Legends of the 24hr Film Session: Franco Nero

Sling a poison-tipped dart into a dung pile of seventies Italian ephemera and you’re guaranteed it’ll plonk itself into either one of Franco Nero’s handsome buttock cheeks, but don’t mistake his prolificacy for being a disposable background name.

franco1A well-built man’s man with piercing blue eyes and pubic hair spilling out from his underwear like angry ants carrying whips, Nero is a solid lead in many films; both tough and vulnerable, romantic, comic, violent and suave. His career is long and varied, but here we’ll be concentrating on the films which are fully deserving of a place in any 24hr film session.

In 1966 he lucked into the lead in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’. In a way this proved to be the template for most of his coming performances – a loner seeking revenge. But prior to this would be his dalliance with Hollywood in major studio films such as ‘The Bible’  (John Huston, 1966) and ‘Camelot’ (Joshua Logan, 1967).

But we don’t care about that stuff because we’re cinematic rogues on a dirty and mysterious path; we have little or no time for Hollywood and its painted cows.

So let us skip forward a little to 1971 and Luigi Bazzoni’s spiralling (the pun’s wasted on you if you’ve not seen the film) giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’. Here Nero’s masculinity is proven as he butches around the franco2place with the character name of Andrea.  It’s a beautiful film, sumptuously shot with a confident plot which succeeds in spite of its absurdities, much like any good giallo. Andrea’s duality is clearly relished by Nero as he plays an investigative reporter looking into a killer who only kills on Tuesdays. That in itself is mysterious. If I were to kill people I’d do it on a Friday so as to maximise the impact on their family’s lives by ruining a weekend, or on a Sunday to emphasise the ungodliness of my act.

A few years later though and we get a film which impacts enormously on Nero’s future career. In 1974 he made his first film with writer/director Enzo G Castellari in ‘Il cittadino si ribella’, or to you and I: ‘Street Law. In fact from now on I shall refer to it as ‘Street Law’ simply so this doesn’t appear too obnoxious or “filmy”. In this ‘Death Wish’ inspired vigilante thriller (though Castellari insists both were in production at the same time) Nero plays a man pushed to the edge by hoodlums and ne’er-do-wells.  While Nero’s made better films, I don’t think he’s bettered this performance. From the start as he surreptitiously tries to secrete his cash in the bank during a robbery he plays a complete fish-out-of-water. This single act leads him to be kidnapped, beaten some more and generally exposed to a pretty shitty time of it. What’s great about Castellari’s film is that in fact his first act at vigilantism actually sees him getting the shit kicked out of him. It goes stupidly wrong. This in turn allows Nero’s Caro Antonelli to come back harder than ever before, and this time with a plan. He manages to overthrow the dirty crime gang and win the day, albeit with substantial blood loss. It’s clear throughout that here we have a director and actor working perfectly in tandem, no less obvious than in the scenes where Antonelli is repeatedly knocked down by a car and then driven over the edge of a cliff. That’s not a stuntman, my friend. That’s Franco Nero.

Here’s a magnificent compilation from said film:

nero3Any discussion of Nero can’t avoid the magnificent ‘Keoma’ (Enzo G Castellari, 1976). Again something of a vigilante film, but with a slightly more supernatural edge. It’s clear that Nero and Castellari were just peas and carrots. Nero has to carry the entire film as pretty much everything is told from Keoma’s point of view. He’s in every scene.

These films will all be covered individually later on this blog and in the book as there’s so much to say about each one. But Franco Nero was and always will be a cinematic legend. He even turned up in ‘Letters to Juliet’ (Gary Winick, 2010) with his wife Vanessa Redgrave. A film I was dying in front of, but his lively performance perked me up no end.

Franco Nero: We salute you.

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