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Star of the Week: Eli Wallach May 1, 2007

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 2:10 pm

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American film, television and stage actor Eli Wallach was born on December 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York.  He went on to graduate with a B.A. from the University of Texas in Austin, and was trained at the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse.

His Broadway debut was in 1945, and in in 1951 he won a Tony for portraying Alvaro Mangiaco in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.”  His first film was another work of Williams’, “Baby Doll.”  He was cast by director John Sturges as the Mexican bandit Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven,” but his best-known western is probably “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”  (He was Tuco, the “Ugly.”) 

He married actress Anne Jackson in 1948, and the couple, still married today, have three children.  Wallach, Jackson, and their daughter Roberta all have made guest apperances in “Law & Order,” though in different episodes. 

Though his collaboration with spaghetti Western director Sergio Leone was a successful one, their friendship soured.  Leone had asked Wallach to star in his upcoming film (“Duck, You Sucker”).  Wallach had a prior commitment, but according to the actor, Leone begged him to take the role.  Wallach cancelled the other offer and waited for Leone to raise some money to make the film.  However, the studio that agreed to finance the film insisted that Leone use Rod Steiger.  Wallach was hurt, and when he asked for a token payment for losing out on two jobs, the director decline.  Wallach said that he’d sue Leone, and Leone told him to “Get in line.”  The two never spoke again.

 Wallach published his autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage in 2005.  He continues to act today, and was last seen in Nancy Meyers’ “The Holiday.”

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“The Magnificent Seven”: In the remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese classic “The Seven Samurai,” John Sturges directs a motley crew of actors in this stellar cowboy story.  When a bordertown in Mexico becomes fed up with the vicious bandit Calvera (Wallach) stealing their food and terrorizing their families, three villagers head into town to buy guns.  While there, they meet Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen), who agree to round up a few more men and come to protect the villagers.  The group includes Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn),  Harry (Brad Dexter) and Britt (James Coburn).  Rousing action and great dialogue ensue.   “The Magnificent Seven” does to the cowboy movie what “Platoon” did to war  movies — it humanizes the generic characters and themes.

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“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”:  Three men seek out a hidden fortune.  Blondie (Clint Eastwood), his occasional cohort Tuco (Wallach) and Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef).  Each knows one element of the treasure’s location and for that reason are tied to each other, though nobody wants to stick their neck out for anybody.  This epic film is set during the American Civil War and features Ennio Morricone’s beautiful, familiar music, as well as solid, enjoyable performances by all of the leads.

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“The Godfather: Part III”: Another epic, this is the final installment in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy.  Don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is finally trying to make the family business legitimate, but keeps getting sucked back in.  At the same time, he is trying to link the family’s finances with the Vatican.  Corleone’s protege, Vincent (Andy Garcia) begins an ill-fated affair with Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola, in a notoriously poor choice in casting), while the Don has to fight off rival gangster Don Altobello (Wallach).

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“Mystic River”:  Thirty-seven years after starring in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” with Clint Eastwood, Eastwood directed Wallach in a small part in this film.  After their lives are changed by a tragedy, childhood friends Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins) are reunited when Jimmy’s oldest daughter is murdered.  Sean is investigating the case, and Dave soon becomes the prime suspect.  It is impossible to not get emotionally involved in this film.  The story is heartbreaking and the characters are fascinating.  All of the elements are first rate — direction, acting, writing, music, you name it.  Wallach makes a cameo as a liquor store owner that was robbed.

Photos courtesy of imdb.com

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One Response to “Star of the Week: Eli Wallach”

  1. Beth Close Says:

    It’s good to be reminded of these great movies of the past.


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