Most probably, the well-built, blue-eyed Italian actor Franco Nero will forever be associated
with his role as/in Django,
the movie that marked his breakthrough as well as one of his biggest
successes. However this would mean obscuring
the fact that in his lifetime he was (and still is) one of the most prolific and
versatile actors of European cinemas, being equally at home in genre-, in
trash- and in arthouse cinema, and during his long career he worked with
many big name directors (big name for one reason or another) - like (in no
particular order) Damiano Damiani, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Enzo
G.Castellari, Sergio Corbucci, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti [Antonio
Margheriti bio - click here], John Huston, Claude Chabrol,
Luis Bunuel, Marco Bellocchio, Menahem Golan, Peter Patzak, ... - and
pretty much travelled the world to make his movies (including several
appearances in Eastern European films, both during the cold war and after), and thanks to his talent he could effortlessly bring cowboys
and action heroes to life as well as way more serious and sincere roles (e.g. his long
string of playing public prosecutors in Mafia movies) and would prove
himself to be a dependable character actor as well.
But let's not get
ahead of ourselves and start at the beginning ...
Franco Nero was born Francesco Sparanero in 1941 in the little
village San Prospera near Modena, Parma, Northern Italy, as the son of a strict
While he studied economics in Milan, he also
appeared in a series of photonovels, then an immensely popular genre in
Italy, which led to small roles in a string of rather insignificant little
films like Pelle Viva/Scorched
Skin (1962, Giuseppe Fina), the Austrian-Italian co-production Maskenball
bei Scotland Yard (1963, Domenico Paolella), the science fiction
films I Criminali della Galassia/Wild,
Wild Planet and I Diafanoidi vengono da Marte/War of the
Planets (both 1965, Antonio Margheriti), La Celestina P... R...
(1965, Carlo Lizzani) and Io la Conoscevo Bene (1965, Antonio
1966 was the year though when everything would
change: First he would catch the attention of star director John Huston
when working as a stills photographer on one of his movies, and Huston
would soon enough cast him in his star-studded The Bible: In the
In this movie that comprises the Creation,
the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, of Noah's Ark,
the Tower of Babel and Abraham's Test into almost 3 hours of
monumental and almost overbearing film, Nero would play Abel opposite
Richard Harris as Cain. The film, though a tremendous success at the time
of its release, was not one of Huston's better films though and is by now
largely forgotten, but for Nero, a credit in a John Huston film would open
many a door ...
(Interestingly enough, Franco Nero would return to the
sort-of genre of Bible-adaptations much later in his career.)
It was also in 1966 that Franco Nero accepted
his first role in a Western, which was then a pretty new and pretty hot
genre to Italian filmmakers and actors alike (note, the first real
Spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone's A
Fistful of Dollars, was released only 2 years earlier, in 1964).
The film would prove to be an early (and probably the most significant)
turning point in Nero's career. Its title: Django.
was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who like most Italian directors of his
generation learned his trade making sword and sandal movies (or
pelpums if you may), and who was a close friend to Sergio Leone and before
had a small handful of Westerns under his belt, among them Minnesota
Clay (1965), a film about a blind gunman starring Cameron Mitchell.
However, all of these films were rather insignificant and would pale in
comparison to Django, a
film that pretty much defined the essence of the Spaghetti Western ...
is an incredibly bleak Western about a lone gunman, Django (Franco Nero),
an antihero if there ever was one, who is travelling the West - which
looks more like a mud-filled wasteland than anything else - dragging
behind him a coffin that is ultimately revealed to contain a machine gun,
which seems to be Django's raison d'ętre. The film is quite brutal, with
not only a high bodycount but also some other niceties like shot-off ears
and crushed fingers thrown in for everyone's amusement. And Franco Nero's
underplayed, hyper-cool performance of the titular character would
ultimately make him the only actor to rival Clint Eastwood's iconic status
in the Spaghetti Western genre.
The Italian film industry reacted
quickly to the success of Django
and put Franco Nero into more Spaghetti Westerns pretty much on the spot:
- Gli Uomini dal Passo Pesante/The Tramplers (1966,
Albert Band, Mario Sequi) is a Western starring muscleman and former Tarzan
Gordon Scott [Gordon Scott
bio - click here], but actually the film belongs to veteran
actor Joseph Cotten as an old patriarch. Franco Nero only plays a
supporting role in this one.
- Texas, Addio/Goodbye
Texas (1966, Ferdinando Baldi) is a vendetta-Western in the Django-tradition,
with Nero in a similar role, but with a spin: Here, Nero's character
wants to bring the man who wronged him to justice, not to kill him - a
point that is repeatedly made during the film -, which in the end
doesn't work out though. The resulting film, interesting and well-made
as it may be, is no match for Django
- Tempo di Massacro/Massacre Time (1966) marked the
first collaboration between Franco Nero and director Lucio Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here],
years before Fulci would leave his mark on the horror genre. By and large the
film is another vendetta Western, not a bad one though ...
Non-Western roles were few during this time, but one notable exception
is Il Terzo Occhio/Third
Eye (1966, Mino Guerrini), which is essentially a weak
psychological thriller, but for once Nero did not have to play the
taciturn gunman but could give an impressive performance as a psychopath who
goes more and more over the edge the longer the film lasts ... but even
his memorable performance cannot save the otherwise rather boring film ...
1967 saw a change of pace for Franco Nero as he starred as knight
Lancelot in Camelot (Joshua Logan), opposite Richard Harris (who
was also Cain to his Abel) as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave (with whom
Nero soon became romantically involved and had a son, Carlo Gabriel Nero [born
1969]) as Guenevere, plus David Hemmings as Mordred. What makes this film
special is that it is not an adaptation from the old legend directly but
an adaptation of the then successful Broadway musical of the same name,
with the actors singing their parts themselves. The result, especially
from today's point of view, is somewhere between interesting and
Il Mercenario/The Mercenary from 1968 reunited Franco
Nero with Sergio Corbucci once more, the man responsible for his
breakthrough. Unlike Django
though, which was a straight-forward vendetta-tale, Il Mercenario
is a story about the Mexican revolution with a political subtext to
it, and even though much of this subtext now seems dated, the film itself
remains rather impressive and is considered one of Sergio Corbucci's
best movies. Franco Nero's co-stars in this are Jack Palance and Tony
Another Western Franco Nero made in 1968, L'Uomo, l'Orgoglio, la
Vendetta/Pride and Vengeance (Luigi Bazzoni) was actually a
version of Prosper Mérimée's novel Carmen (yup, the one Georges
Bizet's opera is based on) set in the Old West. Nero here plays the naive
soldier Don José in love with Tina Aumont's Carmen while Klaus Kinski is
on top of his game as the sadistic bandit Garcia. The film is certainly
less than art - but some fun to watch nevertheless.
1968 also marked the year of Franco Nero's first collaboration with
Damiano Damiani, the Italian director that would shoot to fame with his
rather realistic Mafia exposés, a genre he would remain faithful to
during most of his career - and quite successfully, too. Il Giorno
della Civetta/The Day of the Owl/Mafia would be his
first Mafia film - and it would also be his first film starring Franco
Nero. In this one, Nero plays a police captain opposite Claudia Cardinale
and Lee J.Cobb.
Acutally, The Day of the Owl is noteworthy not only for its
inherent quality but also for the fact that it introduced Franco Nero to a
new genre, crime fiction - and until the end of the decade, quite more
crime thrillers would follow like Sequestro di Persona/Island of
Crime/Sardine: Kidnapped (1968, Gianfranco Mingozzi),
co-starring Charlotte Rampling, and Un Detective (1969, Romolo
Guerrieri), co-starring Florinda Bolkan and Adolfo Celi.
Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna/A Quiet Place in the Country
(1969, Elio Petri), a film that saw Nero co-starring with his girlfriend
Vanessa Redgrave once more, is actually a quite effective horror film of
the haunted house variety which has Nero as a painter thinking he goes
mad. Unfortunately this film still awaits rediscovery ...
Also in the late 1960's, Franco Nero branched out into war movies (not
too far a jump from action flicks and Westerns, actually) with Dio č
con Noi/The Last Five Days of Peace (1969, Giuliano Montaldo) -
a film about Nazis in an Allied prison camp - and Bitka na Neretvi/The
Battle of the River Neretva (1969, Veljko Bulajic) - a film also
starring Yul Brynner, Curd Jürgens, Hardy Krüger, Sylva Koscina and
Orson Welles. Interestingly, both of these films were Yugoslavian
Around the late 1960's too, Franco Nero started to break away from his
action-hero image and decided to also accept roles in more serious films
and arthouse films, so in this respect it is hardly surprising that he in
1970 starred in a film by Spain's most important and possibly also most
controversial arthouse director Luis
Bunuel, Tristana - which also starred Catherine Deneuve and
Fernando Rey and is based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós. Here
Nero plays the lover of Deneuve, who in turn plays the adopted daughter
turned mistress of Fernando Rey and who develops from innocent young girl
to cold-blooded murderess during the duration of the movie.
That same year, Nero also starred in another literary adaptation, the
British The Gypsy and the Virgin (1970, Christopher Miles), which
was based on a novel by D.H.Lawrence and also starred Honor Blackman of The
Avengers-fame. And Drop-out (1970) is one of the lesser
known films by Tinto Brass, which saw Nero co-starring yet again with
Vanessa Redgrave. In 1971, Brass assembled Nero and Redgrave for yet
another film, La Vacanza/Vacation.
But that didn't mean that Nero would leave his roots
behind for the sake of arthouse, as also in 1970, Nero was reunited for
the third (and last) time with Sergio Corbucci for Vamos a Matar,
Companeros/Companeros, yet another Spaghetti Western, also
starring Jack Palance, Tomas Millian, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben and Karin
Schubert. Like Il Mercenario
before it, Companeros deals with the Mexican revolution, but this
time the topic receives a more light-hearted treatment that is also in
stark contrast to the bleakness of Django.
That said, Companeros
is apretty good movie though.
By and large, the 1970's were Franco Nero's decade, he released many a
movie that was a hit in Italy if not in all of Europe or even worldwide,
and he was quickly becoming a household name, starring in the following
movies (most often as the lead):
- 3 more (Mafia-)films by Damiano Damiani: Confessione di un
Comissario di Polizia al Procuratore della Repubblica/Confessions
of a Police Captain/Bad Cop Chronicles (1971) has Nero playing a public prosecutor
opposite Martin Balsam as the titular (confessing) police captain, in L'Istruttoria
č Chiusa: Dimentichi (1971) Nero plays an everyman-hero wrongly
thrown into the slammer, while Perché si Uccide un Magistrato/How
to Kill a Judge (1974) sees him as a filmmaker making a movie
about the Mafia that anticipates the real murder of a magistrate.
- Giornata Nera per l'Ariete/The Fifth Cord (1971, Luigi
Bazzoni) is a typical giallo (a distinctively Italian variation
of the murder mystery, often involving a mad killer, and often not so
big on logic and reason) which sees Nero as a journalist wrongly
accused of a murder, who now tries to find the real killer.
- ˇViva la Muerte... tua!/Don't turn the Other Cheek (1971,
Duccio Tessari) - co-starring Eli Wallach and Vanessa's sister Lynn
Redgrave - and Los Amigos/Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears
(1972, Paolo Cavara) - co-starring Anthony Quinn - once again try to
profit from Nero's image as a cowboy actor, even if by and large the
Spaghetti Western as such has run its course.
- In Le Moine/The Monk (1972, Adonis Kyrou), a film
based on the 18th Century Gothic novel by Matthew Lewis that was
co-scripted by Luis Bunuel, Nero plays - wouldn't you have guessed it
- a monk who is trying to resist the charms of a devil's emmissary in
the guise of a young girl.
- La Polizia Incrimina la Legge assolve/High Crime/The
Marseilles Connection (1973) marks Franco Nero's first
collaboration with Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo
G.Castellari bio - click here], with whom he would work
repeatedly over the next decades, with whom he would make some of his
best movies, and whom he often said to be his favourite director (and
according to numerous interviews with both, the feeling between actor
and director was mutual). The film itself has Nero playing an upright
policeman fighting crime, and violently too, which doesn't seem too
special in writing - but Castellari's powerful directorial effort (and
especially his excellent handling of the action aspect of the movie)
paired with Nero's strong performance make up for the film's narrative
- I Guappi/Blood Brothers (1973, Pasquale Squitieri) is
a period piece that sees Nero as a man who, in order to become a
lawyer, tries to break away from his Mafia family - but instead is
devoured by a life of crime. The film co-stars Claudia Cardinale and
- In Senza Ragione/Redneck (1973, Silvio Narizzano),
Franco Nero and Telly Savalas play ruthless kidnappers.
14-year-old Mark Lester is their captive.
- In Il Delitto Matteotti/The Assassination of Matteotti (1973,
Florestano Vancini), a historical drama set in fascist Italy, Nero
plays Giuseppe Matteotti, the leader of the socialist party whom
Mussolini, played by Mario Adorf, has killed.
Interestingly, in next year's Mussolini: Ultimo Atto/The
Last Four Days (1974, Carlo Lizzani), Nero plays Colonel Valerio, the man assigned to kill Mussolini, this time played by Rod Steiger.
- Zanna Bianca/White
Fang (1973) and its sequel Il Ritorno di Zanna Bianca/The
Return of White Fang (1974), both directed by Lucio Fulci [Lucio
Fulci bio - click here], are two
films adapting the popular novel about a wolf-dog in Alaska by Jack
London - but unfortunately, the films are rather disappointing and
Nero can do little to save them. Raimund Harmstorf, John Steiner and
Virna Lisi are Franco Nero's co-stars in both these films.
- Il Cittadino si Ribella/Street
Law (1974) is the second collaboration between Nero and Enzo
G.Castellari, and on a plot level, this film is clearly based on the
Charles Bronson-vehicle Death Wish (1974, Michael Winner),
which was released only months before this one. In
direct comparison though, Street
Law is the much better film, the storytelling is more
gripping, the action is simply excellent, and Franco Nero is a better, more subtle actor than Charles Bronson.
