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Franco Nero - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

April 2007

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Most probably, the well-built, blue-eyed Italian actor Franco Nero will forever be associated with his role as/in Django, the movie that marked his breakthrough as well as one of his biggest successes. However this would mean obscuring the fact that in his lifetime he was (and still is) one of the most prolific and versatile actors of European cinemas, being equally at home in genre-, in trash- and in arthouse cinema, and during his long career he worked with many big name directors (big name for one reason or another) - like (in no particular order) Damiano Damiani, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Enzo G.Castellari, Sergio Corbucci, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti [Antonio Margheriti bio - click here], John Huston, Claude Chabrol, Luis Bunuel, Marco Bellocchio, Menahem Golan, Peter Patzak, ... - and pretty much travelled the world to make his movies (including several appearances in Eastern European films, both during the cold war and after), and thanks to his talent he could effortlessly bring cowboys and action heroes to life as well as way more serious and sincere roles (e.g. his long string of playing public prosecutors in Mafia movies) and would prove himself to be a dependable character actor as well.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves and start at the beginning ...

 

Franco Nero was born Francesco Sparanero in 1941 in the little village San Prospera near Modena, Parma, Northern Italy, as the son of a strict police officer. 

While he studied economics in Milan, he also appeared in a series of photonovels, then an immensely popular genre in Italy, which led to small roles in a string of rather insignificant little films like Pelle Viva/Scorched Skin (1962, Giuseppe Fina), the Austrian-Italian co-production Maskenball bei Scotland Yard (1963, Domenico Paolella), the science fiction films I Criminali della Galassia/Wild, Wild Planet and I Diafanoidi vengono da Marte/War of the Planets (both 1965, Antonio Margheriti), La Celestina P... R... (1965, Carlo Lizzani) and Io la Conoscevo Bene (1965, Antonio Pietrangeli).

 


1966 was the year though when everything would change: First he would catch the attention of star director John Huston when working as a stills photographer on one of his movies, and Huston would soon enough cast him in his star-studded The Bible: In the Beginning ...

In this movie that comprises the Creation, the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, of Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel and Abraham's Test into almost 3 hours of monumental and almost overbearing film, Nero would play Abel opposite Richard Harris as Cain. The film, though a tremendous success at the time of its release, was not one of Huston's better films though and is by now largely forgotten, but for Nero, a credit in a John Huston film would open many a door ...

(Interestingly enough, Franco Nero would return to the sort-of genre of Bible-adaptations much later in his career.)

 


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It was also in 1966 that Franco Nero accepted his first role in a Western, which was then a pretty new and pretty hot genre to Italian filmmakers and actors alike (note, the first real Spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, was released only 2 years earlier, in 1964). The film would prove to be an early (and probably the most significant) turning point in Nero's career. Its title: Django.

Django was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who like most Italian directors of his generation learned his trade making sword and sandal movies (or pelpums if you may), and who was a close friend to Sergio Leone and before Django already had a small handful of Westerns under his belt, among them Minnesota Clay (1965), a film about a blind gunman starring Cameron Mitchell. However, all of these films were rather insignificant and would pale in comparison to Django, a film that pretty much defined the essence of the Spaghetti Western ...

Django is an incredibly bleak Western about a lone gunman, Django (Franco Nero), an antihero if there ever was one, who is travelling the West - which looks more like a mud-filled wasteland than anything else - dragging behind him a coffin that is ultimately revealed to contain a machine gun, which seems to be Django's raison d'ętre. The film is quite brutal, with not only a high bodycount but also some other niceties like shot-off ears and crushed fingers thrown in for everyone's amusement. And Franco Nero's underplayed, hyper-cool performance of the titular character would ultimately make him the only actor to rival Clint Eastwood's iconic status in the Spaghetti Western genre.

 


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The Italian film industry reacted quickly to the success of Django and put Franco Nero into more Spaghetti Westerns pretty much on the spot:

  • Gli Uomini dal Passo Pesante/The Tramplers (1966, Albert Band, Mario Sequi) is a Western starring muscleman and former Tarzan and Hercules Gordon Scott [Gordon Scott bio - click here], but actually the film belongs to veteran actor Joseph Cotten as an old patriarch. Franco Nero only plays a supporting role in this one.
  • Texas, Addio/Goodbye Texas (1966, Ferdinando Baldi) is a vendetta-Western in the Django-tradition, with Nero in a similar role, but with a spin: Here, Nero's character wants to bring the man who wronged him to justice, not to kill him - a point that is repeatedly made during the film -, which in the end doesn't work out though. The resulting film, interesting and well-made as it may be, is no match for Django though.

