Tuesday, June 28, 2016

RIP Bud Spencer

"...And that's what happens when you vote to leave the EU." I couldn't help but make that observation in the pub last night, following England's defeat by Iceland.  Actually, I think that Roy Hodgson should have played the Article 50 card, refusing to leave Euro 2016 until it was triggered.  'England humiliated', the pundits were saying.  Get used to it, I thought, it's going to be the first in a long line of humiliations following Brexit.  Indeed, if Gareth Southgate is the favourite to succeed Hodgson as England manager, then God help us all.  But I said last time that I was going to try and dial back on the political rantings, (let alone the football ones).  So, let's get on to the real business of today's post: Bud Spencer.

The death, at the age of 86, of this great Italian movie star of the seventies and eighties was announced today.  Forever linked with Terence Hill, thanks to the string of films they co-starred in, Spencer was hugely popular for a couple of decades, appearing in all manner of Italian films from westerns to action comedies, pirate movies to giallos.  Dubbed into multiple languages, his movies entertained audiences across Europe and the US.  Only the UK seemed resistant to Spencer's charms, with releases of his films here being somewhat patchy.  Perhaps this was down to the fact that Spencer was the unlikeliest of leading men: a huge. hulking figure, usually sporting a huge beard, he specialised in playing curmudgeonly reluctant heroes, more often than not drawn unwillingly into other people's fights, but always ending up doing the right thing.

But it wasn't just physical presence that Spencer brought to his films, he was also curiously charasmatic, often displaying genuine sensitivity and tenderness behind the rough hewn and irritable facade.  Whilst playing the lead in his own right in films like Bulldozer, Banana Joe and the Flatfoot series, Spencer will undoubtedly be best remembered for the films he made with Terence Hill.  In essence a sort of Italian Laurel and Hardy, their double act generally saw Hill's chancer characters - who were never as smart as they thought they were - dragging a reluctant Spencer into his schemes.  Like Oliver Hardy, Spencer's characters would spend much of their time exasperated by their partner's apparent idiocy, struggling to contain their simmering fury. The films, which started as more action than comedy, but quickly began to emphasise the comedy elements, always involved a number of incredibly well choreographed fight sequences, which highlighted Hill's athleticism and acrobatic skills and Spencer's brute force.  These would usually feature Spencer ignoring the increasing chaos around him, refusing to help Hill and attempting to mind his own business despite provocations, until he finally snaps - usually because someone spills his drink or something similar - and starts demolishing his antagonists.  The films always culminate in a huge fist fight, with Spencer, apparently impervious to pain, taking on the villain's henchmen by the dozen, whilst simultaneously being hit over the head with chairs and the like.

The movies varied wildly in quality, both Spencer's solo vehicles and his collaborations with Hill, but are always entertaining, with their joyous revelling in destruction and mayhem.  Among the best are probably the two Trinty spaghetti westerns and Watch Out, We're Mad, both collaborations with Hill, and Spencer's solo Flatfoot series, in which he plays an Italian cop.  In a tribute to their immense popularity in the seventies, the Spencer-Hill collaborations even spawned a series of imitations, featuring Paul Smith doing a fair impression of Spencer.

Of course, Bud Spencer wasn't actually Bud Spencer - he was really Carlo Pedersoli, (Terence Hill is really Mario Girotti).  But back in the sixties, many Italian actors and directors adopted American sounding names for the sake of the box office.  (Not just the overseas box office: Italian audiences were deemed more likely to watch a domestically made film if they thought it was US made).  According to legend, the Spencer part of Pedersoli's nom-du-film was a homage to his favourite actor, Spencer Tracy, whilst the 'Bud' part came from the fact that he was drinking a bottle of BUdweiser when he came up with the name.  Whatever the truth, as Bud Spencer he provided audiences worldwide with plenty of entertaining, if generally undemanding, films. 



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