“When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Eli Wallach dead at 98

wallach

Tuco gets the jump on Blondie by coming in through the window.

Eli Wallach died today at age 98. Some of you are saying, “Wallach? Who’s he?” Most of the rest of you are probably saying, “Wallach was still alive?” For those of us who followed Wallach’s career, today is a sad day.

Wallach, best remembered for his bad-guy roles in the classic westerns The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, has left a legacy of cinematic excellence that places him in the pantheon of under-appreciated supporting actors.

I can’t remember the first time I saw The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I was young. I do remember that it was a regular feature on an cable channel, one probably owned by Ted Turner, and that I would watch the Clint Eastwood marathons as often as they aired. When VHS came on the scene, I wore out a bootlegged copy of Leone’s film, rolling and rewinding the scene where Tuco (played by Eli Wallach) enters the gun shop and puts together the perfect revolver.

Wallach

Wallach in The Magnificent Seven.

It is an almost wordless scene, and it should be the only thing they play at Wallach’s funeral. Forget for a moment that Tuco manages to shoot cartridges from a percussion cap revolver. It’s the movies! And there’s something much deeper, as the title of the movie insinuates. There’s good (though Blondie is hardly good, by any technical definition). There’s bad (and I’m not sure Angel Eyes is as bad as many think). Then, as Tuco so aptly demonstrates, there’s an odd gray area that exists between good and bad, or maybe farther down than bad. Regardless, Wallach’s Tuco is incredibly well developed. Tuco is the epitome of ugly, and Wallach handles his guns with a casual nonchalance that makes Tuco seem even more ice-cold.

There’s a rumor that Wallach, when he was shooting The Magnificent Seven, would ride out into the countryside for hours with his band of thieving miscreants. When it was time to shoot the scene, the gang would ride up, saddle sore and in character. While the story may be apocryphal, it makes me like Wallach all that much more.

“When you have to shoot,” Tuco says, “shoot. Don’t talk.” Enough said. Wallach, and all of the minions he so masterfully portrayed, will be forever missed. Time to break out the DVDs.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Guido Oñederra July 5, 2014, 4:24 pm

    Smart words…. “when you have to shoot………shoot…..don`t talk.”….. a closely friend believes in reasoning with an armed guy….He died….

  • Tomt July 1, 2014, 10:24 am

    I really liked reading your article, thought I was only guy that watched those movies over and over, thanks for the memories

  • Rebel Sympathy June 30, 2014, 7:11 pm

    He also did a wonderful job as Mexican bandit Charlie Gant in the 1962 film “How The West Was Won”.

  • Paul Burns June 30, 2014, 1:02 pm

    The great Mexican bandit, Eli Wallach, was born a Polish-American Jew in Brooklyn. I guess he learned to ride when he was at the University of Texas.

    Only in America!

    Shine on, you crazy diamond!

  • Cyberdemonbfg June 30, 2014, 12:56 pm

    He was using a 1851 conversion revolver.Prop gun yes but conversions were the transition between cap and ball and cartridges.There is a company out there that makes a copy of this pistol….i have one.

  • Chris C. Courtney June 30, 2014, 8:23 am

    Thanks for sharing those wonderful western memories of Eli Wallach in those classic Westerns!

  • Iron Colonel June 30, 2014, 6:01 am

    God bless him. That’s a good hard run. I admire actors like Mr. Walloch that did not advertise his political affiliation unlike others. He let us love him for his talent. R.I.P.

  • Wayne Keller June 30, 2014, 6:00 am

    Wow, he lived a long life. He was great in Good, Bad and Ugly. One of the best westerns ever.

    • D. Hicks July 11, 2014, 9:06 am

      Wayne,So right I have all the video versions of The Good The Bad and The Ugly,the BEST Western movie ! Eli Wallach IS Tuco. I even named a horse Tuco.’There’s only two kinds of actors in world my friend’ the good and the bad. Eli Wallach was GOOD!

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend