dinsdag 23 augustus 2016

Mario Novelli: Stuntmen, Sandels & Pistoleros

Mario Novelli, who died last week, may not have been one the best known names from the world of Italian genre cinema, but he must have been one of the most active men within the business. He worked as an actor and stuntman on more than seventy movies, in genres as diverse as peplum (sword & sandel), spaghetti western, poliziotesco and macaroni combat (war movies that is). After his retirement as a stuntman he continued working within the industry as a stunt coordinator or safety adviser, but even at a high age he occasionally doubled for an actor when a particular scene turned out to be more dangerous than anticipated. In 2004, when coordinating a stunt for the movie The Exorcist: The Beginning, he doubled for an actor playing a Dutch farmer, who scared away for a scene in the last minute. 

Mario in Gli invincibili fratelli Maciste

As an actor he was usually credited as Ant(h)ony Freeman - so with or without the h. Italians tend to 'forget' the h when using English pseudonyms because the h (acca in Italian), is only used in their language to preserve the sound [k] of a letter that would otherwise be pronounced differently in combination with another letter (*1).

Mario in Februari 2016, Photo by Marco Pancrasi

Mario made his debut (as an extra) in 1962 in the peplum movie L'Ira di Achille and was credited for the first time for his appearance in La Vendetta di Spartacus  and Gli schiavi più forti del mondo (the films were made back to back, the director using some of the same cast, locations and sets). He made his first appearance in a spaghetti western, as a bounty hunter, in 1966, in Ferdinando Baldi's Texas,Addio, and his last, in 1977, as the brother of a Northern soldier, in Michele Lupo's California. His most remarkable spaghetti western appearance, must have been his role as the villanous Chiuci in Ballata per un Pistolero (1967). Not only was this one of his rare leading roles - he was billed third - but he also appeared alongside his colleague and good friend Alfio Caltabiano (who played his brother and also directed the movie).

And again: Alfio Caltabiano may not be a name most people will be familiar with, but within the Italian genre industry he was one of the most illustrious stuntmen, thanks to his work on the movie Ben Hur (as most of you will know partly shot in Rome): it was he who doubled Charlton Heston during the famous chariot race. And by the way: on the set he befriended a young man who worked as a second-unit director on the movie and on this particular sequence: Sergio Leone



It's probably not one of the very best spaghetti westerns in history, but it's still an underrated film. It combines the older man/younger man theme with a vengeance tale, like in Sergio Leone's Per Qualche Dollaro in Più (For a Few Dollars More), but it's unique in the sense that it takes a positive stance towards religion (most spaghetti westerns were virulently anti-clerical).  

Mario Novelli (right) and Alfio Caltabiano in Ballata per un Pistolero

- Read a full review of the movie here: Pistoleros Review

R.I.P. Mario Novelli


* (1) For instance: c is usually pronounced [k] (as in cold), but in combination with i and e it is pronounced [tsj] (as in cheap), so when they want to preserve the k-sound, an h is inserted: chi [ki], che [ke]


* Mario Novelli has his own facebook page: Mario Novelli Stuntman

* For Alfio caltabiano and his work on Ben Hur and with Sergio Leone, see (Italian text): Un Villa d'Autore 

zondag 21 augustus 2016

The Twilight of the Western Towns

California (1977, Michele Lupo) is one of the best examples of a short cycle of westerns called The Twilight Spaghetti Westerns. They were produced in the second half of the Seventies, roughly a decade after the glory years of the spaghetti western genre. The entire production of Italian genre movies was in decline and the recession had turned the western towns of the Roman Studios into ghost towns.

California is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The West that once was Wild, has become a Waste land. The legendary set designer Carlo Simi used the ramshackle western town of the Elios Studios to create an atmosphere of decay and despair. In an early scene of the movie, Giuliano Gemma and Miguel Bose ride into town; they’re both Confederate soldiers, prisoners of war who were released after the Confederacy had surrendered. The town is in ruins, the town street full of trash, the saloon a dusty place, once full of life, now deserted. The two - sitting on one horse - ride into the saloon, alongside the bar, turn around, and return to the town street. The horse they’re riding, was stolen, and the next moment, Bose will be shot in the back by the owner and subsequently hanged in the town street.

Gemma and Bose in the town street of the Elios western town

And in the saloon where once Django was king 

A second ghost town used by Carlo Simi, was Mini Hollywood in Almeria, created in 1965 for Sergio leone’s For a Few Dollars More. A storm had almost completely swept away the town and its facades and buildings. Simi’s famous Bank of El Paso ('the bank only a madman would try to rob') was one of the few buildings that had survived. With some additional debris to complete the image of a town in ruins, the set proved to be the perfect picture to symbolize a society and an industry in trouble. A Twilight Western, shot in Twilight Western towns: with movies like California and Keoma (1976, Enzo G. Castellari) the Italian western had its last upswing. It wasn’t a boom, like boom of the Sixties, but those latter-day westerns were excellent pieces of film-making.

Mini Hollywood 1977, after the storm ...

The bank of El Paso even weathered the storm 


THE MOVIE: CALIFORNIA (1977, Michele Lupo)

(from the review on Spaghetti Western Database:)
The inmates of a Unionist prison camp are given a week to find work or leave the state. A young officer, Willy Preston, who wants to walk all the way home to Georgia, imposes himself on a veteran called Michael Random, a man with no particular place to go. The two steal a horse but ...
- Continue reading here: California - Movie Review


Mini Hollywood, Wikipedia Page
Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die, p. 314-318