- Gente di Rispetto/The Flower in his Mouth/The
Schoolmistress and the Devil (1975, Luigi Zampa) is a rather
uninteresting murder mystery co-starring Jennifer O'Neill and James
- Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia/Smiling Maniacs
(1975, Marcello Aliprandi) is another crimethriller about corruption
and politics, and how these two intertwine. Fernando Rey co-stars.
- In the 1975 American TV-movie The Legend of Valentino
(Melville Shavelson), Franco Nero can be seen as the legendary
Rudolpho Valentino, heading a cast consisting of Suzanne Pleshette,
Lesley Ann Warren, Milton Berle and Yvette Mimieux.
By the mid-1970's, the Spaghetti Western, the genre which gave Franco
Nero's career its initial boost, was already a thing of the past, with
even the Western comedy in the wake of the Terence Hill-Bud Spencer
films having run its course. Not that Franco Nero needed to have worried
because he had by that time successfully broken away from the
genre and become a smashing success.
Yet, in 1976, Franco Nero and Enzo G.Castellari - himself a director
who learned his trade in making Westerns - teamed up to do probably the
Spaghetti Western to end all Spaghetti Westerns: Keoma.
Keoma was a Western
like none before, a blend of Western motives and Greek tragedy, the
marriage of (excellently staged) violent action and grande opera (but
without the characters singing - there is singing involved though), a film
that can be seen as a mere genre flick as well as an existentialist,
expressionist, archaic work of art. And Franco Nero's role of the lone
avenger gets almost bliblical status when he is first crucified and later
comes back from the dead (though not literally). The film was
well-received by audiences and critics alike upon its release, and has since
become a regular cult favourite, having been reissued on video and DVD
numerous times as well as being in the top ten of virtually all
serious Spaghetti Western fans, having been included in the movie
collection of the Museum of Modern Arts, and having such prominent
Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi.
Though Keoma was a
success upon its release, it did little to revive the Spaghetti Western
genre, and when Castellari and Nero followed up their dead serious
masterpiece with the tongue-in-cheek, no, insane Western Cipolla Colt/Cry,
Onion/The Smell of Onion (1976), they did not duplicate the
former film's success but landed flat on their chests - even if Cipolla Colt did have its moments
For Franco Nero, the latter part of the 1970's consisted of mainly work
on high-profile films, with some of the most famous and talked-about
directors of its day:
- Marcia Trionfale/Victory March (1976) is a drama about
the military directed by Marco Bellocchio co-starring Michele Placido
- Claude Chabrol directed Franco Nero in Les Magiciens/Death
Rite (1976), a mediocre (by Chabrol's standards) crime flick,
where Nero heads a cast consisting of Stefania Sandrelli, Jean
Rochefort, Gert Fröbe and Gila von Weitershausen.
- In Salvatore Sampieri's erotic period piece Scandalo/Submission
(1976), Nero plays a man slowly seducing Lisa Gastoni and submitting
her to his will in Paris immediately before the German invasion of
- William A.Graham's 21 Hours at Munich (1976) depicts the
terrorist attack on the Israeli team during the 1972 Olympic Summer
Games in Munich, with Nero playing the head of the Palestinian
- Tonino Valerii's Sahara Cross (1977) is an action thriller
set in (you wouldn't have guessed it) Africa.
- In Pasquale Festa Campanile's Autostop Rosso Sangue/Hitch-Hike
(1977), a by and large forgotten exploitation masterpiece, Franco Nero
and Corinne Clery play a couple being taken hostage and abused by
psycho hitchhiker David Hess.
- In Guy Hamilton's World War II drama Force 10 from Navarone
(1978), a sequel to the better and more successful Guns of Navarone
(1961, J.Lee Thompson), Nero has a supporting role siding Robert Shaw,
Harrison Ford, Edward Fox, Barbara Bach, Carl Weathers and Richard
- Ken Annakin's The Pirate (1978) is based on a novel by Harold
Robbins about an Israeli raised by an Arab who suddenly finds himself
in charge of the country's oil fortunes - and finds himself threatened
by a terrorist group headed by his own daughter. In this film, Franco
Nero heads a cast consisting of Anne Archer, Olivia Hussey, Ian
McShane, Christopher Lee, James Franciscus, Armand Assante, Stuart
Whitman, Ferdy Mayne and Michael Pataki.
- In Florestano Vancini's erotic flick Un Dramma Borghese/Mimi
(1979), Nero plays a dad who is almost seduced by his own daughter
home from boarding school for the summer.
- The Visitor (1979, Giulio Paradisi) is quite simply an odd
film about aliens and the battle of good against evil/God against the
Devil, starring Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston,
Sam Peckinpah (!) and Shelley Winters. Nero has a guest spot as Jesus
- Il Cacciatore di Squali/Shark Hunter (1979, Enzo
G.Casellari) is the first real low among the many collaborations
between Franco Nero and Enzo G.Castellari, an uninteresting action
story set on a Carribean island that seems to be going nowhere in
particular. Werner Pochath co-stars.
