (Frayling 143). Only after Leone completed shooting the film did the it receive the name The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But if Blondie is nothing more than a rogue and his moment of compassion is nothing more than an aberration, then there is no way to make sense of the scene using Burke’s Dramatism. The film becomes defined by a series of acts that suggest a philosophical allegiance to realism and for one brief scene idealism takes precedence. The purpose must be prioritized before act. If this is true then Leone may have had a good reason to change the title of the film and a good reason to describe Blondie as “the Good.”

Purpose is associated with mysticism and the transition from life to death certainly invokes the mystical (Burke 1323). A combination of idealism and mysticism would require a rejection of existential notions that relate to realism. Blondie’s character provides the perfect vessel for such extravagant concepts. He often arrives on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, he demonstrates inhuman trick shooting skills, and every time his death appears to be imminent a deus ex machina swoops into the scene to miraculously save him. Clearly Blondie is more closely associated with the mystical than the real.

The audience can distinguish the difference between Tuco and Blondie’s motives because of Blondie’s displays of virtuous behaviors in contrast to Tuco’s lack of virtuosity. Specifically, he is generous and courageous. After saving Tuco from execution, Blondie shares the bounty money with Tuco even though Tuco has no power to compel him to do so. More tellingly, however, is Blondie’s comfort of the dying Confederate soldier. Both Blondie and Tuco assess the soldier from outside of the structure housing him, but Tuco merely walks away. Blondie is generous with the very items that define his character, his cigar and duster. His generosity suggests that he is worthy of the treasure. By comforting the young soldier, Blondie turns a blind eye to Tuco, thus allowing Tuco to abandon him and pursue the treasure for himself. This demonstrates that Blondie prioritizes generosity above his pursuit of wealth.

Courage functions as perhaps the most obvious virtue of Blondie. His initial introduction shows him duel three men at once. The scam he runs with Tuco places him at odds with local law enforcement. Tuco forces Blondie to cross a desert to avoid the Confederate and Union armies, but Blondie shows no fear of the war. In fact, he stays in a hotel as Confederate troops march down the street (00:42:11). After Angel Eyes tortures Tuco for information, he offers Blondie a partnership because he does not believe that Blondie will respond to torture (01:47:02).

Courage is not just facing a situation without fear, though. While Blondie may murder the bounty hunters who have captured Tuco, throughout the course of the film the audience learns that Tuco “the Ugly” is neither a bad nor a good man. His vice is driven by circumstance and he is to be pitied, a sentiment Blondie demonstrates at times. From this view, Blondie courageously saves Tuco from the bounty hunters rather than murdering them in cold blood. Likewise, when Angel Eyes refrains from torturing Blondie, he acknowledges that the reason torturing Blondie would be ineffective is because Blondie is intelligent enough to understand that relenting under torture would make his life worthless to Angel Eyes and he would be subsequently killed. Blondie does not just face danger, he acts in accordance with virtuosity. It is no coincidence that Aristotle references Hector as the paragon of courage and Leone molded Blondie after Homeric heroes.

Thus, the scene where Blondie comforts the Confederate soldier insists upon idealism because it exemplifies Blondie as a virtuous ideal. This is his purpose and therefore the purpose takes primacy over the act itself. Burke aptly states that “[t]he agent is an author of his acts, which are descended from him, being good progeny if he is good, or bad progeny if he is bad, wise progeny if he is wise, silly progeny if he is silly” (1309). Blondie, therefore, demonstrates virtuous progeny because he is virtuous in a classical Aristotelean sense. This motivating factor explains not only this particular scene, but Blondie’s actions in every scene. One could analyze any scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly containing Blondie and use Burke’s pentad to arrive at this same conclusion. The scene with the Confederate soldier just works best because it demonstrates Blondie at his finest moment.

Conclusion. The Good, the Bad and the Uglyis an epic. A romance. An ancient type of story relying on ancient values. Perhaps this explains its enduring appeal. The motivating force that drives Blondie not only provides insight into Leone’s film, but it demonstrates universal values that may not be as antiquated as a modern ethics class would have one believe. Judging a person by demonstrable virtues rather than more abstract concepts of morality provides the basis for audiences relating to any anti-hero.