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  • Tempo di Massacro/Massacre Time (1966) marked the first collaboration between Franco Nero and director Lucio Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click here], years before Fulci would leave his mark on the horror genre. By and large the film is another vendetta Western, not a bad one though ...



Non-Western roles were few during this time, but one notable exception is Il Terzo Occhio/Third Eye (1966, Mino Guerrini), which is essentially a weak psychological thriller, but for once Nero did not have to play the taciturn gunman but could give an impressive performance as a psychopath who goes more and more over the edge the longer the film lasts ... but even his memorable performance cannot save the otherwise rather boring film ...

 


1967 saw a change of pace for Franco Nero as he starred as knight Lancelot in Camelot (Joshua Logan), opposite Richard Harris (who was also Cain to his Abel) as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave (with whom Nero soon became romantically involved and had a son, Carlo Gabriel Nero [born 1969]) as Guenevere, plus David Hemmings as Mordred. What makes this film special is that it is not an adaptation from the old legend directly but an adaptation of the then successful Broadway musical of the same name, with the actors singing their parts themselves. The result, especially from today's point of view, is somewhere between interesting and ridiculous.

 


Il Mercenario/The Mercenary from 1968 reunited Franco Nero with Sergio Corbucci once more, the man responsible for his breakthrough. Unlike Django though, which was a straight-forward vendetta-tale, Il Mercenario is a story about the Mexican revolution with a political subtext to it, and even though much of this subtext now seems dated, the film itself remains rather impressive and is considered one of Sergio Corbucci's best movies. Franco Nero's co-stars in this are Jack Palance and Tony Musante.

 


Another Western Franco Nero made in 1968, L'Uomo, l'Orgoglio, la Vendetta/Pride and Vengeance (Luigi Bazzoni) was actually a version of Prosper Mérimée's novel Carmen (yup, the one Georges Bizet's opera is based on) set in the Old West. Nero here plays the naive soldier Don José in love with Tina Aumont's Carmen while Klaus Kinski is on top of his game as the sadistic bandit Garcia. The film is certainly less than art - but some fun to watch nevertheless.

 


1968 also marked the year of Franco Nero's first collaboration with Damiano Damiani, the Italian director that would shoot to fame with his rather realistic Mafia exposés, a genre he would remain faithful to during most of his career - and quite successfully, too. Il Giorno della Civetta/The Day of the Owl/Mafia would be his first Mafia film - and it would also be his first film starring Franco Nero. In this one, Nero plays a police captain opposite Claudia Cardinale and Lee J.Cobb.

Acutally, The Day of the Owl is noteworthy not only for its inherent quality but also for the fact that it introduced Franco Nero to a new genre, crime fiction - and until the end of the decade, quite more crime thrillers would follow like Sequestro di Persona/Island of Crime/Sardine: Kidnapped (1968, Gianfranco Mingozzi), co-starring Charlotte Rampling, and Un Detective (1969, Romolo Guerrieri), co-starring Florinda Bolkan and Adolfo Celi.

 

Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna/A Quiet Place in the Country (1969, Elio Petri), a film that saw Nero co-starring with his girlfriend Vanessa Redgrave once more, is actually a quite effective horror film of the haunted house variety which has Nero as a painter thinking he goes mad. Unfortunately this film still awaits rediscovery ...

 

Also in the late 1960's, Franco Nero branched out into war movies (not too far a jump from action flicks and Westerns, actually) with Dio č con Noi/The Last Five Days of Peace (1969, Giuliano Montaldo) - a film about Nazis in an Allied prison camp - and Bitka na Neretvi/The Battle of the River Neretva (1969, Veljko Bulajic) - a film also starring Yul Brynner, Curd Jürgens, Hardy Krüger, Sylva Koscina and Orson Welles. Interestingly, both of these films were Yugoslavian co-productions.

 


Around the late 1960's too, Franco Nero started to break away from his action-hero image and decided to also accept roles in more serious films and arthouse films, so in this respect it is hardly surprising that he in 1970 starred in a film by Spain's most important and possibly also most controversial arthouse director Luis Bunuel, Tristana - which also starred Catherine Deneuve and Fernando Rey and is based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós. Here Nero plays the lover of Deneuve, who in turn plays the adopted daughter turned mistress of Fernando Rey and who develops from innocent young girl to cold-blooded murderess during the duration of the movie.

 


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That same year, Nero also starred in another literary adaptation, the British The Gypsy and the Virgin (1970, Christopher Miles), which was based on a novel by D.H.Lawrence and also starred Honor Blackman of The Avengers-fame. And Drop-out (1970) is one of the lesser known films by Tinto Brass, which saw Nero co-starring yet again with Vanessa Redgrave. In 1971, Brass assembled Nero and Redgrave for yet another film, La Vacanza/Vacation.

