2014/12/18

A Priest and a Bandit

(i.m. Eli Wallach)

Where we came from, if one did not want to die
of poverty, one became a priest or a bandit. You
chose your way, I chose mine. Mine was harder.

— TUCO: ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Tuco and his brother. The key scene in The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly. Pare back the iconography
of ten-gallon hat, poncho, holster, gun; streets of mud,

huge vistas juxtaposed with close-ups of gimlet eyes
narrowed against the noonday sun, Civil War
deployments, bridges blown to matchwood, the brutality

of the prison camp, a cemetery like an amphitheatre,
a noose around a neck. Strip away the retro-cool
of the opening credits, the Ennio Morricone score.

This isn’t about the Man with No Name, he of ‘my mule
don’t like you laughing’ in A Fistful of Dollars;
he of the spat-out stream of tobacco; he of the quasi-duel,

shooting his antagonist’s hat along the street in For
a Few Dollars More. And this isn’t about Angel Eyes,
who is anything but angelic. It isn’t about il buono or

il cattivo — no, no, no. This, señoras y señores,
is about il brutto, about his transformation from
grizzled comedic sidekick making poetry of curses

to something defiantly and recognisably human.
This is about the distance between one thing and another.
The cross and the six-shooter. Belief in the kingdom come

and avoidance of the rope and the drop that gets you there.
The distance between the high wall of the monastery
and the view from the mountain vantage point where

undefended villages display themselves like easily
picked off targets at a shooting range; where huts
and shacks will yield up their pittance of food, money

or livestock; where resistance will meet with the butt
of a gun — or the business end of same. No remorse,
no hesitation; shoot to kill; ride away. This is about

the distance between childhood morality, the discourse
of padre and parents, the simple definitions of right
and wrong, the Bible’s teachings, chapter and verse;

the distance between catechism that was black and white
on paper but hard to reconcile with poverty, hunger,
death; the distance between communion and the first night

you stole or cheated at cards or lied to your mother,
the first night you paid to go with a woman, or spat
and challenged a man and raised your fist in anger,

the first night you pulled your gun and proved that
you were faster. This is the distance between the Word
of the Lord and the sins of man, a wanted poster at

a sheriff’s office, a hanging tree, the jeers of the crowd.
This is about the distance between two brothers,
a priest and a bandit, and what set them apart; how

each made their choice and one choice was harder.


Neil Fulwood (UK)


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