Introduction. Upon hearing The Beatles’ classic song, “Rocky Raccoon” (1968), a modern listener could be forgiven for not realizing that the song parodies country music. Singer and songwriter Paul McCartney begins the song by speaking with a mock “American” accent, the song implements honky tonk piano, and the lyrics narrate the comically tragic tale of a cowboy seeking revenge upon his beloved’s new sweetheart. In a modern context, these things are just weird, but no more so than the other songs in the band’s repertoire. Especially on the self-titled album containing “Rocky Raccoon,” the Beatles present no coherent style of music that would define their “sound,” which could easily veil the song’s parodic elements. It may not be obvious that “Rocky Raccoon” is the only song on the album that McCartney viewed as “just a joke” (Beatles Interviews). The modern listener, unless familiar with country music of the era, lacks the context to make a connection between the song and the genre it mocks. Modern country music only slightly resembles the songs released by artists such as Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash in the sixties. A parody depends on the audience’s awareness of the mimicked object. Without such knowledge the parodic element has no effect. A song like “Rocky Raccoon” can persist regardless of whether the parodic element is recognized because it’s such a great song, but there still remains a joke that goes over the head of many young listeners.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly similarly functions as a parody of the Western film but has become so emblematic of the genre that the joke is lost on modern audiences unfamiliar with the Westerns that preceded it. Clint Eastwood would later produce and star in several Westerns that share many distinct elements Leone pioneered in his films (Frayling 102-104), but aside from his final Western, Unforgiven (1992), none of these films share the satirical elements that make The Good, the Bad and the Ugly so distinctly variegated. Unlike slapstick parodies that do nothing more than lampoon another work of art for comic effect, such as Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles (1974), Leone applies a more subtle touch. Like The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” at times it is difficult to distinguish between his quirks and his satire. For instance, in an interview, Eastwood noted that Leone was unaware of “certain taboos that were put on the Westerns” in Hollywood such as a director “never could tie up a person shooting with a person being hit” (Frayling 103). This rule made Westerns look silly and unrealistic and Leone unwittingly broke the genre free from the convention.

Other precedent-setting changes were intentional. For instance, the duster coats such as the one worn by Blondie were chosen because they realistically represented the apparel of the Old West. Leone complained that Westerns copied each other so much that they no longer accurately portrayed their setting, saying that “with the expansion of Hollywood, the films came to diverge more and more from historical reality” (Frayling 81). So strong was Leone’s commitment to realism that he spent extensive time in the Library of Congress studying the American Civil War to ensure the historical accuracy of the film’s backdrop (Frayling 87). While the inclusion of a clownish character such as Tuco may seem to be the parodic indicator, Leone’sapplication of realism is the true satiric element of the film distinguishing it from traditional Westerns. No scene better demonstrates Leone’s attack on the traditional Western than the moment when Blondie comforts the dying soldier. By grounding his tale in reality, Leone exposes the Western genre as an emperor with no clothes. Any viewing of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly without this contextual consideration will inevitably fail to identify the irony therein. Like “Rocky Raccoon,” one can enjoy the work of art without this depth of understanding, but one cannot fully appreciate its artistic implications.

A Hierarchy of Genres. In the previous section, both the terms “satire” and “parody” were used to describe The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although the two terms are related and both characterize Leone’s film, the nuanced difference between satire and parody will be an important element of the argument presented herein. According to the Bedford Glossary of Literary and Critical Terms, a satire is a “literary genre or mode that uses irony, wit, and sometimes sarcasm to expose humanity’s vices and foibles…satire generally has a moral purpose: to provoke a response to correctable human failings, ideally some kind of reform” (Murfin and Ray 457-458). Parody, on the other hand, is “a form of burlesque popular since ancient times that comically imitates a specific, generally serious work or the style of an author or genre…parody is often used to make a satiric (and even political) point” (Murfin and Ray 368-369). The Good, the Bad and the Ugly parodies Westerns; it satirizes the values promoted by Westerns.