But that didn't mean that Nero would leave his roots behind for the sake of arthouse, as also in 1970, Nero was reunited for the third (and last) time with Sergio Corbucci for Vamos a Matar, Companeros/Companeros, yet another Spaghetti Western, also starring Jack Palance, Tomas Millian, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben and Karin Schubert. Like Il Mercenario before it, Companeros deals with the Mexican revolution, but this time the topic receives a more light-hearted treatment that is also in stark contrast to the bleakness of Django. That said, Companeros is apretty good movie though.

 

By and large, the 1970's were Franco Nero's decade, he released many a movie that was a hit in Italy if not in all of Europe or even worldwide, and he was quickly becoming a household name, starring in the following movies (most often as the lead):


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  • 3 more (Mafia-)films by Damiano Damiani: Confessione di un Comissario di Polizia al Procuratore della Repubblica/Confessions of a Police Captain/Bad Cop Chronicles (1971) has Nero playing a public prosecutor opposite Martin Balsam as the titular (confessing) police captain, in L'Istruttoria č Chiusa: Dimentichi (1971) Nero plays an everyman-hero wrongly thrown into the slammer, while Perché si Uccide un Magistrato/How to Kill a Judge (1974) sees him as a filmmaker making a movie about the Mafia that anticipates the real murder of a magistrate.

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  • Giornata Nera per l'Ariete/The Fifth Cord (1971, Luigi Bazzoni) is a typical giallo (a distinctively Italian variation of the murder mystery, often involving a mad killer, and often not so big on logic and reason) which sees Nero as a journalist wrongly accused of a murder, who now tries to find the real killer.
  • ˇViva la Muerte... tua!/Don't turn the Other Cheek (1971, Duccio Tessari) - co-starring Eli Wallach and Vanessa's sister Lynn Redgrave - and Los Amigos/Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1972, Paolo Cavara) - co-starring Anthony Quinn - once again try to profit from Nero's image as a cowboy actor, even if by and large the Spaghetti Western as such has run its course.
  • In Le Moine/The Monk (1972, Adonis Kyrou), a film based on the 18th Century Gothic novel by Matthew Lewis that was co-scripted by Luis Bunuel, Nero plays - wouldn't you have guessed it - a monk who is trying to resist the charms of a devil's emmissary in the guise of a young girl.
  • La Polizia Incrimina la Legge assolve/High Crime/The Marseilles Connection (1973) marks Franco Nero's first collaboration with Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here], with whom he would work repeatedly over the next decades, with whom he would make some of his best movies, and whom he often said to be his favourite director (and according to numerous interviews with both, the feeling between actor and director was mutual). The film itself has Nero playing an upright policeman fighting crime, and violently too, which doesn't seem too special in writing - but Castellari's powerful directorial effort (and especially his excellent handling of the action aspect of the movie) paired with Nero's strong performance make up for the film's narrative weaknesses.

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  • I Guappi/Blood Brothers (1973, Pasquale Squitieri) is a period piece that sees Nero as a man who, in order to become a lawyer, tries to break away from his Mafia family - but instead is devoured by a life of crime. The film co-stars Claudia Cardinale and Fabio Testi.
  • In Senza Ragione/Redneck (1973, Silvio Narizzano), Franco Nero and Telly Savalas play ruthless kidnappers. 14-year-old Mark Lester is their captive.
  • In Il Delitto Matteotti/The Assassination of Matteotti (1973, Florestano Vancini), a historical drama set in fascist Italy, Nero plays Giuseppe Matteotti, the leader of the socialist party whom Mussolini, played by Mario Adorf, has killed.
    Interestingly, in next year's Mussolini: Ultimo Atto/The Last Four Days (1974, Carlo Lizzani), Nero plays Colonel Valerio, the man assigned to kill Mussolini, this time played by Rod Steiger.

  • Zanna Bianca/White Fang (1973) and its sequel Il Ritorno di Zanna Bianca/The Return of White Fang (1974), both directed by Lucio Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click here], are two films adapting the popular novel about a wolf-dog in Alaska by Jack London - but unfortunately, the films are rather disappointing and Nero can do little to save them. Raimund Harmstorf, John Steiner and Virna Lisi are Franco Nero's co-stars in both these films.
  • Il Cittadino si Ribella/Street Law (1974) is the second collaboration between Nero and Enzo G.Castellari, and on a plot level, this film is clearly based on the Charles Bronson-vehicle Death Wish (1974, Michael Winner), which was released only months before this one. In direct comparison though, Street Law is the much better film, the storytelling is more gripping, the action is simply excellent, and Franco Nero is a better, more subtle actor than Charles Bronson.
  • Gente di Rispetto/The Flower in his Mouth/The Schoolmistress and the Devil (1975, Luigi Zampa) is a rather uninteresting murder mystery co-starring Jennifer O'Neill and James Mason.
  • Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia/Smiling Maniacs (1975, Marcello Aliprandi) is another crimethriller about corruption and politics, and how these two intertwine. Fernando Rey co-stars.
  • In the 1975 American TV-movie The Legend of Valentino (Melville Shavelson), Franco Nero can be seen as the legendary Rudolpho Valentino, heading a cast consisting of Suzanne Pleshette, Lesley Ann Warren, Milton Berle and Yvette Mimieux.

