The Brother of Brother Ramirez: Story of Tuco
From The Spaghetti Western Database
by Divy Tripathi
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly perhaps is the most seminal of all the Spaghetti Westerns. It was successful in not only creating an enigma around the Genre, but also laying down a pathway for many lesser known imitators to follow and arguably gave these westerns their life and soul. The movie though featuring Eastwood, Van Cleef and several other recurring characters from the previous two instalments of the trilogy was vastly different from them.
It was an epic western in the true sense with a story spanning across the American Civil war; dealing with the quest of a hidden treasure and trials and travails of the three titular characters. With the use of captivating music and exemplary camera work, Sergio Leone and his crew, put before us a brilliant spectacle which doesn't get dull for a moment, but keeps on improving with every passing scene. It had the simplicity of plot, yet had the ingenuity to draw enchanting characters caught amidst this conflict which rages on and becomes an important under-current for this movie.
Even the minor characters were well-written and given the depth to make an impact on the movie-watcher. These were no straw men created merely to move the plot ahead but in fact, came across as natural extensions of the plot, those characters who perhaps had their own back stories, but only incidentally or by coincidence, came across the path of our protagonists. A few examples can be namely the gun-shop owner whom Tuco meets, the alcoholic captain (My favourite!), the dying soldier whom Blondie gives a few drags of his Cigar, the Half-soldier who gives information to Angel Eyes.
Clint Eastwood's eponymous 'The Man with No name' or Blondie as he is called in this movie, plays the lead along with Eli Wallach's Tuco and Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. Eastwood, whose career was arguably launched by this movie, gets the top billing as the no non-sense, silent gunslinger who likes his gun to do the better part of conversation in this movie. However, it would be a travesty to call it Eastwood's movie, because it is a movie as much about him as about the other two characters.
Angel Eyes is a sharp-shooting bounty hunter, who is the first to get information about the stolen gold and is ready to take all within his powers to get it.
Then we come to Tuco Ramirez, the last of the troika, is a bandit and criminal who has committed nearly all the offences in the state and gets entangled in this quest of gold along with Blondie. It is a much complicated character with his own deep running flaws and failures. It is also a character about whom we learn the most in this movie.
He is introduced as a bandit with a reward of $2000 on his head, who quite unwillingly joins hand with Blondie to earn more money through his innovative schemes. He comes across initially as one of the lighter characters whose over-the-top antics provides comic relief to the dry wit of Blondie. There was no dearth of these characters in Spaghetti Westerns, Tomas Milian as Manuel Sanchez, Rod Steiger in 'Duck, you Sucker' to name a few, who would provide humour amidst the chaos and drama of a Western. This was an incredible tool in the hands of a director, who used them in dry passages of the movie as an element of comic relief and at the same time let the story run at its pace. Tuco was no different. When the one-armed opponent shows to finish off Tuco while he is enjoying a rare bath, he stops to give him a sermon, the latter duly finishes him off before he has completed and then quips "When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." Every gun makes its own tune indeed!
When he is betrayed by his partner and left to lurch in the desert, he finds a way to get back to town and has a hilarious encounter with the gun-shop owner. Again Wallach's comic timing is impeccable, when he turns around his gun towards the owner asking him "How much?" with respect to money in his possession and not the cost of the gun, as the mistaken soul had taken for initially! This adds another dimension to the character of Tuco, he is not merely a jester in the court but a brutal gunslinger who is not easy to mess with.
His shrewdness is shown when Pedro's crew has been cleared up by Blondie, he has the wiliness to enter the room from the window while the Joes had taken the most obvious route. He adds "There are two kinds of spurs my friend, those who come in by the door (makes a sign of the cross) and those who come in by the window." These were the moment which made this movie special, there were elements of comedy, action and drama all packed into one in this small scene.
However, the best of Tuco, also one of the greatest sequences in this epic, shows up when he chances across Pablo, who is a Catholic friar. This is an accidental meeting which had been setup with Blondie's life, which Tuco had wanted to end a few scenes back, becoming the most important to him as he is the key to their El Dorado. Pablo has become a holy man serving the wounded and needy in times of brutal war. Tuco meanwhile is the black sheep, who had run away in search for a better life, eventually ending up as a bandit.
