It's the film Quentin Tarantino wishes he had directed. Stylish, flamboyant and groundbreaking, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is what '60s cinema was all about. This week, the cult flick rides in with a new DVD — including a fistful of extras that'd make the Man with No Name crack a smile. Actor Eli Wallach, who co-starred as the comically cruel Tuco in the film, reminisces with TV Guide Online about star Clint Eastwood, director Sergio Leone and the hazards of uncooked potatoes.
TV Guide Online: What did you think the first time you heard about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?
When my agent told me that they wanted me to do a spaghetti Western, it sounded crazy, like a Hawaiian pizza. It makes no sense! [Laughs] Clint Eastwood had done two of them already, but I'd never seen Clint in a movie. I met with Sergio Leone; he said he wanted me to see the credits of one of his movies, and then I would get the idea. I sat and watched the opening. It said on the screen in big letters "Sergio Leone" — and down underneath, a pistol shoots each letter of his name off the screen — and I thought, "That's pretty interesting. It shows that he hasn't got a big ego." I said, "OK, when do you want me to do the movie?" In two weeks, I was off to Rome, and then thrown over a horse with Clint Eastwood riding next to me.
TVGO: What was it like working with Eastwood?
He was always quiet. Clint is one of the Gary Cooper silent types. He's thinking, and you know what he's thinking, and that's very powerful on the screen. I was a New York actor with a mysterious method. I must have bored the heck out of him because I kept talking all the time. Clint would just smile and nod. When he left Italy, after we finished The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he said he was going to direct his own movies. I thought, "That'll be the day." But 35 years later, he calls me to do Mystic River.
TVGO: You kind of worked together again for the Ugly DVD.
Well, on this new DVD, they put back in 14 minutes that were cut from the original. I just dubbed my voice in New York and Clint did his in California.
TVGO: Did you have any memory of doing the material that hit the cutting-room floor?
Oh yes, the reason I remember the one scene is because I had to reach into a boiling pot of water and take a potato out and then bite into it — I got diarrhea from it.
TVGO: Now, that is an ugly tale. Did you mind being the "ugly" in the film?
No, because ugly doesn't necessarily mean the face is ugly. It's in [my character's] behavior, in his manner. Let's be honest, I had fun doing that part. I still walk in the streets of New York and people behind me whistle the music by Ennio Morricone.
TVGO: It's still an unforgettable theme and an unforgettable film. Did you have any idea it would become a classic?
The reviews were not that good when it opened. They dismissed it as just another spaghetti Western. It wasn't until later, when it was shown again and again, that people began to talk about it. Then, it became what you call a "classic." Incidentally, it's an Italian movie and I do not get residuals. I didn't get a penny after it was released. If I did, I would be a multimillionaire.
TVGO: At 88 years old, is an autobiography in the works?
I say to all journalists, "Please don't mention my age." And always in the first four lines, they mention my age. But as for a book, I've finally got a publisher. I'm not a writer, but I've got some great stories to tell.