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Gian Maria Volonté - A Profile

by Dale Pierce

October 2005

For films starring Gian Maria Volonté
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Gian Maria Volonté was born in Milan, Italy and played in numerous films such as Under Ten Flags before finding stardom in a set of western films where he played psychotic villains with a passion previously unseen by anyone. This launched him to stardom

In Fistful Of Dollars (1964), Volonté's Ramon Rojo was the villain to end all villains. The brains behind a trio of three brothers dealing in liquor  on the Texas-Mexico border, Rojo's character was utterly repulsive. He extorted, he tortured, he killed, and had a talent for the use of a rival above that of a pistol. In the end, he died spitting blood, just as one of his victim's predicted would be his fate before being shot down in an   elaborate duel, which would earmark director Sergio Leone's style for many movies to come. Unable to match his Winchester with Clint Eastwood's Colt revolver, all to a drumming Ennio Morricone score, he met one of the most applauded cinema deaths in western film  history.

Volonté was back and incredibly even more psychopathic as Indio in For A Few Dollars More. After a jail break, he killed the man who betrayed him, after forcing him to watch his baby and wife both be killed. With a fixation on a chimed pocket watch, for reasons not explained to end in flashback sequences, he was one of Italian cinema's most detestable bad guys (and there have been many repulsive characters to come out of Italian cinema).

Indio's character was masterfully done. Prone to fits of loud, maniacal laughter over nothing, addicted to marijuana, with a need to calm his nerves taking a hit after killing someone, and even smashing roaches for his amusement,  he was the perfect foe for the fast drawing Clint Eastwood, who repeated his role from Fistful Of Dollars, and for the vengeance-seeking Lee Van Cleef.

The final showdown, to the Ennio Morricone score, featuring chimes, a build up of electric guitars, a mournful trumpet solo, back to the guitar, then finally  the chimes again, with the gunfighters to draw when the music concluded, was one of Leone's greatest sequences as a director.

Of course, Indio died, with applause from studio audiences.

Though Volonté did not return for The Good, the Bad & The Ugly, which saw Van Cleef as the key villain, he did make westerns for other people, usually as a psychotic again. In A Bullet For The General, he played a crazed, but dimwitted bandit, who turned into a hero of sorts at the end of the movie. In Face to Face, however, he was back to revolting. Starting off as a victimized school teacher going west for his health, he found himself turned into a kill-crazy animal, so insane and dangerous his outlaw  mentor is forced to gun him down.

Though known for his westerns, Volonté played in other genres and sometimes found himself playing crazies again. Most notable was his role in Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, as a police inspector carrying out a murder and trying to frame himself, just to prove political corruption would overshadow the truth, with his higher-ups refusing to prosecute the killing.

Volonté likewise made a career playing real life people. He was Giordiano Bruno in the film of the same name, as a man burned at the stake for witchcraft. He was Vanzetti in Sacco & Vanzetti, a blistering reflection on American politics, surrounding the supposed framing of two robbers, who were sent to the electric chair for murder, but were actually considered innocent by many. ( I believe President Clinton issued an official pardon to the real Sacco & Vanzetti posthumously, decades after they went to the electric chair, but I am not sure.)  He played Lucky Luciano in the gangster film of the same name.

Sadly, at the absolute height of his popularity, Volonté did his own career in. A flagwaving communist as one writer put it, he became a political hot potatoe for the industry. It was not so much his stance, but when he missed crucial days of shooting in The Working Class Goes To Paradise, that a blacklisting of sorts took place. While not cut out of work entirely, his activity took a notable downturn. Fewer and fewer opportunities came, some due to opposition to his politics, some because he was branded as unreliable and others due to budgeting. In any case, he seemed to nosedive.

Through the 1980s, he played in varied films, but was never the major draw he once was. In the early 1990's, however, he started to make a career comeback, with a series of films. Though time and stress had taken a toll on him, to the point where he was unrecognizable on first glance by past fans, he lost none of his acting ability. Just as he was once again gaining praise from critics, bookings and recognition, he died from a heart attack in 1996, bringing things  to a close.

Several webpages devoted to the Spaghetti Western realm, which may be found with a simple websearch, include his photos and biography. There is also an official webpage in Italian at


© by Dale Pierce

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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
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A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
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Ryan Hunter and
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