With the 1970's coming to an end, the Italian film industry was seeing
major changes. The competition of Hollywood became more and more
overpowering, so Italian films made on a big budget (by Italian standards)
had to struggle more and more at the box office, while relatively small
genre productions that lacked any real stars like Zombi
2/Zombie Flesh Eaters
(1979, Lucio Fulci) were able to turn out a tidy profit - and thus the air
for domestic stars like Franco Nero has grown thinner ...
Still, a man of Franco Nero's talent did not find it too hard to keep
himself in employ during the 1980's, only the films he starred in were
often less interesting than those he made during
his heyday. His more interesting latter-day movies are:
- The neo-noir Il Bandito dagli Occhi Azzuri/Blue-Eyed
Bandit (1980, Alfredo Giannetti), which Nero also co-produced.
- Il Giorno Del Cobra/Day of the Cobra (1980), another
collaboration with Enzo G.Castellari that, despite not being terribly
original, is a very effective action thriller. The film co-stars Sybil
Danning [Sybil Danning
bio - click here] and William Berger.
- The Man with Bogart's Face (1980, Robert Day) is pretty much
a one-joke movie: Robert Sacchi's face looks like Humphrey Bogart's.
Unfortunately, the film lasts over 100 minutes and takes itself
seriously as a hommage to old film noirs ... recipe for desaster. The
cast also includes Olivia Hussey, Herbert Lom, Victor Buono, Sybil
Danning, Richard Bakalyan, Yvonne De Carlo, Victor Sen Yung and even
- Franco Nero was once again back to playing a policeman in The
Salamander (1981, Peter Zinner), heading a cast consisting of
Anthony Quinn, Martin Balsam, Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee, John
Steiner, Claudia Cardinale and Eli Wallach.
- Menahem Golan's Enter
the Ninja (1981) was an attempt to establish Nero as an
international action star at the tender age of 40, oddly enough in a
martial arts flick, something Nero was not famous for (and was thus
doubled by famed martial artist Mike Stone in most of his fight
scenes). The film itself is a very tired early American depiction of
the Ninja-subgenre that is as clichéd as it is uninspired, and
Nero gives a visibly tired performance, one of the worst of his
career. Actually, the film was successful enough to spawn a few
sequels, but Nero was in none of them - which was probably better for
his career anyways.
- Krasnye Kolokola, Film Pervyy - Meksika v Ogne/Mexico in
Flames (1982, Sergej Bondarchuk) and Krasnye Kolokola, Film
Vtoroy - Ya Videl Rozhdenie Novogo Mira/Ten Days that Shook the
World (1983, Sergej Bondarchuk) are two monumental productions
depicting the Mexican and the Russian Revolution, respectively. Interestingly enough, both films were co-produced by the Soviet Union.
- In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle (1982) - a film about
a gay sailor who visits a weird whorehouse, Nero co-stars with Brad
Davis and Jeanne Moreau. The film would remain Fassbinder's last work as a
- Franco Nero played the title role in the Yugoslavian/West German
co-production Banovic Strahinja/The Falcon/Der Falke
(1983, Vatroslav Mimica), a period picture set in 14th century Serbia
at the times of the Ottoman invasion. Gert Fröbe co-stars.
- Nero had a rather small part in the TV mini-series Wagner
(1983, Tony Palmer) which starred Richard Burton as Richard Wagner
himself and Vanessa Redgrave as Cosima von Bulow, with John
Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and then-popular
Wagner-tenor Peter Hofmann giving support.
- The Last Days of Pompeii (1984, Peter R.Hunt) was another TV
mini-series - about, you guessed it, the last days of Pompeii -
granting Franco Nero a small part, this time siding Ned Beatty, Brian
Blessed, Ernest Borgnine, Lesley-Anne Down, Olivia Hussey and Laurence
- The Austrian TV-movie Die Försterbuben/The Forester's Sons
(1984), a Heimatfilm (a sort of rural drama and/or comedy often set in
the alps very specific to the German-speaking countries) based on a
story by popular Austrian author Peter Rosegger, was Franco Nero's
first collaboration with Austrian director Peter Patzak, with whom he
would work time and again over the years.
- Un Marinaio e Mezzo/Fight for your Life (1985, Tommaso
Dazzi) had Franco Nero in the lead, but was a rather unremarkable
- The German comedy André schafft sie alle/André Handles
Them All (1985, Peter Fratzscher) has Nero co-starring with former
sex-starlet -turned comedienne Ingrid Steeger, but is not all that
- The Mafia drama Il Pentito/The Repenter (1985,
Pasquale Squitieri) is based on the life of real life Mafia hunter
Judge Giovanni Falcone - played by Franco Nero - with Tony Musante,
Nero's co-star from Il Mercenario, playing the titular Repenter
(= key witness of the prosecution), called Vanni Ragusa in the film but clearly based on
real-life Mafioso Tommaso Buscetta, the man whose testimony brought
down large parts of the Sicilian Mafia. Max von Sydow and Erik Estrada
co-star in this one.