By the mid-1970's, the Spaghetti Western, the genre which gave Franco Nero's career its initial boost, was already a thing of the past, with even the Western comedy in the wake of the Terence Hill-Bud Spencer films having run its course. Not that Franco Nero needed to have worried because he had by that time successfully broken away from the genre and become a smashing success.

 


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Yet, in 1976, Franco Nero and Enzo G.Castellari - himself a director who learned his trade in making Westerns - teamed up to do probably the Spaghetti Western to end all Spaghetti Westerns: Keoma.

Keoma was a Western like none before, a blend of Western motives and Greek tragedy, the marriage of (excellently staged) violent action and grande opera (but without the characters singing - there is singing involved though), a film that can be seen as a mere genre flick as well as an existentialist, expressionist, archaic work of art. And Franco Nero's role of the lone avenger gets almost bliblical status when he is first crucified and later comes back from the dead (though not literally). The film was well-received by audiences and critics alike upon its release, and has since become a regular cult favourite, having been reissued on video and DVD numerous times as well as being in the top ten of virtually all serious Spaghetti Western fans, having been included in the movie collection of the Museum of Modern Arts, and having such prominent supporters as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi.

 

Though Keoma was a success upon its release, it did little to revive the Spaghetti Western genre, and when Castellari and Nero followed up their dead serious masterpiece with the tongue-in-cheek, no, insane Western Cipolla Colt/Cry, Onion/The Smell of Onion (1976), they did not duplicate the former film's success but landed flat on their chests - even if Cipolla Colt did have its moments ...

 

For Franco Nero, the latter part of the 1970's consisted of mainly work on high-profile films, with some of the most famous and talked-about directors of its day:

  • Marcia Trionfale/Victory March (1976) is a drama about the military directed by Marco Bellocchio co-starring Michele Placido and Miou-Miou.
  • Claude Chabrol directed Franco Nero in Les Magiciens/Death Rite (1976), a mediocre (by Chabrol's standards) crime flick, where Nero heads a cast consisting of Stefania Sandrelli, Jean Rochefort, Gert Fröbe and Gila von Weitershausen.



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  • In Salvatore Sampieri's erotic period piece Scandalo/Submission (1976), Nero plays a man slowly seducing Lisa Gastoni and submitting her to his will in Paris immediately before the German invasion of 1940.
  • William A.Graham's 21 Hours at Munich (1976) depicts the terrorist attack on the Israeli team during the 1972 Olympic Summer Games in Munich, with Nero playing the head of the Palestinian terrorists.

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  • Tonino Valerii's Sahara Cross (1977) is an action thriller set in (you wouldn't have guessed it) Africa.
  • In Pasquale Festa Campanile's Autostop Rosso Sangue/Hitch-Hike (1977), a by and large forgotten exploitation masterpiece, Franco Nero and Corinne Clery play a couple being taken hostage and abused by psycho hitchhiker David Hess.
  • In Guy Hamilton's World War II drama Force 10 from Navarone (1978), a sequel to the better and more successful Guns of Navarone (1961, J.Lee Thompson), Nero has a supporting role siding Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Edward Fox, Barbara Bach, Carl Weathers and Richard Kiel.
  • Ken Annakin's The Pirate (1978) is based on a novel by Harold Robbins about an Israeli raised by an Arab who suddenly finds himself in charge of the country's oil fortunes - and finds himself threatened by a terrorist group headed by his own daughter. In this film, Franco Nero heads a cast consisting of Anne Archer, Olivia Hussey, Ian McShane, Christopher Lee, James Franciscus, Armand Assante, Stuart Whitman, Ferdy Mayne and Michael Pataki.
  • In Florestano Vancini's erotic flick Un Dramma Borghese/Mimi (1979), Nero plays a dad who is almost seduced by his own daughter home from boarding school for the summer.
  • The Visitor (1979, Giulio Paradisi) is quite simply an odd film about aliens and the battle of good against evil/God against the Devil, starring Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah (!) and Shelley Winters. Nero has a guest spot as Jesus (!).
  • Il Cacciatore di Squali/Shark Hunter (1979, Enzo G.Casellari) is the first real low among the many collaborations between Franco Nero and Enzo G.Castellari, an uninteresting action story set on a Carribean island that seems to be going nowhere in particular. Werner Pochath co-stars.

