This morning, I was genuinely bummed by the news of Eli Wallach's death. While his storied stage career took place before my time, I was a huge fan of his due to his incredible performances in two of the greatest Westerns ever made.
For a man who was known as an all-around good guy, Wallach was able to muster a genuine aura of menace playing it straight as Calvera, the bandit leader in John Surges' The Magnificent Seven. In this scene, he tries to run off big bad bald bastard Yul Brynner then, failing that, tries to suborn him:
In the subversive spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Wallach stole the movie with his performance as the Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez, the amoral, comical-but-scary desperado who has a great scene in which he makes a very convincing case against monologuing:
Words for a dealer of death to live by, indeed!
It is reported that Eli and Sergio Leone got along famously, and Tuco's character certainly develops more of a personality than Clint Eastwood's "Blondie" or Lee Van Cleef's "Angel Eyes". Mr Wallach could manage to elicit depth and pathos in even a buffonish monster such as Tuco, with the scene in which he confronts his brother, a friar, about the choices that the two of them made to survive:
He could also be very entertaining while playing himself- in this clip, he discusses a couple of near-death experiences he had while filming The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
Here's footage of Mr Wallach at the 2010 Governors Awards, cracking wise, and talking about how the screen bandit and thug is really a guy who likes to collect antiques and engage in gentle amusements:
Here's Eli appearing with his wife Anne Jackson on What's My Line? in 1965:
Perhaps the greatest testament to Mr Wallach's talent is that he, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, became the most famous movie Mexican (which is weirdly appropriate, because a Mexican actor become the most famous movie Greek). It also has to be noted that he starred in the two movies with the greatest ever soundtracks.
I'm going to finish up with an appropriate scene from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in which Eli Wallach runs through a cemetery as the Ennio Morricone's transcendent The Ecstasy of Gold accompanies him:
Thank you for hours of entertainment, Mr Wallach.