Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 7 December 1915. Education: Attended Erasmus High School; University of Texas, Austin, B.A. 1936; City College of New York, M.Sc. in education 1938; studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse school,
Baby Doll (Kazan) (as Silva Vacarro)
The Line-Up (Siegel) (as Dancer)
Seven Thieves (Hathaway) (as Pancho); The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges) (as Calvera)
The Misfits (Huston) (as Guido)
Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man ( Adventures of a Young Man ) (Ritt) (as John)
"The Outlaws" ep. of How the West Was Won (Hathaway) (as Charlie Gant); The Victors (Foreman) (as Sergeant Craig); Act One (Schary) (as Warren Stone)
Kisses for My President (Bernhardt) (as Rodriguez Valdez); The Moon-Spinners (Neilson) (as Stratos)
Genghis Khan (Levin) (as Shah of Khwarezm); Lord Jim (Richard Brooks) (as the General)
How to Steal a Million (Wyler) (as David Leland); Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ( The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ) (Leone) (as Tuco); The Poppy Is Also a Flower (Terence Young) (as Locarno)
The Tiger Makes Out (Hiller) (as Ben Harris)
How to Save a Marriage—and Ruin Your Life (Cook) (as Harry Hunter); New York City—The Most (Pitt—doc) (as cabdriver); A Lovely Way to Die (Rich) (as Tennessee Fredericks); Mackenna's Gold (J. Lee Thompson) (as Ben Baker); Il quattro dell'ave Maria ( Ace High ; Revenge at El Paso ) (Colizzi) (as Cacopoulos)
Le Cerveau ( The Brain ) (Oury) (as Scannapieco)
Zigzag ( False Witness ) (Colla) (as Mario Gambretti); The People Next Door (David Greene) (as Arthur Mason); The Angel Levine (Kadar) (as a clerk); The Adventures of Gerard (Skolimowski) (as Napoleon)
Romance of a Horsethief (Polonsky)
Viva la muerte . . . tua! ( Don't Turn the Other Cheek ; The Killer from Yuma ) (Tessari)
L'Ultima chance ( Last Chance Motel ; Stateline Motel ) (Lucidi); Cinderella Liberty (Rydell) (as Lynn Forshay); A Cold Night's Death (Freedman—for TV) (as Frank Enari)
Crazy Joe (Lizzani) (as Don Vittorio); Indict and Convict (Sagal—for TV); L'Chaim—To Life! (Mayer) (as narrator)
Il bianco, il giallo, il nero ( Samurai ) (Corbucci) (as the sheriff); Attenti al buffone! ( Eye of the Cat ) (Bevilaqua)
E tanta paura (Cavara) (as the detective); Independence (Huston—short) (as Benjamin Franklin); Twenty Shades of Pink (Stanley); Nasty Habits ( The Abbess ) (Lindsay-Hogg) (as the Monsignor)
The Sentinel (Winner) (as Gatz); The Deep (Yates) (as Adam Coffin); The Domino Principle ( The Domino Killings ) (Kramer) (as General Tom Rezer)
Girlfriends (Weill) (as Rabbi Gold); "Baxter's Beauties of 1933" (as Pop), and "Dynamite Hands" (as Vince Marlowe), eps. of Movie Movie (Donen); The Pirate (Annakin—for TV) (as Ben Ezra); Squadra antimafia ( Little Italy ) (Corbucci)
Winter Kills (Richert) (as Joe Diamond); Circle of Iron ( The Silent Flute ) (Richard Moore) (as man in oil); Firepower (Winner) (as Sal Hyman)
The Hunter (Kulik) (as Ritchie Blumenthal); Fugitive Family (Krasny—for TV) (as Olan Vacio)
The Salamander (Zinner) (as Leporello); Acting: Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio (doc); The Pride of Jesse Hallam (Nelson—for TV) (as Sal Galucci); Skokie (Wise—for TV) (as Bert Silverman)
The Wall (Markowitz—for TV); The Executioner's Song (Schiller—for TV) (as Uncle Vern Damico)
Anatomy of an Illness (Heffron—for TV) (as Dr. William Hitzig)
Sam's Son (Landon) (as Sam Orowitz)
Christopher Columbus (Lattuada—for TV) (as Hernando DeTalavera); Embassy (Robert Michael Lewis—for TV); Murder: By Reason of Insanity (Page—for TV) (as Dr. Huffman)
Tough Guys (Kanew) (as Leo B. Little); Rocket to the Moon (Jacobs—for TV) (as Mr. Prince); Something in Common (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Norman Voss)
Nuts (Ritt) (as Dr. Herbert A. Morrison); Hello Actors Studio (doc); Worlds Beyond: The Black Tomb (Jacobs—for TV); The Impossible Spy (Goddard—for TV)
Rosengarten ( The Rose Garden ) (Rademakers); Terezin Diary (Weissman and Justman)