With the 1970's coming to an end, the Italian film industry was seeing major changes. The competition of Hollywood became more and more overpowering, so Italian films made on a big budget (by Italian standards) had to struggle more and more at the box office, while relatively small genre productions that lacked any real stars like Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, Lucio Fulci) were able to turn out a tidy profit - and thus the air for domestic stars like Franco Nero has grown thinner ...

Still, a man of Franco Nero's talent did not find it too hard to keep himself in employ during the 1980's, only the films he starred in were often less interesting than those he made during his heyday. His more interesting latter-day movies are:




  • The neo-noir Il Bandito dagli Occhi Azzuri/Blue-Eyed Bandit (1980, Alfredo Giannetti), which Nero also co-produced.
  • Il Giorno Del Cobra/Day of the Cobra (1980), another collaboration with Enzo G.Castellari that, despite not being terribly original, is a very effective action thriller. The film co-stars Sybil Danning [Sybil Danning bio - click here] and William Berger.
  • The Man with Bogart's Face (1980, Robert Day) is pretty much a one-joke movie: Robert Sacchi's face looks like Humphrey Bogart's. Unfortunately, the film lasts over 100 minutes and takes itself seriously as a hommage to old film noirs ... recipe for desaster. The cast also includes Olivia Hussey, Herbert Lom, Victor Buono, Sybil Danning, Richard Bakalyan, Yvonne De Carlo, Victor Sen Yung and even George Raft.


  • Franco Nero was once again back to playing a policeman in The Salamander (1981, Peter Zinner), heading a cast consisting of Anthony Quinn, Martin Balsam, Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee, John Steiner, Claudia Cardinale and Eli Wallach.
  • Menahem Golan's Enter the Ninja (1981) was an attempt to establish Nero as an international action star at the tender age of 40, oddly enough in a martial arts flick, something Nero was not famous for (and was thus doubled by famed martial artist Mike Stone in most of his fight scenes). The film itself is a very tired early American depiction of the Ninja-subgenre that is as clichéd as it is uninspired, and Nero gives a visibly tired performance, one of the worst of his career. Actually, the film was successful enough to spawn a few sequels, but Nero was in none of them - which was probably better for his career anyways.



  • Krasnye Kolokola, Film Pervyy - Meksika v Ogne/Mexico in Flames (1982, Sergej Bondarchuk) and Krasnye Kolokola, Film Vtoroy - Ya Videl Rozhdenie Novogo Mira/Ten Days that Shook the World (1983, Sergej Bondarchuk) are two monumental productions depicting the Mexican and the Russian Revolution, respectively. Interestingly enough, both films were co-produced by the Soviet Union.
  • In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle (1982) - a film about a gay sailor who visits a weird whorehouse, Nero co-stars with Brad Davis and Jeanne Moreau. The film would remain Fassbinder's last work as a director.
  • Franco Nero played the title role in the Yugoslavian/West German co-production Banovic Strahinja/The Falcon/Der Falke (1983, Vatroslav Mimica), a period picture set in 14th century Serbia at the times of the Ottoman invasion. Gert Fröbe co-stars.


  • Nero had a rather small part in the TV mini-series Wagner (1983, Tony Palmer) which starred Richard Burton as Richard Wagner himself and Vanessa Redgrave as Cosima von Bulow, with John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and then-popular Wagner-tenor Peter Hofmann giving support.
  • The Last Days of Pompeii (1984, Peter R.Hunt) was another TV mini-series - about, you guessed it, the last days of Pompeii - granting Franco Nero a small part, this time siding Ned Beatty, Brian Blessed, Ernest Borgnine, Lesley-Anne Down, Olivia Hussey and Laurence Olivier.
  • The Austrian TV-movie Die Försterbuben/The Forester's Sons (1984), a Heimatfilm (a sort of rural drama and/or comedy often set in the alps very specific to the German-speaking countries) based on a story by popular Austrian author Peter Rosegger, was Franco Nero's first collaboration with Austrian director Peter Patzak, with whom he would work time and again over the years.
  • Un Marinaio e Mezzo/Fight for your Life (1985, Tommaso Dazzi) had Franco Nero in the lead, but was a rather unremarkable TV-adventure-movie.
  • The German comedy André schafft sie alle/André Handles Them All (1985, Peter Fratzscher) has Nero co-starring with former sex-starlet -turned comedienne Ingrid Steeger, but is not all that remarkable otherwise.
  • The Mafia drama Il Pentito/The Repenter (1985, Pasquale Squitieri) is based on the life of real life Mafia hunter Judge Giovanni Falcone - played by Franco Nero - with Tony Musante, Nero's co-star from Il Mercenario, playing the titular Repenter (= key witness of the prosecution), called Vanni Ragusa in the film but clearly based on real-life Mafioso Tommaso Buscetta, the man whose testimony brought down large parts of the Sicilian Mafia. Max von Sydow and Erik Estrada co-star in this one.
    (By the way, the real life Falcone was killed by the Mafia in 1992, while the Mafia had 14 [!] of Buscetta's relatives killed as vendetta for his testifying against them. Buscetta himself died from cancer in the year 2000 a free man thanks to the witness protection program.)
  • The British movie The Girl (1986, Arne Mattson) sees Franco Nero as a middle aged married man who starts an affair with a teenage girl (Clare Powney, who was actually 23 when this was made). Christopher Lee co-stars.
  • Tommaso Dazzi's Tre Giorni ai Tropici/Race to Danger (1986) is a mediocre adventure film set in the tropics in which Nero can be seen besides Barbara de Rossi.
  • In the TV mini-series Garibaldi il Generale (1987, Luigi Magni), Nero plays the title role of the popular Italian 19th century general/revolutionary.
  • The Greek/American co-production Sweet Country (1987, Michael Cacoyannis) is set in Chile at the time of the military takeover in 1973. Nero gives support to Jane Alexander, John Cullum, Carole Laure, Joanna Pettet and Randy Quaid.


