One of the first articles on this blog was about good, evil and ugly. In this post, I criticized the moral titles attributed to Angel Eyes Bad and Blonde Good, because the moral choices these characters make show almost the same indifference to human life. The first thing Blondie does before the words Dobro appear on the screen is to let Tuco die in the desert, which would be a slow and horrible death. The main point of this post is that all these titles seem random – the good isn’t particularly good, and the bad isn’t much worse.
BKB49E GOOD, BAD AND UGLY (1967) ELI WALLACH, CLINT EASTWOOD GB 001CP
But after seeing the movie recently, one of the conclusions I came to is that Angel Eyes and Blondie don’t have particularly deep or well-developed characters. On the other hand, perhaps the most three-dimensional character is Tuco the Ugly – frankly, he’s the only character that has any depth. Blondie and Angel Eyes are just trophies in the maguffin quest – respectively: the trail of the evil and invincible gunslinger who shoots the fastest, and the trail of the sinister and unbeatable gunslinger who is a little more willing to kill people. These two characters have few characteristics and never express emotion or a verbal desire for money. Of course I’m for The Man Without a Name because the movie tells me I should be, but Tuco’s story is intrinsically more beautiful than Blondie’s or Angel Eyes’. Tuco is by far the best character in the entire movie.
greed and avarice
Blondie and Angel Eyes say that when they get the treasure, they will only take half of it and share it with the person who helped them get it. They both say that because they are not greedy. Tuco, on the other hand, would have immediately taken the full $200,000 for himself – wouldn’t that have been appropriate? If you were chasing someone for that treasure and you both tried to kill each other a few times in the weeks before, wouldn’t you want to take all the treasure for yourself?
Tuco’s greed seems well deserved after the first act. After establishing a dynamic between Blondie and Tuco – in which Tuco has missed out on a reward and Blondie helps him escape by almost hanging himself – we see Tuco trying to negotiate a bigger reward because he’s putting his life in danger, and Blondie refusing because he holds all the power. After this conversation, Blondie finds Tuco too dangerous and leaves him to die in the desert.
What I didn’t like the first time I watched the movie was the scene where Tuco repeats this mantra: If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself with your job? He says that by treating the dead chicken. He talks loudly, apparently to no one, but he knows his companions are hiding in the room and he wants to convince them to take the job. But after the last rewind, I began to understand this as a mantra for Tuco; all he wants is a treasure big enough to end his life as a criminal.
Like I said, Angel Eyes and Blondie are not characters, they are archetypes or tropes. Tuco Ugly is much more realistic. We don’t really understand why anyone would want money, but with Tuco there’s a sense of desperation and (if you’ll forgive the buzzword) economic anxiety that the other two don’t have. I would say this has to do with the portrayal of Tuco as racially different – his status as a perpetually exploited and oppressed criminal can probably be related to the fact that he is Mexican in white society and the other characters are white. (This gets a little murky when we know that Eli Wallach was Jewish, not Hispanic, but for the purposes of this discussion Tuco is Mexican). I don’t think you need to be a socio-economic expert to understand that, but I think it’s worth mentioning as well.
Whether it’s race or not, there’s a certain level of struggle and hardship that weighs on Tuco that the other two just don’t have. Is he recovering from the evil this character unleashes throughout the film? No, of course not. But does that enlighten them? I’d say so.
The man’s just trying to eat…
Tuco seems to have a food-related motive. The first scene of the movie would begin with a group of bounty hunters attacking Tuco as he tries to eat. He jumps out the window, a piece of meat in his hand and a towel around his neck, as the words Ugly appear on the screen. That’s a good start.
Most other dishes prepared by Tuco are less remarkable. His meal is at the Union camp, where he is beaten by Angel Eyes’ henchmen, and the meal is nothing but an excuse to beat him. Trying to involve his friends If you work for a living, why kill yourself at work, then he starts cooking chicken to eat it. When he arrives at a Catholic mission, he tells how to get a lighter snack and notices that his brother looks skinny. Tuco doesn’t appear in every scene, but he’s called upon often enough to be noticed. Tuko’s food is like a blonde (with angelic eyes) smoking a cigar; it’s kind of a trademark for him.
It’s a little odd that Tuco is the only one we see snoozing a lot during the movie. But it’s very human – it kind of mirrors what I said earlier, Tuco is more of a real person, whereas Good and Bad are tropes of cowboys shooting guns and smoking cigars. Tuco, on the other hand, just wants some food.
Tuco Ramirez, brother of Brother Ramirez.
The fact that the Good and the Bad have relatively little history makes entry fairly easy, but Tuco is a much stronger character due to his greed and his bond with his brother. And, okay, fine. No one watches a Sergio Leone western for character depth. But I think Tuco’s story is very human. He’s a man against the world; and that gives Tuco a level of pathos that the other two main characters don’t have.
That makes Tuco’s scene with his brother one of the best scenes in cinema. During a mission, Tuco abandons his holy priest brother Pablo. Pablo tells Tuco that his father recently died and that his mother died a few years ago. Tuco seems devastated by this situation, and Pablo, in a sanctimonious voice, suggests that Tuco leave, resulting in one of Tuco’s best monologues in the film:
Of course, I will go, I will go, waiting for the Lord to remember me! I, Tuco Ramirez, brother of Brother Ramirez, tell you something. You think you’re better than me; where we come from, someone who didn’t want to die in poverty became a priest or a bandit. You chose your way, I chose mine. Mine was heavier! You talk about father and mother, remember when you became a priest? I stayed. I must have been ten or twelve years old, I don’t remember, but I stayed! I tried, but I couldn’t make it. Now, let me tell you something: You became a priest because you were too cowardly to do what I do!
Eli Wallach delivers this speech with flying colors, and you can feel behind him a lifetime of struggle, struggle, and sadness. In short, he has pathos – you can’t help but feel it, to some extent.
His later conversation with Blondie is just as important. Unbeknownst to Tuco, Blondie was listening to the whole conversation between Tuco and Pablo. Tuco tries to reassure him by telling him that all is well between the Ramirez brothers, and speaks with admiration of his brother and the supposed hospitality he has offered him:
My stomach is full! Good boy, brother! Didn’t I tell you my brother was in charge here? It’s almost like the Pope! … Yeah, yeah, my brother told me: Stay brother, don’t go home! I never see you! There will be plenty of food and drink, bring your friend too! Every time we meet, he won’t let me go, it’s always the same story. My brother, he’s crazy about me. It’s true, even a bum like me, no matter what, I know there’s a brother who would never refuse me a plate of soup.
And we know that Tuco is not telling the whole truth here, but what he thinks is the truth. He wants a brother to welcome him, he wants to have enough to eat. No one in this movie ever talks about why they want money, but Tuco is the only one who has any idea: he wants a family, he wants food, and he wants stability.
After Tuco utters the above quote, a melancholy guitar melody begins to play and Blondie offers to share her cigar, perhaps the only real moment of friendship between the two main characters. And you can see a range of emotions on Tuco’s face – there may be a hint of gratitude for the cigar, but you can certainly see the sadness that gives way to frustration, but eventually dissolves into longing as he looks to the horizon – with the hope of treasure.
Again, this is a film known for its epic music and dramatic shots – too much involvement with the character might seem a little pointless, but unlike Good and Evil, Tuco seems to be a pretty well-crafted and human character. He’s the only one who seems to want something, he’s the only one who seems to be expressing an important emotion. The next time I watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I might actually support Tuco – not as an epic gunslinger, not as a ruthless bounty hunter, not as a great hero – but just as an imperfect character who really needs a break.
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