The Godfather, Part III (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Don Altobello); The Two Jakes (Nicholson) (as Cotton Weinberger)
Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride ( Bride of Violence ; A Family Matter ) (Margolin—for TV) (as Frank Latella)
Night and the City (Irwin Winkler) (as Peck); Legacy of Lies (Meshover-Iorg—for TV) (as Moses Zelnick); Mistress (Primus) (as George Lieberhoff); Article 99 (Deutsch) (as Sam Abrams); Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story (Reid—for TV) (as Bill Presser)
Two Much (Trueba) (as Sheldon); James Dean: A Portrait (Legon—doc) (as himself); Clark Gable: Tall, Dark and Handsome (Susan F. Walker—doc) (as himself); Two Much (Trueba) (as Sheldon); The Associate (Petrie) (as Fallon)
Naked City: Justice with a Bullet (Freilich) (as Deluca)
New York: A Documentary Film (Burns—mini for TV) (as voice); Uninvited (Carlo Gabriel Nero) (as Strasser)
Keeping the Faith (Norton) (as Rabbi Lewis)
The Actor's Audition , with David Black, New York, 1990.
"My Strange Dilemma," in Films and Filming (London), August 1961.
"In All Directions," interview in Films and Filming (London), May 1964.
Catsos, G. J. M., "Eli Wallach," in Filmfax (Evanston), February/March 1991.
Current Biography 1959 , New York, 1959.
Marill, Alvin H., in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1983.
* * *
Eli Wallach started in the theater, returned to it frequently, but achieved his principal identification through film. Wallach began his film career as the sinister sneering con-man lover in the controversial Elia Kazan/Tennessee Williams film Baby Doll . Except for comic presentations later, such as The Tiger Makes Out , Wallach never returned to leading man roles.
His second film, Don Siegel's The Line-Up , set the mold for Wallach. As the nervous psychotic killer Dancer, Wallach moved with grace, decision, and violence. He became a dancer, a choreographer of death, a man who could not understand why fate kept hitting him in the face. Whether comic or serious, Wallach has continually returned to this image and character, the none-too-bright killer who simply does not have the moral depth to understand why the world wants to destroy him. Whether his identity (and Eastern urban accent) is masked as a Latin bandit, as in The Magnificent Seven , or as an urban Italian soldier in The Victors , Wallach has become the epitome of the incredulous colorful villain. He had one of his best roles in this vein in the epic Sergio Leone spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly , where he played the final adjective in the title.
Villainy, however, is but one facet of the actor. Occasionally, in a film such as John Huston's The Misfits , Wallach has portrayed not a killer of men but a man with a potentially dead soul. The pain behind the unloved eyes can be both contemptuous and pitiful. Unfortunately, it is a portrayal of depth that Wallach was seldom allowed to bring to the screen after The Misfits . In more recent films, Wallach's talents and the character type he has evolved have been limited to a decidedly secondary role, often forcing him to rely on the mannerisms which suggest his past portrayals. In the final Steve McQueen film The Hunter , for example, Wallach played a somewhat sympathetic Jewish bailbondsman on the thin edge of emotionalism, a polished but surface role at best.
Wallach, fortunately, is a character actor whom age will not diminish, nor, it seems, slow down. He appears in almost as many movies now as he did in his heyday. Among the most visible recent examples: as a mafioso in The Godfather, Part III , the final installment of Francis Ford Coppola's Corleone saga; The Two Jakes , Jack Nicholson's ill-fated (and ill-advised) sequel to the classic Chinatown ; and Irwin Winkler's updated remake of the forties noir thriller Night in the City . Wallach also joined aging contemporaries Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster for the enjoyable septuagenarian caper comedy Tough Guys .
—Stuart M. Kaminsky, updated by John McCarty