  • 1987 also saw the long-awaited (?) return of Nero's most famous character, Django, in Il Ritorno di Django/Django 2: Il Grande Ritorno/Django Strikes Again (Ted Archer = Nello Rossati) - but basically, the film does ably demonstrate only one thing: How much water has run down the river since the original Django. While the first film was a bleak, atmospheric and violent Spaghetti Western if there ever was one, Django Strikes Again is a lazily written and tired adventure film with a Western backdrop that robs the title character by and large of its (pulp-)mythological charisma and instead tries to compete with the then popular Rambo-series, putting much emphasis on Franco Nero carrying his machine gun. A pity, but maybe the classic Django-character shouldn't have been resurrected after more than 20 years in the first place.
  • Nello Rossati (again as Ted Archer) also directed next year's Top Line/Alien Terminator (1988), in which Franco Nero plays a journalist who discovers an UFO - and is suddenly hunted down by every secret service there is, plus Nazis, plus extraterrestrials ... the film is about as muddled up as my synopsis makes it sound but not too bad.
  • In Terence Young's Run for Your Life (1988), Nero supports David Carradine as a Vietnam vet with violent streaks and Laurene Hutton as his abused wife, who takes up running (of all things) thanks to the influence of paralyzed former Olympic runner George Segal.
  • In Windmills of the Gods (1988, Lee Philips), a TV mini-series based on a novel by prolific writer Sidney Sheldon, Nero gives support to Jaclyn Smith, Robert Wagner, Ian McKellen and Michael Moriarty.
  • Franco Nero also has a small part in Franco Zeffirelli's biopic Il Giovane Toscanini/Young Toscanini (1988), with the title role played by C.Thomas Howell.
  • Magdalene (1989, Monica Teuber) is a period drama set in the early 1800's about Joseph Mohr (Steve Bond), the real life composer of the world-famous Christmas carol Silent Night. However, his story was spiced up with the fictional character of the prostitute Magdalene, as played by Nastassja Kinski. Besides Franco Nero, David Warner and Ferdy Mayne also co-star.

By the 1990's, Franco Nero's time as a leading man was more or less over, which is not too surprising considering he has turned 50 in 1991, and the European film industry, which was still flourishing during his heyday in the 1960's and 70's, was pretty much in a shambles by now. Still, Nero kept on working, even if his films became less and less memorable - with a few pleasent exceptions:


  • In 1990, his career took Franco Nero to Hollywood, to play a baddie in the Bruce Willis-starrer Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin) - unfortunately his role was neither too big nor too demanding, all he had to do was to play a comicbook villain.
  • The Hungarian-Italian TV mini-series Julianus Barát (1991, Gábor Koltay) is a period piece about young Julianus who was sent to the monastery by his father but has the dream to discover the root of the Hungarian people as such. Nero gives support playing a monk.
  • In Pupi Avati's drama Fratelli e Sorelle/Brothers and Sisters (1991), Franco Nero plays a cheating husband.
  • Touch and Die (1991, Piernico Solinas) is a little seen political thriller starring Martin Sheen as a journalist digging in the dirt of a presidential candidate. Sheen's real-life daughter Renée Estevez plays his daughter in the movie. Besides Franco Nero, Horst Buchholz can also be found in the supporting cast.
  • The TV-movie Young Catherine (1991, Michael Anderson) is a period piece with an illustrious cast, starring besides Nero Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Plummer, Maximillian Schell, and Julia Ormond in the title role.
  • The short From Time to Time (1992, Jeff Blyth) was actually shot for a special ride at Walt Disney World and Euro Disney. It's a tale about time-travelling that besides Nero as Leonardo da Vinci also stars Gérard Depardieu, Jean Rochefort as Louis XV, Michel Piccoli as Jules Verne, and Jeremy Irons as H.G.Wells.
  • Der Fall Lucona/The Lucona Affair (1993, Jack Gold) is based on an actual Austrian corruption scandal that also involved murder and had a trail that led directly to the Austrian gouvenment. Jürgen Prochnow and David Suchet star.
  • 1993 saw the long-awaited and often announced semi-sequel to Keoma, Jonathan degli Orsi/Jonathan of the Bears (Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here]), a film for which Nero also co-wrote the story and acted as a producer. There is little doubt that Jonathan of the Bears would not have been made was it not for the success of the somewhat similarly themed and critically and commercially successful Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner), but in direct comparison, Jonathan of the Bears is by no means a rip-off and actually the better film of the two. In the fim, we see Nero as Jonathan, a white man living with the Indians after his parents were killed by outlaws when he was a kid and he was adopted by a Native American chieftain. As a grown up though, one of these typical evil landgrabbers (John Saxon [John Saxon bio - click here]) wants Jonathan's tribe's land - but Jonathan won't go down without a fight ...
    Stylistically, Jonathan of the Bears is nothing like Keoma, and it is refreshingly free of references to the long by-gone era of Spaghetti Westerns, and even though in direct comparison it can't compete with Keoma, the duo of Nero and Castellari have turned out a beautiful and exciting piece of Western cinema. Interestingly enough though, the film was not widely released in its day despite many Keoma-fans eagerly awaiting the film, and to this day it still awaits release on video and DVD in many a part of the world ...

  • In later years, Franco Nero would re-team with Castellari on a few TV mini-series: Il Ritorno di Sandokan/The Return of Sandokan (1996) starring Kabir Bedi and Romina Power, a sequel to Sergio Sollima's mini-series Sandokan (1974) and the feature film that followed it, Deserto di Fuoco (1997), an adventure tale starring Anthony Delon with support by Mathieu Carričre, Virna Lisi, Jean Sorel, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Fabio Testi and Giuliano Gemma - all stars past their prime -, and the fantasy-series Gli Angeli dell'Isola Verde (2001).
  • In 1993, Austrian Peter Patzak gave Nero the lead in his crime thriller Das Babylon Komplott. The two would also work together on Die 8.Todsünde: Das Toskana-Karussell (2002), another crime thriller, and the fantasy/comedy Herz ohne Krone/The Uncrowned Heart (2003).
  • In Desiderio e l'Anello del Drago/The Dragon Ring (1994), one of the many under-budgeted and sloppily made fantasy mini-series director Lamberto Bava kept himself in employ with during the 1990's, Nero can be seen in quite a big role - but the series as such is pure trash.
  • Ha-Italkim Ba'im/The Italians are Coming (1996, Eyal Halfon) is an Israeli-Italian co-produced sports movie with all the genre's typical trappings. This one is about water polo.
  • Honfoglalás/The Conquest (1996, Gábor Koltay), a period picture about the birth of Hungary as such and filmed in commemoration of Hungary's 1100th birthday, has Franco Nero in the lead as Chief Arpad, who leads his tribes into the Carpathian basin in 896 AD.


  • With La Bibbia: David/The Bible: David (1997, Robert Markowitz) and San Paolo/Paul the Apostle (2000, Robert Young), Franco Nero returns to the sort-of genre of Bible-adaptations he pretty much started out with.
  • With films like the billiards-flick Il Tocco: La Sfida/The Cuemaster (1997, Enrico Coletti), Bella Mafia (1997, David Greene) - co-starring Vanessa Redgrave once more, as well as Nastassja Kinski, Jennifer Tilly as well as director Peter Bogdanovich -, the mini-series Nessuno Escluso (1997, Massimo Spano), and La Voce del Sangue/The Call of Blood (1999, Alessandro di Robilant) Nero returned to the Mafia-subgenre, even if the films might be a far cry from (and quite different from) Damiano Damiani's masterpieces.
  • For one of his more ridiculous movies, Franco Nero is re-teamed with Menahem Golan, with whom he previously made Enter the Ninja: The Versace Murder (1998). In this film, somehow based on the real life murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the ensuing investigations (and taking incredible liberties with the truth), Franco Nero can be seen as Gianni Versace himself, playing him as a clichéd Italian homosexual in Florida who has a smile and good advice for everyone. As a whole, the film is so bad it's almost ridiculous - which is not Franco Nero's fault though ...


