To celebrate the release of Caroline Lawrence's The Case of the Deadly Desperados, the first of the Western Mysteries, Caroline is currently doing a blog tour. I'm very pleased to be able to host a guest post from her today about her favourite character from the Wild West.
My favourite character from the Wild West comes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly AKA Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. This 1966 spaghetti western is the most popular Western in the world. Yes, it is. Go check it out over at IMDb where it consistently ranks as one of the top five 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.
Clint Eastwood plays The Good AKA Blondie. He is neither blond nor good. But he does squint really well and he chews his cigar with aplomb. I love Blondie, but he is not my favourite character.
Lee Van Cleef plays The Bad AKA Angel Eyes. He is a great baddie: a cold-blooded killer who always honours his contracts, even if he's just killed the person who paid him. I love Angel Eyes and I partly based someone in my book on him, but he is not my favourite character.
Eli Wallach plays The Ugly AKA Tuco AKA Tuco Benedicto Pacfico Juan Mara Ramrez. He is a grubby, greasy, greedy Mexican who cares for nothing but gold. He has neither the cool aloofness of Clint Eastwood nor the menacing good looks of Lee Van Cleef but he totally steals the film from both of them. Tuco is my favourite character.
What I love about Tuco is his huge appetite for life, his passion, his vulnerability and above all his irrepressible optimism. We first see him crashing through the window of a saloon, a smoking revolver in one hand, a half-eaten turkey drumstick in the other and napkin around his neck. He has just vanquished three deadly desperados, killing two and winging one. His beady little ferret eyes dart first one way, then the other, then he scampers off to jump on a handy horse. From that moment on the story fizzes whenever he is onscreen. Ive seen the film half a dozen times and his performance is always fresh, always funny, always endearing.
In my opinion, the Jewish American stage actor Eli Wallach is the key to Tuco's lovability. His face expresses every selfish thought. His muddy brown eyes glow with life, humour, vulnerability. Wallach does great physical comedy, too. 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.
In his autobiography, The Good, the Bad and Me, Wallach says that when he first met Sergio Leone he noticed the Italian director wore braces AND belt. He asked if he could dress like that for Tuco. Leone snapped his own braces and grinned. Oui, certo, of course, he replied. And from that moment on the two were friends.
Clint Eastwood was worried that Eli Wallach might steal the film. And with reason. Wallach totally steals the film. In a way, Tuco is the real hero of the film. 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. In many ways he is director Sergio Leone's alter-ego. Yes, Tuco is the hero of the greatest Western ever made.
Wallach was a trained method actor who worked with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Peter OToole, Audrey Hepburn and many others. He can play any type of character, but comedy is his fort. He makes it look easy. The three characters together make The Good, the Bad and the Ugly work. Tuco makes the other characters work. Eli Wallach makes Tuco work. Long live Eli Wallach (95 years and going strong at the time of writing)!
Ten things I love about Tuco
1. He wears a belt AND braces.
2. He wears his gun on a string around his neck.
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 has a sense of humour.
10. He is very religious. 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, Ill always honour your memory. I swear.
5. When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
Listen to the amazing theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
You can read more about the Western Mysteries on their website and read a sample from The Case of the Deadly Desperados at the Orion website.
Check out the other stops on the tour via this schedule on the Orion website or on twitter: #westernmysteries.
Many thanks to Caroline and Orion Childrens for arranging this.