You remember that face. That voice. (You do, don’t you?)
In Hollywood’s classic period, distinctively looking actors, speaking with undetermined foreign accents and projecting menacing presence, were in demand for a slew of character parts.
Eduardo Ciannelli fit the bill nicely.
Born in 1888 on the island Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, Ciannelli was groomed to be anything but a movie villain. The son of a doctor, he studied surgery at the Univ. of Naples, and embarked on a career as a physician.
That didn’t last long as the young Eduardo fell in love with the stage and with grand opera. He in fact possessed a strong baritone voice, establishing his early career in opera, leading to engagements in Europe’s leading opera houses including the famed La Scala in Milan. He made his first visit to the U.S. in 1914, and found himself cast in a pair of Ocsar Hammerstein musicals (Always You and Rose-Marie) which led to a broad variety of stage roles including tours with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
By 1936 Ciannelli began his Hollywood career, embarking on a career of character roles in some 150 movie and tv credits over three decades. He died in Rome in 1969, at the age of 81. Given his tough-looking mug, Ciannelli was often (but not always) cast in gangster and criminal roles.
A tiny sampling of his most notable appearances includes…..
…director Michael Curtiz’ 1944 drama, Passage to Marseille, with Humphrey Bogart. Eduardo turns up in the small role of chief engineer of an ocean-going ship in wartime. And then there is….
…the wonderful 1944 mystery, The Mask of Dimitrios, costarring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Eduardo plays a shady European enmeshed in a complex murder plot.
And then a role for which he is perhaps best remembered…
…as the fanatical Thugee “guru” in 1939’s Gunga Din with Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen. And finally…
…there’s Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 thriller, Foreign Correspondent, in which Eduardo is cast as the sinister “Mr. Krug.”