As a classic movie fan, you may or may not be in love with Quentin Tarantino’s movies. But there is no denying that the voluble writer-director casts each one with an inventive eye toward Hollywood’s past.

Hello, everybody.  Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to try and connect today’s movies with aspects of Hollywood fims of the past movies that we know and, in most cases, prefer.

The current Django Unchained, for example, is loosely based on on a Italian movie that’s nearly 50 years old.  It stars Franco Nero, who turns up in Tarantino’s outing along with such vintage Hollywood names as Don Johnson (as a plantation owner), Don Stroud (as a marshall), and Bruce Dern (as the nastiest white cracker you could imagine). A real bonus is the casting of none other than 70-something Russ Tamblyn, of MGM’s Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, in a small supporting role along with his 29-year-old actress-daughter, Amber Tamblyn.

Without question Nero is best remembered by fans (such as Frank) of spaghetti westerns — those oaters filmed in Rome and in Spain in Sixties and the early 1970’s — for playing the title role in director Sergio Corbucci’s Django. Nero is terrific as a coffin-dragging, vengeance-seeking gunslinger violently mediating a nasty dispute between KKK members and Mexican bandits.

So it was a pleasure to see the Italian actor share a Django Unchained scene with actor Jamie Foxx (as a freed-slave version of the original Django character.) Nero sidles up to Foxx at a bar and asks how he spells his name.  Foxx explains that it’s “Jango.” You don’t pronounce the D.

Replies Nero:  I know. (Consider that scene stolen by the veteran actor.)

Nero was born decades ago (he turned 70 last year) in a small village in Italy’s Emilia Romagna district anchored by the northern city of Bologna. It was director John Huston who launched Nero’s career 45 years ago when, upon spotting a photo of him, exclaimed: “That’s the face I want.”

Franco was working at the time as a set photographer.  He was soon an actor with a role in Huston’s epic bomb, “The Bible,” shot largely in Italy in the mid Sixties. (Also in the cast were Ava Gardner and her violently jealous lover, George C. Scott.)

Thus an extraordinarily long career ensued, and continues to this day.

Nero is, for example, the voice of Uncle Topolino in the Pixar-Disney animation feature, “Cars 2.” In 2010, he appeared in the romantic drama “Letters To Juliet,” an art-resembles-life movie that includes in its cast the actor’s longtime paramour, Vanessa Redgrave.

In all, Nero has to date about 175 film and TV credits to his name.  He has always prided himself not as a “star” but rather a versatile actor tackling a host of different roles. He has over the years worked with such highly regarded European directors as Luis Bunuel, Damiano Damiani, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Claude Chabrol and Marco Bellocchio.

He is probably best remembered among movie fans of a certain age for his role in director Joshua Logan’s 1967 movie version of the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe Broadway musical, “Camelot.” Nero played Lancelot to Redgrave’s Guenevere.  The couple fell in love offscreen, a union that produced a child (Carlo Gabriel Nero) but not a marriage. It wasn’t until 40 years later that Nero and Redgrave formally tied the knot — she was 69, he was 65.

We urge you to check the original “Django” out.  The movie plays exceptionally today.  It is not just a classic western but a classic movie, period. That’s due in large part by Nero’s strong performance.  (Nero repeated his role 21 years later in a forgettable sequel, “Dango 2: Il Grande Ritorno.”  Skip it!)

 

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