This is a poignant moment in the movie. The two brothers meet after a long time. Much has changed since, Tuco is in awe of his older brother but at the same time the shame of not being with his family and what he has become shows on him. This is quite clear with the way he addresses his brother and enquires about his parents. He had himself never met them over last nine years. He is stunned to hear the of the demise of his parents with guilt wrought all over him when he realizes that he hadn't been able to attend the funeral of his own father held only a few days ago. However, something changes here as Pablo turns on him over the failures of his life and the wrongful path that he has chosen. It is very rare to see in the movies for a character like Tuco to break out of his shackles and Master Leone had the perfect timing. Tuco filled with pain is no longer the person who had entered the room to meet his brother, something breaks in here, from his inside. He shows his true face, regrets running away, but the inevitability of his situation made him choose the path that he eventually took. He mocks the friar "Go on. Preach me a sermon, Pablo."
Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez also known as "The Rat" wasn't born as "The Rat". He was like any son of poor parents who is driven by economic and social conditions to take up crime cause life was no better and it would have never become better. This was a running theme in several westerns, the driving factors behind conditions of many a characters in them was the poverty and social backwardness they had to face. The tough choices they had to make.
Tuco is no saint, he is a serial offender. A rapist, A murderer. But does that make him less of a human being than others? Does it make him more liable to punishment in our sense of justice and morality? Leone answers it beautifully with this scene. He chides back at his brother "Where we came from, if one did not want to die of poverty, one became a priest or a bandit."
This obviously in no way is a glorification of Tuco, but makes for a better understanding. He doesn't change into a protagonist suddenly, but the viewers now see him in a new light. Like many other masterful products of this genre, the characters had deep running flaws and troubles running from their past and affecting their personalities and on minor occasions like this incredible scene we get to see them. This scene evokes memories of a small sequence from 'A Fistful of Dollars' when Marisol asks Joe why did he help her family, he responds "Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help." Not much is said, not much is talked about their previous lives. But enough is said about life, enough is answered as to their nature, choices and mistakes.
The scene ends with an altercation where Tuco eventually hits his brother, but that doesn't diminish the value his brother holds in his eyes. He doesn't even bother to listen to Pablo, who wanted to apologize for things he had said and done, both now and in the past. The love between the brothers isn't lost though. Tuco even calls him 'The Pope' of the institution, making up stories of their closeness in vain, and while playing out these lies to Blondie, gives out the ultimate truth of his life "My Brother, he is crazy about me. That's so. Even a tramp like me, no matter what happens, I know there's a brother somewhere who will never refuse me a bowl of soup."
These are the sequences which establish that Tuco is not merely there to fill in as "The Ugly", but much more than that. He manages to establish his own place amongst the already dominating and complex characters portrayed by Eastwood and Van Cleef. The viewer knows this movie is at least as much about him, if not more, as about the other two.
Another evocative scene featuring Tuco comes in later, when he is in claws of Angel Eyes and is tortured to give out the secret he holds. This torture done by brute Corporal Wallach (Mario Brega in a small but a reminiscent appearance) played to the tune of mournful 'The story of a soldier'. The fate is brought about by their own craving for money, but backfires sweetly on Tuco. He expects that by impersonating "Bill Carson" he can somehow use Angel Eyes and get further towards his goal. But Angel Eyes is already on the same quest and would want nothing other than the full secret from them.
He knows it is Tuco actually (Again hinting towards a previous encounter sometime in the past, Tuco had identified Angel Eyes earlier), and treats him like an old acquaintance initially. Soon, with entry of Wallace the equations change, it is made clear to Tuco that Angel eyes would not stop at anything less than the name he holds. He tries to put up a fight (having insulted Wallace earlier despite of being hit in the stomach), but eventually fails to Wallace's strength. The importance of Tuco's character is established as this emotional scene is played out to a memorable song depicting the hopelessness and sorrow of a soldier.
The final quarter of the movie reuniting of Blondie and Tuco and finally, Tuco finds himself running across the graveyard searching for the gold and eventually battling it out with Blondie and Angel Eyes in a Mexican standoff. Approaching climax, Tuco doesn't change on the outside, but we have known much more about him than Blondie or Angel Eyes.
Leone had a habit of doing this to certain characters. Harmonica, from 'Once upon a time in America', remains a character in grey with his motive for revenge uncertain till the climax. However, in my opinion it is better if the characters remain the same much throughout the film, yet the director through his vision could tell us more about them, their past and explain their actions. Leone was able to do it beautifully to Tuco in this case.
Tuco Ramirez is called the Ugly in this movie and to anyone looking at the poster or reading the title might come across as the third component in the movie besides the Protagonist ("The Good") and the Antagonist ("The Bad"). But any avid viewer of Spaghettis would know that they were a complex affair, with all characters deftly written and shades of grey present in all of them.
What the director did best here was give life and meaning to Tuco. He didn't make him a perfect hero or villain, as is his fate in the ending. But he creates something much more. Clint Eastwood has his swagger, Lee Van Cleef has his Charm. But Eli Wallach is still richer, he is more like one of us.