The idea that a work of fiction can occupy the role of multiple genres simultaneously is not an unfamiliar concept for modern audiences. Terms such as “romantic-comedy” and “action-adventure” are typically used to describe feature films. The comedy-drama has become so commonplace that the portmanteau “dramedy” is regularly used to describe countless movies and television shows. Rosalie Colie points out that attempts to define genre often overcomplicate the concept and it is best to think of the word as its literal translation, “kind” (1-2). No one thing can be merely one kind of thing. Even the most basic element, hydrogen, can be considered a gas, a fuel, a proton, etc.But things can be classified hierarchically from their most basic description to more nuanced descriptions. A hydrogen atom, at its most basic level, is a single proton. It can only be a gas in relation to other states of matter, the temperature of its environment, and other factors extrinsic to the proton itself. Similarly, a hierarchy of genres can be constructed by arranging the various genres that can be applied to a film in order from most general to most nuanced.

The most fundamental genres are fiction and non-fiction and both of these overlap to some degree or another in every fictional narrative. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the scene depicting Blondie comforting the soldier presents non-fiction elements because it depicts a scene from a real battle that was part of a real war. The soldier himself, along with Blondie and the more specific elements of the scene, are fictional. To understand how genre functions within a work of fiction, one must determine the hierarchy of genres that pertain to the work. The particular scene examined in this paper provides a key to decipher the hierarchy of genre within The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The most specific genre that can be applied to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is that of a Western. While this is most clearly defined by the setting, there are other conventions that are included in both the traditional Western and Leone’s parody. Gunplay, desert landscapes, outlaws, and horseback riding are other Western tropes that find their way into the film. However, when Blondie encounters the wounded Confederate soldier, certain conventions of the genre are challenged. Most notably, the death of an insignificant character is prolonged and emphasized. In traditional Westerns a gunshot wound immediately renders anyone but a hero or primary villain instantly dead. The scene is also unique in that it asks the audience to sympathize with a Confederate soldier because most Westerns set during the Civil War insist on portraying the Union cause as good (Frayling 28). Blondie—and by extension the film itself—takes a neutral stance toward the war yet a sympathetic stance to those who are affected by it.

The deviations from the traditional Western presented when Blondie enters the bombarded structure are all satiric, demonstrating that the film belongs to an even more broad category of genre than the Western. The focus on the prolonged, painful death of the soldier not only satirizes other Westerns, but all Hollywood films that treat death flippantly whenever the dying subject does not play a heroic or wholly innocent role. It can also satirize the audiences who accept such a view of death and warfare. The context of global affairs at the time of the film’s release—the Cold War, the Vietnam War, China’s Cultural Revolution, African and South American countries experiencing the throes of various revolutions, etc.—meant that those in the Western world who went to the theater to watch movies in the Western genre lived in an extremely violent world while simultaneously being detached from the actual violence. When we allow violence to become an abstraction we lose sight of the humanity affected by it. By insisting that the audience see the soldier’s wound, see his suffering, Leone insists that the audience acknowledge the impact war has. In this way, the scene functions as an allegory where the soldier represents the victims of violence while Blondie represents an audience that only recognizes the horrors of war when it confronts them head on.

Leone claimed that his films were modeled off of several genres. He cites Shakespeare’s romances, Homer’s epics, and even fairy tales (Frayling 75-77). All of these genres work their way into the film in unique ways, but all are turned on their head by the satire. What all of those genres have in common with the Western is their cartoonish treatment of violence as a necessary component of grand plots. What is interesting is that so much of the film is dedicated to portraying these other genres while only four scenes provide satiric contradictions. The scene with Blondie and the Confederate soldier is the last of these four scenes, only proceeded by the film’s climax, and it functions as a sort of exclamation mark to emphasize the satire. But without knowledge of previous Westerns and how The Good, the Bad and the Ugly compares to them, without a consideration of the social and political situation in which the film is grounded, the viewer is likely to see nothing but a particularly well made Western.