(By the way, the real life Falcone was killed by
the Mafia in 1992, while the Mafia had 14 [!] of Buscetta's relatives
killed as vendetta for his testifying against them. Buscetta himself died
from cancer in the year 2000 a free man thanks to the witness
- The British movie The Girl (1986, Arne Mattson) sees Franco
Nero as a middle aged married man who starts an affair with a teenage
girl (Clare Powney, who was actually 23 when this was made).
Christopher Lee co-stars.
- Tommaso Dazzi's Tre Giorni ai Tropici/Race to Danger
(1986) is a mediocre adventure film set in the tropics in which Nero
can be seen besides Barbara de Rossi.
- In the TV mini-series Garibaldi il Generale (1987, Luigi
Magni), Nero plays the title role of the popular Italian 19th century
- The Greek/American co-production Sweet Country (1987, Michael
Cacoyannis) is set in Chile at the time of the military takeover in
1973. Nero gives support to Jane Alexander, John Cullum, Carole Laure,
Joanna Pettet and Randy Quaid.
- 1987 also saw the long-awaited (?) return of Nero's most famous
in Il Ritorno di
2: Il Grande Ritorno/Django
Strikes Again (Ted Archer = Nello Rossati) - but basically,
the film does ably demonstrate only one thing: How much water has run
down the river since the original Django.
While the first film was a bleak, atmospheric and violent Spaghetti
Western if there ever was one, Django
Strikes Again is a lazily written and tired adventure film
with a Western backdrop that robs the title character by and large of
its (pulp-)mythological charisma and instead tries to compete with the
then popular Rambo-series, putting much emphasis on
Franco Nero carrying his machine gun. A pity, but maybe the classic Django-character
shouldn't have been resurrected after more than 20 years in the first
- Nello Rossati (again as Ted Archer) also directed next year's Top
Line/Alien Terminator (1988), in which Franco Nero plays a
journalist who discovers an UFO - and is suddenly hunted down by every
secret service there is, plus Nazis, plus extraterrestrials ... the
film is about as muddled up as my synopsis makes it sound but not too
- In Terence Young's Run for Your Life (1988), Nero supports
David Carradine as a Vietnam vet with violent streaks and Laurene
Hutton as his abused wife, who takes up running (of all things) thanks to the
influence of paralyzed former Olympic runner George Segal.
- In Windmills of the Gods (1988, Lee Philips), a TV
mini-series based on a novel by prolific writer Sidney Sheldon, Nero
gives support to Jaclyn Smith, Robert Wagner, Ian McKellen and Michael
- Franco Nero also has a small part in Franco Zeffirelli's biopic Il
Giovane Toscanini/Young Toscanini (1988), with the title
role played by C.Thomas Howell.
- Magdalene (1989, Monica Teuber) is a period drama set in the
early 1800's about Joseph Mohr (Steve Bond), the real life composer of
the world-famous Christmas carol Silent Night. However, his
story was spiced up with the fictional character of the prostitute
Magdalene, as played by Nastassja Kinski. Besides Franco Nero, David
Warner and Ferdy Mayne also co-star.
By the 1990's, Franco Nero's time as a leading man was more or less
over, which is not too surprising considering he has turned 50 in 1991,
and the European film industry, which was still flourishing during his
heyday in the 1960's
and 70's, was pretty much in a shambles by now. Still, Nero kept on working,
even if his films became less and less memorable - with a few pleasent
- In 1990, his career took Franco Nero to Hollywood, to play a baddie
in the Bruce Willis-starrer Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin) -
unfortunately his role was neither too big nor too demanding, all he
had to do was to play a comicbook villain.
- The Hungarian-Italian TV mini-series Julianus Barát (1991,
Gábor Koltay) is a period piece about young Julianus who was sent to
the monastery by his father but has the dream to discover the root of
the Hungarian people as such. Nero gives support playing a monk.
- In Pupi Avati's drama Fratelli e Sorelle/Brothers and
Sisters (1991), Franco Nero plays a cheating husband.
- Touch and Die (1991, Piernico Solinas) is a little seen
political thriller starring Martin Sheen as a journalist digging in
the dirt of a presidential candidate. Sheen's real-life daughter
Renée Estevez plays his daughter in the movie. Besides Franco Nero,
Horst Buchholz can also be found in the supporting cast.
- The TV-movie Young Catherine (1991, Michael Anderson) is a
period piece with an illustrious cast, starring besides Nero Vanessa
Redgrave, Christopher Plummer, Maximillian Schell, and Julia Ormond in
the title role.
