Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RIP Mario Novelli

Mario Novelli, actor who played bad guys and 'beefcake' in low-budget Euro-films – obituary

The Guardian
September 11, 2016
Mario Novelli, the actor, who has died aged 76, was, with his high cheekbones and sulphurous eyes, one of the finest bad guys in spaghetti Westerns.

He made nearly 70 films, mostly under the name of Anthony Freeman, cutting his teeth on sword-and-sandal epics and later enjoying a second career as a stuntman.

Mario Novelli was born in Rome on February 26 1940. Aged 19 he found himself in Spain, where a friend suggested he try stunt work, and he was encouraged to act by the producer Vincenzo Musolino. “He felt I had something aside from beefcake,” Novelli recalled.

Beefcake, however, was very much on the menu. In 1962 Novelli was an uncredited nobleman in the epic Fury of Achilles, then played a succession of gladiators in The Rebel Gladiators (1962), Seven Slaves Against Rome (1964) and The Revenge of Spartacus (1965).

His first substantial role, credited as Tony Freeman and modelled on a better-known Italian heart-throb, Kirk Morris (aka Adriano Bellini), came in The Invincible Brothers Maciste (also 1964), the last notable “sword-and-sandaller” (they were also known as “peplum” pictures, referring to the ubiquitous tunics).

Although reviews were generally less than favourable, Novelli was stripped to the waist for most of his screen time and accordingly built up a sizeable female following, as well as being  linked to some of Italy’s most desirable women.

“We were called upon to flex our muscles for those peplum pictures,” he recalled. “Quite often we were required to simply look beautiful, either with chests waxed or chest hair tonged under hair dryers. Looks were everything.”

He did not disappoint his female fans in Three Swords for Rome (1966) notable for its impressive sets and wardrobe – mostly borrowed from other films.

“You’d get into a sweat-stained toga fresh from some other guy and be expected to just carry on,” Novelli said.

Tweaking his stage name to Anthony Freeman (the “h” was occasionally dropped), he made his first foray into spaghetti westerns as a bounty hunter in Texas, Adios (1966), starring Franco Nero, a loose sequel to Sergio Corbucci’s masterpiece of the genre, Django. The same year came a piece of alien-abduction hokum called Star Pilot, which had unfortunate shades of the low-budget “shlock” of Ed Wood, as Novelli battled ape-like Martians in moth-eaten fur coats who take to the skies on trampolines.

He won some of his best reviews for his role as one of two bank-robber brothers in the underrated Ballad of a Gunman (1967), which drew on Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More, and was also praised for his role in a gripping German film, A Big Grey-Blue Bird (1969), part sci-fi, part political thriller.

He returned to spaghetti westerns in Dead Men Ride and Kill Django… Kill First (both 1971) and A Gunman Called Dakota (1972). He worked with Rainer Werner Fassbinder on Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), which depicted an egomaniac director ganged-up on by cast and crew.

The much-praised crime thriller, Violent City (1975), and Like Rabid Dogs (1976) paved the way for Freeman’s involvement in poliziotteschi films, an Italian genre that influenced vigilante movies such as Death Wish. He also played a gunman in a 1979 episode of Return of the Saint.

He worked prolifically into the 1990s. As a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator, his credits included Delta Force Commando (1988), the Satanic horror film Beyond the Door III (1989), and John Frankenheimer’s thriller Year of the Gun (1991), starring Sharon Stone. Later work included Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), and Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel (2014), starring Kate Beckinsale.

He is survived by his two sons, both of whom followed in his footsteps, as stuntmen.

Mario Novelli, born February 26 1940, died August 21 2016

NOVELLI, Mario (aka Anthony Freeman)
Born: 2/26/1940, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Died: 8/21/2016, Rome, Lazio, Italy

Mario Novelli’s westerns – actor:
Texas, Adios – 1966 (bounty hunter)
Ballad of a Gunman – 1967 (Chiuchi)
The Stranger Returns – 1967 (Austin)
Two Crosses at Danger Pass (Charley Moran)
And God Said to Cain – 1969 (bounty killer)
Aquasanta Joe - 1971 (Donovan henchman)
Dead Men Ride – 1971 (Alan)
Kill Django... Kill First - 1971
A Gunman Called Dakota – 1972 (John Lead)
California – 1977 (brother of Northern soldier)

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