Conclusion. The most specific genre to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the Western. The most broad is satire. In between these two genres on the hierarchy various other genres present themselves. But only through satire can one develop a meaningful analysis of the film because the satiric component of the film completely alters the interpretations the other genres might provide. Without the satire, the film is a straight Western rather than a parody. It is an epic, a romance, a Western and is complicit in all of the problematic elements of these genres rather than providing a critique of those elements. An awareness of genre provides a context to the film that greatly expands its thematic depth. Rather than merely following genre conventions, the film dynamically interacts and comments on them. This is not unique to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Considering any artifact within the context of its genre allows for a greater awareness of possible meanings. Genre is an important component of rhetorical context and should never be overlooked.


Good, Bad, or Ugly? The theoretical lenses utilized above provide two very different conclusions for the same scene. The Pentadic lens remains framed within the context of the film, looking at Blondie as a person with agency and motivations. The generic lens, on the other hand, demonstrated more of a concern with the choices of the director, Sergio Leone. In this way, the Pentadic lens provided a wholly intrinsic look at the film while the generic lens provided an exclusively extrinsic view. After completing both analyses, it appears as if the generic criticism provides insights that the Pentadic criticism does not, but this very well may be specific to the artifact examined rather than the theories themselves. I believed that Pentadic criticism would be particularly well suited to examine a scene from a movie because Burke’s terminology is borrowed from the theater and, as a narrative form, the stage and screen are very similar. While I believe that Burke’s method has value, this process revealed that Dramatism is of limited use when a work of fiction is not grounded in realism.

The main difficulty with applying Burke’s method of criticism to fictional works is that fictional characters only have motivations insofar as their authors provide them or audiences imagine them. A fictional character can only have fictional motivations. While a fictional work devoted to realism will usually provide characters who appear to have realistic motivations, searching for motivations in works with logical inconsistencies—whether intentional or not—can be problematic. Motivations are easy to find in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Waiting for Godot, on the other hand, would frustrate the Pentadic method because Beckett made the play intentionally nonsensical. Parody, satire, allegory, paradox, and works with heavy-handed philosophical themes are the most ill-suited for Burke’s method because the motivations of the characters are not necessarily the primary concern of the author. The characters may act irrationally to fulfill plot requirements. When an author constructs a murder mystery the genre conventions necessitate a murder. Therefore, the true motivation for the murder is to fulfill a plot requirement. It is not necessary (or always true) that the fictional murderer has a motivation for his crime.

Genre analysis, on the other hand, may not be as well suited for hyper-realist works. If the author is primarily concerned with the construction of psychologically accurate characters then macro-structures such as genre may be less relevant. Of course, just like I was able to apply Burke’s Pentad to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, one could always employ genre analysis to any work. It would be interesting to apply this same exercise to a work grounded in realism to see if the results demonstrate Burke’s method to be more fruitful. I suspect that character-driven dramas and biopics would be the most difficult films to apply genre analysis to in a meaningful way. In these films motivating factors have a position of primacy over genre.

Overall, this exercise has demonstrated the necessity for choosing an appropriate theoretical lens for an artifact. While it may be the goal of every theorist to develop a “one size fits all” rhetorical theory, every method of analysis will stress certain rhetorical factors while deemphasizing others. Recognizing the most relevant rhetorical factors utilized by a given artifact is important to determine which theoretical lens is most appropriate. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the theme expresses itself through an appropriation and rebuke of certain genre conventions. The character motivations are less relevant because the characters are caricatures who function as parodies. Blondie’s motivation in the scene with the soldier is still relevant and useful to analyze, but it must be done so in conjunction with considerations of genre.


Works Cited

Aristotle. Politics & Poetics. Translated by Benjamin Jowett and Thomas Twining, Viking Press, 1962.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Roger Crisp, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Blazing Saddles. Directed by Mel Brooks, Warner Bros., 1974.

Burke, Kenneth. “A Grammar of Motives.” The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, edited by Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, Bedford/St. Martins, 2001 pp. 1298-1324.

Colie, Rosalie L. The Resources of Kind: Genre-Theory in the Renaissance. University of

California Press, 1973.

Frayling, Christopher. Once Upon a Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton University Press, 1957.

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