Eli Wallach's 10 Greatest Roles (A Completely Biased List)

Memorable Performances From the Oscar-Winning Actor

The Magnificent One: Eli Wallach speaks at a 2010 Holocaust Museum gala honoring Clint Eastwood.
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The Magnificent One: Eli Wallach speaks at a 2010 Holocaust Museum gala honoring Clint Eastwood.

By Adam Langer

Published June 25, 2014, issue of June 27, 2014.
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Eli Wallach, who died yesterday at 98, once joked that he had played hundreds of roles onstage and in movies, but was perhaps most remembered for playing the role of the villain Mr. Freeze on the old “Batman” TV series. Although Wallach’s “Batman” turn was a memorable one, we’ve cho]sen to look back at some of the other more memorable moments of the Tony and Academy Award-winning actor’s career:

10) The Lineup: 1958

Kind and approachable in real life, Wallach could be a terrific onscreen villain, as was the case in the Don Siegel film in which he played the terrifying killer with the improbable name of Dancer.

9) Mystic River: 2003

Wallach’s most demanding role? Hardly. But, when I saw the Clint Eastwod flick, the moment he appeared onscreen playing a liquor store owner, the audience burst into applause. Which seems reason enough to include it here.

8) The Holiday: 2006

This thoroughly enjoyable bit of date movie fluff features a delightful performance by Wallach as the former Hollywood scriptwriter Arthur Abbott. The chemistry between Wallach and Kate Winslet is far more convincing than that between any of the other characters.

7) Winter Kills: 1979

Arguably the last hurrah in the genre of 1970s conspiracy thrillers, this star-studded film, featuring an oddball crew including Jeff Bridges, Sterling Hayden and John Huston, also features a memorable turn by Wallach as a sleazy nightclub owner.

6) How To Steal a Million: 1966

Wallach was not know for light comedy, but in this frothy tale of romance and jewel thievery, he proved he could more than keep pace with co-stars Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.

5) The Tiger Makes Out: 1967

Eli Wallach and his wife Anne Jackson enjoyed many fruitful collaborations with the playwright Murray Schisgal. The sexual politics of the film are more than a little dated, and it’s hard to get a copy of the movie, but this represents one of the few opportunities to see Wallach and Jackson together onscreen.

4) The Magnificent Seven: 1960

Bandit roles suited Wallach, perhaps most notably Calvera in John Sturges’s American re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai.”

3) The Misfits: 1961

The last film for Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift, this storied feature that would become the subject of Arthur Miller’s last play “Finishing The Picture,” featured a breakout role for Wallach playing Guido, one of the movie’s lost cowboys.

2) Baby Doll: 1956

Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Tennessee Williams, this was of the most aggressively perverse and controversial movies to come out of 1950’s Hollywood. Wallach played Silva Vaccaro, the conniving owner of a cotton gin.

1) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: 1968

Wallach starred as the third titular character in Sergio Leone’s archetypal spaghetti western featuring the greatest graveyard scene in movie history, scored by Ennio Morricone.

Adam Langer is the Forward’s arts and culture editor.


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