- The short From Time to Time (1992, Jeff Blyth) was actually
shot for a special ride at Walt Disney World and Euro Disney.
It's a tale about time-travelling that besides Nero as Leonardo da
Vinci also stars Gérard Depardieu, Jean Rochefort as Louis XV, Michel
Piccoli as Jules Verne, and Jeremy Irons as H.G.Wells.
- Der Fall Lucona/The Lucona Affair (1993, Jack Gold) is
based on an actual Austrian corruption scandal that also involved
murder and had a trail that led directly to the Austrian gouvenment. Jürgen Prochnow and David Suchet star.
- 1993 saw the long-awaited and often announced semi-sequel to Keoma,
of the Bears (Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo
G.Castellari bio - click here]), a film for which Nero also
co-wrote the story and acted as a producer. There is little doubt that
Jonathan of the
Bears would not have been made was it not for the success of
the somewhat similarly themed and critically and commercially
successful Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner), but in
direct comparison, Jonathan
of the Bears is by no means a rip-off and actually the better
film of the two. In the fim, we see Nero as Jonathan, a white man
living with the Indians after his parents were killed by outlaws when
he was a kid and he was adopted by a Native American chieftain. As a
grown up though, one of these typical evil landgrabbers (John Saxon [John
Saxon bio - click here])
wants Jonathan's tribe's land - but Jonathan won't go down without a
Stylistically, Jonathan of the
Bears is nothing like Keoma,
and it is refreshingly free of references to the long by-gone era of
Spaghetti Westerns, and even though in direct comparison it can't
compete with Keoma,
the duo of Nero and Castellari have turned out a beautiful and
exciting piece of Western cinema. Interestingly enough though, the
film was not widely released in its day despite many Keoma-fans
eagerly awaiting the film, and to this day it still awaits release on
video and DVD in many a part of the world ...
- In later years, Franco Nero would re-team with Castellari on a few
TV mini-series: Il Ritorno di Sandokan/The Return of
Sandokan (1996) starring Kabir Bedi and Romina Power, a sequel to
Sergio Sollima's mini-series Sandokan
(1974) and the feature film that followed it, Deserto di Fuoco (1997), an adventure tale
starring Anthony Delon with support by Mathieu Carričre, Virna Lisi,
Jean Sorel, Claudia Cardinale, Vittorio Gassman, Fabio Testi and
Giuliano Gemma - all stars past their prime -, and the fantasy-series Gli
Angeli dell'Isola Verde (2001).
- In 1993, Austrian Peter Patzak gave Nero the lead in his crime
thriller Das Babylon Komplott. The two would also work together
on Die 8.Todsünde: Das Toskana-Karussell (2002), another crime
thriller, and the fantasy/comedy Herz ohne Krone/The
Uncrowned Heart (2003).
- In Desiderio e l'Anello del Drago/The Dragon Ring
(1994), one of the many under-budgeted and sloppily made fantasy
mini-series director Lamberto Bava kept himself in employ with during
the 1990's, Nero can be seen in quite a big role - but the series as
such is pure trash.
- Ha-Italkim Ba'im/The Italians are Coming (1996, Eyal
Halfon) is an Israeli-Italian co-produced sports movie with all the
genre's typical trappings. This one is about water polo.
- Honfoglalás/The Conquest (1996, Gábor Koltay), a
period picture about the birth of Hungary as such and filmed in
commemoration of Hungary's 1100th birthday, has Franco Nero in the lead
as Chief Arpad, who leads his tribes into the Carpathian basin in 896
- With La Bibbia: David/The Bible: David (1997, Robert
Markowitz) and San Paolo/Paul the Apostle (2000, Robert
Young), Franco Nero returns to the sort-of genre of Bible-adaptations
he pretty much started out with.
- With films like the billiards-flick Il Tocco: La Sfida/The
Cuemaster (1997, Enrico Coletti), Bella Mafia (1997, David
Greene) - co-starring Vanessa Redgrave once more, as well as Nastassja
Kinski, Jennifer Tilly as well as director Peter Bogdanovich -, the
mini-series Nessuno Escluso (1997, Massimo Spano), and La
Voce del Sangue/The Call of Blood (1999, Alessandro di
Robilant) Nero returned to the Mafia-subgenre, even if the films might
be a far cry from (and quite different from) Damiano Damiani's
- For one of his more ridiculous movies, Franco Nero is re-teamed with
Menahem Golan, with whom he previously made Enter
the Ninja: The Versace Murder (1998). In this film,
somehow based on the real life murder of fashion designer Gianni
Versace and the ensuing investigations (and taking incredible
liberties with the truth), Franco Nero can be seen as Gianni Versace
himself, playing him as a clichéd Italian homosexual in Florida who
has a smile and good advice for everyone. As a whole, the film is so
bad it's almost ridiculous - which is not Franco Nero's fault though
- Talk of Angels (1998, Nick Hamm) is the story of a young
woman (Polly Walker) who escapes civil unrest in Ireland of the 1930's
only to settle down in Spain - a country on the brink of civil war.
