You gotta love a good blogathon, and thanks to Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, I find myself in the fortunate position of being able to participate in another fun blogathon. The “What A Character!” blogathon is designed for several different bloggers to help bring attention to their favourite character actors. I was lucky enough to get the great Eli Wallach.
Unfortunately, my exposure to Wallach’s body of work is very limited. I did greatly enjoy his cameos in Mystic River and The Ghost Writer, but there isn’t enough in either of those films to really write about. But there is one other Wallach film I’ve seen. It’s a Western classic, arguably Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, and one of my favourite films of all time, it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly tells the story of three men all seeking buried gold. Two of these men, the “Good” and the “Bad” (Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef), are characters of mythic status. The two characters’ pasts are wrapped in enigma and they both feel like archetype legends. It’s Clint Eastwood at his most badass and Lee Van Cleef makes for a scary villain. Both give top notch performances, but it’s Eli Wallach’s turn as Tuco (or the “Ugly”) that not only steals the show, but also elevates the film to a higher plane.
In a way, I feel like I cheated in choosing Eli Wallach. The man is described as a character actor, but I find Tuco to be the most compelling character of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Unlike the quiet power displayed by Eastwood and Cleef, Tuco is loud, brash, and fast-talking. Tuco is bursting with character and personality, and he’s always incredibly fun to watch. The character himself may be a bit of a dirty scoundrel, but Wallach brings so much energy and charm to the part one can’t help but love him.
Tuco is also the most complicated character in the film. The reason he’s called the “Ugly” is because he’s neither good nor bad. He can be very selfish, but he also has a family and there are hints that he had a difficult childhood which lead to him being a bandit. Instead of fitting an archetype like Eastwood and Cleef do, Wallach’s Tuco feels like a real human. I’m not saying most people should be described as ugly scoundrels, but most people don’t conform to being either good or evil. Instead, most people fall in the middle, just like Tuco. Wallach brings humanity to Tuco and in doing so makes Tuco the most relatable character in the film. This is important because it gives the audience a character they can really connect with, something that is lacking in Leone’s first two films in the “Dollars” trilogy. This is ultimately what makes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly a true classic. Without Wallach’s incredible performance, I’m sure the film would still be very good, like For A Few Dollars More and, to a lesser extent, A Fistful of Dollars, but it would not be the masterpiece it’s known as today.
I don’t mean to undersell the other attributes of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or claim that Wallach is the sole reason the film works. Make no mistake, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a brilliant film that works on a number of levels. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge just how important Eli Wallach is to the film’s quality. His performance is incredible and has cemented Wallach’s name in film history. I think that more then warrants his inclusion the “What A Character!” blogathon.
“Whoever double-crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco. Nothing!”