Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Long Live Tuco!

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What is the world's most highly rated Western?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Over at IMDb, it consistently ranks as one of the top ten films among viewers top 250. And rightly so. It is a masterpiece of storytelling: funny, exciting, brutal, touching and always unexpected. It is about three men searching for two hundred thousand dollars in gold during the final years of the American Civil War.

Everybody knows that Lee Van Cleef AKA Angel Eyes AKA "the Bad" is the baddie. 

Everybody thinks that Clint Eastwood AKA Blondie AKA "the Good" is the hero.

They are wrong. 

The hero is Tuco Benedicto Pacfico Juan Mara Ramrez AKA Tuco AKA "the Ugly". He is a grubby, greasy, greedy Mexican who cares for nothing but gold. He was played masterfully by Eli Wallach, who died today at the grand old age of 98. 

I will say it again: Tuco is the Hero! Think about it. He's the first one we see and the last one we see. He has more screen time than either of the others. He is the only one with a back story. 

Apparently, Clint Eastwood was worried that Eli Wallach might steal the film. And with reason. Wallach totally steals the film. From the moment he comes crashing through the window of a saloon, a smoking revolver in one hand and a half-eaten turkey drumstick in the other, to his last final cry "You're just a son of a [wa-oo-wa-oo-wah]!" he fizzes with mischievous energy and fun. I've seen the film half a dozen times and his performance is always fresh, always funny, always endearing. 

Tuco is my favourite character in this film and in any Western. 

And Eli Wallach was the key to Tuco's lovability. 

Eli Wallach's autobiography
Wallach was a trained method actor who worked with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Peter O'Toole, Audrey Hepburn and many others. He could play any type of character, but comedy was his forte. 

Many of Tuco's best moments in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were ad-libbed by Wallach. When Blondie gives him a cigar he eats it. When bomb is about to go off he dives into a trench head first, butt up! The way he crosses himself is hilarious. The scene of him in the bubble bath is sublime. His face expresses every selfish thought. His muddy brown eyes glow with life, humour, vulnerability. 

Ten things I love about Tuco:
1. He wears a belt AND braces.
2. He has a sense of humour.
3. He likes bubble baths.
4. He likes cigars as snacks.
5. He has a silver tooth.
6. He is man enough to carry a parasol in the desert.
7. He doesn't let life get him down.
8. He has a rich vocabulary... for cussing.
9. He wears his gun on a string around his neck.
10. He is a man of faith. Well, he IS always crossing himself.

My five fave Tuco quotes:
1. There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door, and those that come in by the window.
2. Don't die, I'll get you water. Stay there. Don't move, I'll get you water. Don't die until later.
3. Hurrah! Hurrah for the Confederacy! HURRAH! Down with General Grant! Hurrah for General... What's his name? Lee! LEE! Ha ha.
4. If I get my hand on the two hundred thousand dollars, I'll always honour your memory. I swear.
5. When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

Thank you, Eli, for giving us so much pleasure. You are gone, but Tuco will live forever. 


  1. In several scenes Tuco wears only a single spur. Any known reason why?

    1. I would guess this was more of Eli Wallach's brilliant improvisation!