Besides Nero, the film also stars Vincent Perez, Frances McDormand and
- The thriller Uninvited (1999) is a film directed by Nero's
own son Carlo Gabriel Nero, which besides dad also stars mum Vanessa
Redgrave and Eli Wallach. Franco Nero also acted as producer on the
- The mini-series Crociati/Kreuzritter/Crusaders
(2001, Dominique Othenin-Girard) is an accomplished Italian-German
co-production about the time of the Crusades, starring Alessandro
Gassman, with German veteran actors Uwe Ochsenknecht and Armin
Müller-Stahl in supporting roles.
- Sacra Corona(2001) is another Hungarian celebratory film,
this time to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian stateshood, and again
it is drected by Gábor Koltay.
- Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001, Brian Trenchard Smith) is a
confusing film about the apocalypse with conspiracy theory untertones,
starring Michael York and Michael Biehn, with Udo Kier giving support,
but the movie is hardly worthy of Franco Nero's (or any of the other
- Fumata Blanca (2002, Miquel García Borda) is a crime comedy
set within the Catholic Church, while Ultimo Stadio (2002,
Ivano de Mattei) is an ensemble comedy/drama about soccer fans and
- In the short L'Ultimo Pistolero (2002, Alessandro Dominici),
Franco Nero is once more his Western hero self, the image he's most
famous for. The film pays tribute to Spaghetti Westerns of old and is
set to music by Ennio Morricone from the Dollar
trilogy - which Nero of course did not star in at all.
- Cattive Inclinazioni/Bad
Pierfrancesco Campanella) is a (rather feeble) attempt to revive the giallo-genre, also starring giallo-veterans Eva Robbins and Florinda
Bolkan. Nero only has a small role as a half-mad street preacher who
has next to nothing to do with the film's actual proceedings.
- The Czech film Post Coitum (2004, Juraj Jakubisku) is
actually a quite amusing sex comedy with Nero heading an ensemble cast
as an aged hippie photographer.
- The German-British co-production Summer Solstice (2005, Giles
Foster) is another one of those cheesy made-for-TV Rosamunde
Pilcher adaptation. How Franco Nero, Jacqueline Bisset and Honor
Blackman all got talked into doing this is beyond my knowledge.
- 2005 also showed that you actually can teach an old dog new
tricks (this old dog anyways) when Franco Nero, at the tender age of
64, made his directorial debut, Forever Blues, a film about a
young man (Daniele Piamonti) whose life gets turned around when he meets
an old jazz musician (Franco Nero himself) who teaches him to master
his problems with music. Nero not only directed the film
and cowrote the script, ultimately he also paid for most of it out of
his own pocket after the film's original producer did not put up the money he
- Of interest among Franco Nero's most recent movies might also be the
TV-movie L'Inchiesta/The Final Inquiry (2006, Giulio
Base), a film made at approximately the same time as the
hyped-by-artificial-controvery blockbuster The Da Vinci Code
(2006, Ron Howard) about a similar theme: Jesus. L'Inchiesta is
set in Palestine at the time almost immediately after Jesus' death,
when a Roman tribune (Daniele Liotti) is sent to investigate the truth
about this King of Jews. The film stars among others Dolph
Lundgren, Max von Sydow, F.Murray Abraham, Ben Kingsley, Giuliano
Gemma and Ornella Muti as Mary Magdalene.
Even though Franco Nero is definitely at retirement age now, and he's
definitely well-off financially, there seems to be no stopping him though,
as there are several more projects with his name attached to them, either
in pre-production, filming or just waiting for release, the most
interesting being most probably the Slovakian-Czech-British-Hungarian
co-production Bathory (2007, Juraj Jakubisku), about real-life
infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Anna Friel), the woman who liked to
bath in virgins' blood.
Plus, there's Bastardi (2007, Andres Alce Meldonado), a thriller
starring Giancarlo Giannini, Gérard Depardieu, Don Johnson and Barbara
Bouchet, plus Eva Henger of hardcore porn fame.
And it looks as if there was plenty more to come.
Will any of his new movies be as groundbreaking as Django,
as Keoma, as good as his
1970's crime thrillers, as the genre classics he made with Sergio Corbucci
or Enzo G.Castellari, will he make more arthouse films ?
None of this questions can be answered today, but these questions alone
prove the enormous contributions Franco Nero made to Italian and
international cinema, and without him, the movie-world would be a poorer
place. And that he still pushes on at an age past 65 gives you hope that
there is and will be cinema outside of Hollywood worth watching ...