Indian foreign movie fans in the 1980s will remember him as a bearded, bulky bruiser in a string of light-hearted ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ and other oddball action comedies throughout 1970 and 1980s, but Bud Spencer was a multi-facetted personality – much at variance from his enduring onscreen image.
Seen mostly onscreen along with the blond-haired, blue-eyed Terence Hill in over 20 films between 1959 and 1994 where his contribution chiefly being slugging or pounding the opponents, Bud Spencer held a degree in law, had several patents, knew several languages, could fly jet planes and helicopters and was keenly interested in philosophy.
He also wrote a two-volume autobiography as well as “Mangio Ergo Sum – My philosophy of eating” in which he says he “describes the nightmare he suffers during a prescribed diet and discusses his philosophical dilemmas with various philosophers from all ages”.
He was also a champion swimmer, who set several Italian records, and participated in two Olympics (Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956) where he reached the semi-finals, till an accident in 1957 abruptly ended his aquatic career.
Born Carlo Pedersoli in Naples on Oct 31, 1929, his first major onscreen appearance, though uncredited, was as a Roman legionary in 1951 Hollywood epic “Quo Vadis?” (Sophia Loren was another uncredited extra). He was seen in various Italian movies subsequently but none of them led to him become a known face till he teamed up with Terrence Hill (Mario Girotti).
Though the duo had been together in Hollywood film “Hannibal” (1959) where both had small, supporting roles (but never even saw each other on set), they did a trio of Italians Spaghetti Westerns – “God Forgives… I Don’t!” (1967), “Ace High” (1968), and “Boot Hill” (1969) – and by accident.
As Spencer, who had by then changed his name (which now signalled his taste for Budweiser beer and admiration for Hollywood star Spencer Tracy as well marking his humour – such a hulking man called ‘Bud’) recalls, for the first film, “a young man named Mario Girotti was hired the day before the start of the shooting as a replacement to another actor who had an accident and broke his foot.
“His role was called ‘Cat Stevens’ and when the filming started we only had the time to briefly say ‘Hi!’ to each other. Neither one of us could ever imagine that this was the beginning of a new wonderful story in our lives: the friendship of Mario and Carlo, the birth of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer as inseparable duo on and off the movie screen!”
But this trilogy was the standard ‘Western’ fare full of blood and gore, what actually made them famous was the vision of Enzo Barboni, director of photography on many leading films and now intending to turn director himself, but planning to create a new variant of the genre with more humour and gags and no dead people.
Thus “Lo chiamavano Trinita” (1970) or (“They Call Me Trinity” as we know it) as where Hill is Trinity, a gunfighter, and Spencer is his half-brother Bambino, the ‘sheriff’ of a little town. Both can’t stand each other they team up to hinder a former army officer trying to defraud a group of pacifist Mormons of their land. This not only proved a hit but made them leading stars.
The duo returned in “Trinity Is Still My Name” (1971) and then pushed beyond the Western setting. They were bush pilots in South America in “All the Way, Boys” (1972), off-road race drivers in “Watch Out, We’re Mad” (1974), extremely unlikely clerics in “Two Missionaries” (1975), policemen in “Crime Busters” (1976), African safari guides in “I’m For the Hippopotamus” (1979), treasure hunters in “Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure” (1981) and more. Their last was “Troublemakers” (1994).
Spencer did a few movies on his own too. Prominent among them were “Flatfoot” (1973) where he plays a ‘loose cannon’ Italian policeman in Naples and considered “one of my all time favourite roles”, “The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid” (1979) and its sequel “Everything Happens to Me” (1980) where he is a sheriff in a small US town and a young alien ‘adopts’ him, and “Banana Joe” (1982), based on his own story, where he is a simple fruit-grower in the Amazonian rainforest.
His last onscreen appearance was in Italian TV series “I delitti del cuoco” (Recipe for Crime) (2010) where he played a retired policeman-turned-chef, with a headstrong daughter to contend with.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)