Ace High (1968)
One almost wants to change this title to “Shades of Tuco.” Truthfully with a couple of tweaks to the script, this spaghetti western from director Giuseppe Colizzi could have served as an unofficial sequel to the Leone epic, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as the further adventures of Eli Wallach’s memorable character, Tuco, aka The Ugly.
What’s really happened is the plot has shoehorned Wallach in between two very familiar faces to fans of the many westerns filmed in Almeria, Spain, Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Two actors who over the course of their careers appeared in as many as 18 films together. A number that places them behind Abbot and Costello pairings but slightly ahead of Martin and Lewis duets. Ace High is actually a sequel to an earlier film that the pair had already worked on with director, Colizzi, God Forgives … I Don’t.
Released in North America by Paramount, this western tale has Hill and Spencer walking off with more gold than a frontier town banker was looking to give up prompting him to seek out an old ally he left for dead in prison years ago played by Wallach. To earn his freedom, all Tuco .. ah Wallach has do is agree to kill the pair and return the money. On the surface this might work but then Wallach isn’t exactly trustworthy and neither is the banker. We’ll learn that fifteen years ago three men left Wallach behind to take a rap. The banker and two others who have prospered during Wallach’s incarceration. Not only does Wallach want their money, he wants his vengeance.
Sounds like a deadly 122 minutes when in reality Wallach brings it that Tuco charm as he cusses, appears unshaven and can’t stop scratching at fleas. After settling his score with the banker he’s off to get the gold from Hill and Spencer anyway. Once he’s got it he’s made enemies of the pair but not for too long. They too will fall for that Tuco charm. The trio will slowly form an uneasy alliance. While all they want is their gold returned, they’ll find it isn’t easy when Wallach’s been gifting it to those less fortunate then he is.
Folks like the McBain children. True spaghetti western fans should know exactly who I’m referring to. Unbelievably when Hill and Spencer first track Wallach, they’ll come across a homestead family with three children who must have been moonlighting from a certain Sergio Leone epic. I got a good chuckle over seeing them and to confirm I wasn’t seeing things I called in Number 2 son, Kirk, to watch the scene (He calls the Leone film his favorite) and he confirmed they were indeed the two sons and daughter of Brett McBain. For trivia buffs, this is indeed THE question you might want to spring on a so called spaghetti expert of the movie variety.
Along the journey the trio will also pick up a hire wire act that will come in handy towards the end of the film played by the well known Brock Peters. The idea is that Wallach is to return the gold he’s taken from Hill and Spencer by not only killing his ex-partners but stealing the money they’ve accumulated. While it doesn’t work out to well when killing his second victim, things might turn out better for all when they attempt to rob a Casino run by Wallach’s third target, Kevin McCarthy.
I swear that aside from the sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, McCarthy never read a script once where he couldn’t find himself a villain to play. And while his screen time here is limited to the final few moments of the movie, he makes the most of it as a dapper looking casino owner who isn’t exactly overjoyed when he sees Wallach sitting at his roulette wheel raking in enough chips to break the house. Might a shoot out be far off?
With all due respect to Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, Eli Wallach is the whole show in this film he made just two years after the Leone classic. He’s one of those character actors that you have to wonder, “how is it possible that this man was never once nominated for an Academy Award?” This despite years of memorable work in films ranging from early efforts The Magnificent Seven and The Misfits to late in life appearances in Nuts and Tough Guys. Thankfully the Academy took notice of his entire body of work and awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Hill and Spencer first appeared together in the 1959 overseas production, Hannibal, that cast Hollywood leading man Victor Mature in the title role. It’s more of a coincidence that they co-starred in the same movie, apparently having no scenes together. Reminds me of watching John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge only to see both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the film but again, no shared scenes and still five years away from their first “official” teaming in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein. Ace High being the follow up to God Forgives … I Don’t proved the second of three films in this series but the final film, Boot Hill, dropped the Wallach character from the story line. The pair would star in a succession of films throughout the 70’s and early 80’s with one final go around in 1994, Botte di Natale. With Spencer’s passing in 2016 there’ll be no senior citizen’s reunion.
No poster tucked away here in the vault but the DVD can be found on the shelf and maybe at your local second hand store if you’re on the hunt for what I like to think of as an “unofficial” follow to the continuing adventures of Tuco as played by the great Eli Wallach.