  • Talk of Angels (1998, Nick Hamm) is the story of a young woman (Polly Walker) who escapes civil unrest in Ireland of the 1930's only to settle down in Spain - a country on the brink of civil war. Besides Nero, the film also stars Vincent Perez, Frances McDormand and Penelope Cruz.
  • The thriller Uninvited (1999) is a film directed by Nero's own son Carlo Gabriel Nero, which besides dad also stars mum Vanessa Redgrave and Eli Wallach. Franco Nero also acted as producer on the film.
  • The mini-series Crociati/Kreuzritter/Crusaders (2001, Dominique Othenin-Girard) is an accomplished Italian-German co-production about the time of the Crusades, starring Alessandro Gassman, with German veteran actors Uwe Ochsenknecht and Armin Müller-Stahl in supporting roles.
  • Sacra Corona(2001) is another Hungarian celebratory film, this time to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian stateshood, and again it is drected by Gábor Koltay.


  • Flix.com

  • Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001, Brian Trenchard Smith) is a confusing film about the apocalypse with conspiracy theory untertones, starring Michael York and Michael Biehn, with Udo Kier giving support, but the movie is hardly worthy of Franco Nero's (or any of the other actors') talent.
  • Fumata Blanca (2002, Miquel García Borda) is a crime comedy set within the Catholic Church, while Ultimo Stadio (2002, Ivano de Mattei) is an ensemble comedy/drama about soccer fans and soccer fandom.
  • In the short L'Ultimo Pistolero (2002, Alessandro Dominici), Franco Nero is once more his Western hero self, the image he's most famous for. The film pays tribute to Spaghetti Westerns of old and is set to music by Ennio Morricone from the Dollar trilogy - which Nero of course did not star in at all.
  • Cattive Inclinazioni/Bad Inclination (2003, Pierfrancesco Campanella) is a (rather feeble) attempt to revive the giallo-genre, also starring giallo-veterans Eva Robbins and Florinda Bolkan. Nero only has a small role as a half-mad street preacher who has next to nothing to do with the film's actual proceedings.

  • The Czech film Post Coitum (2004, Juraj Jakubisku) is actually a quite amusing sex comedy with Nero heading an ensemble cast as an aged hippie photographer.
  • The German-British co-production Summer Solstice (2005, Giles Foster) is another one of those cheesy made-for-TV Rosamunde Pilcher adaptation. How Franco Nero, Jacqueline Bisset and Honor Blackman all got talked into doing this is beyond my knowledge.
  • 2005 also showed that you actually can teach an old dog new tricks (this old dog anyways) when Franco Nero, at the tender age of 64, made his directorial debut, Forever Blues, a film about a young man (Daniele Piamonti) whose life gets turned around when he meets an old jazz musician (Franco Nero himself) who teaches him to master his problems with music. Nero not only directed the film and cowrote the script, ultimately he also paid for most of it out of his own pocket after the film's original producer did not put up the money he promised.
  • Of interest among Franco Nero's most recent movies might also be the TV-movie L'Inchiesta/The Final Inquiry (2006, Giulio Base), a film made at approximately the same time as the hyped-by-artificial-controvery blockbuster The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard) about a similar theme: Jesus. L'Inchiesta is set in Palestine at the time almost immediately after Jesus' death, when a Roman tribune (Daniele Liotti) is sent to investigate the truth about this King of Jews. The film stars among others Dolph Lundgren, Max von Sydow, F.Murray Abraham, Ben Kingsley, Giuliano Gemma and Ornella Muti as Mary Magdalene.

Even though Franco Nero is definitely at retirement age now, and he's definitely well-off financially, there seems to be no stopping him though, as there are several more projects with his name attached to them, either in pre-production, filming or just waiting for release, the most interesting being most probably the Slovakian-Czech-British-Hungarian co-production Bathory (2007, Juraj Jakubisku), about real-life infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Anna Friel), the woman who liked to bath in virgins' blood. 

Plus, there's Bastardi (2007, Andres Alce Meldonado), a thriller starring Giancarlo Giannini, Gérard Depardieu, Don Johnson and Barbara Bouchet, plus Eva Henger of hardcore porn fame.

And it looks as if there was plenty more to come.

 

Will any of his new movies be as groundbreaking as Django, as Keoma, as good as his 1970's crime thrillers, as the genre classics he made with Sergio Corbucci or Enzo G.Castellari, will he make more arthouse films ?

None of this questions can be answered today, but these questions alone prove the enormous contributions Franco Nero made to Italian and international cinema, and without him, the movie-world would be a poorer place. And that he still pushes on at an age past 65 gives you hope that there is and will be cinema outside of Hollywood worth watching ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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