Friday, April 12, 2013

Spaghetti and Beefcake

 As with American B-movies of the '50s, European B-movies of the '60s and '70s often featured lots of prime beefcake. This was especially true of the most notorious form of eurotrash cinema, the spaghetti western. Not only did these Italian westerns feature hunky Americans like Burt Reynolds, Brian Kelly, John Philip Law, and of course Clint Eastwood, but they also usually starred even hotter homegrown stars, like Fabio Testi, Franco Nero, Maurice Poli, Giuliano Gemma, Tony Kendall, Tomas Milian. In addition, since these films were grittier, sexier, and more fantastic than traditional westerns, the men were often shirtless and/or undergoing various forms of bondage and torture. Yee-haw! And the stories, the attitude, the humor, the anti-heroic antics, and the general weirdness of these flicks made them more fun to watch than just about any other genre.

One of my all-time favorite spaghetti westerns was one of the first ones I ever saw (after the usual obvious classics like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and My Name is Nobody) - Death Walks in Laredo, or as it's know in Italian, Tre Pistole Contro Cesare ("Three Guns Against Caesar"). The story of three half-brothers - an American gunslinger (with more trick gun gadgets than James West), a Chinese martial artist, and a French hypnotist/magician -  fighting for their inheritance against an evil land baron,  Death Walks was  fantastic, funny, oddball, and action-packed. Also, it starred a very hunk named Thomas Hunter, a handsome, muscular, square-jawed stud. Best of all, the movie's climax features about ten minutes of a shirtless Hunter in action, first in the requisite torture scene and then in the final showdown with the villain, Julius Cesar Fuller (you gotta wonder if the Italian writers thought "Fuller" was a common American name because of TV western star Robert Fuller), the "Caesar" of the film's title and the caesar of his little Texas empire.

Caps from Death Walks in Laredo:

Since I usually found the Italian spaghetti western stars to be hotter and handsomer than their American counterparts, and since so many Italian stars took Americanized names ("Bud Spencer", "Terence Hill", "Fred Munroe", "Tony Kendall", "George Ardisson") - and also because I'd never heard of him - I assumed Thomas Hunter was an Italian who'd been given a macho-sounding Anglo name. He looked the part. With his tall-dark-handsome looks, unapologetically hairy body, and lean and defined muscularity (instead of slightly slouchy like Eastwood or overly musclebound like Charles Bronson), Hunter looked Italian, or at least too slender and ripped to be American. To my surprise, it turned out that Thomas Hunter was his real name and he was in fact born in Savannah, Georgia, a former model turned actor who, like Ken Clark and Michael Forrest, made movies on both sides of the Atlantic, but primarily in Europe. In his later years he turned writer, producing scripts for big (or at least bigger) budget Hollywood films like The Human Factor, with George Kennedy, and The Final Countdown, which starred Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas.

Considering how well known he seems to be in the genre, it's a bit surprising to learn that Hunter only made two spaghetti westerns, Death Walks in Laredo and The Hills Run Red, which was actually his first starring role, produced before, but released the same year as, Death Walks. (The Hills Run Red is available on DVD but unfortunately Death Walks is not, so I had to pull caps for this post from an old VHS tape, which explains the poor quality.)

Caps from The Hills Run Red:

Luckily, Hunter was a busy man both overseas and in Hollywood, and he was able to make pulp cinema in every available euro-genre - German Cold War espionage (spaetzle-spy?) thrillers, psychological horror, murder mystery, police action, even a campy-vampy comedy, The Vampire Happening. And, also fortunately, European filmmakers appreciated his pinup appeal. In seemingly all of his European movies, Hunter appears shirtless (often just in underwear or a speedo), especially in Vampire Happening, where as the boytoy of a Hollywood star and the sex slave of her (well-preserved) vampire grandmother, he puts in plenty of time showing off his great physique; and in the race car driver/cat burglar-turned-spy pic, The Magnificent Tony Carrera, where he shows up in scenes wearing only a speedo and pajama bottoms. (For a guy who seems to have just come by his great physique naturally in the pre-physical trainer/steroid days, Hunter's body almost redefines "ripped".)

Caps from The Vampire Happening:


Caps from The Magnificent Tony Carrerra:

Stills from Miscellaneous Eurospy Films and Thrillers starring Hunter:

Hunter also had roles in American productions alongside major Hollywood stars, working with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk in The Battle for Anzio and with Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, and Richard Harris in The Cassandra Crossing.

Caps from Anzio:

There's not much known about Thomas Hunter apart from his movie resume - his IMDB entry is pretty spare and Google searches came up empty - but his films are a lot of fun (even the cheesy-sexy Benny Hill humor of Vampire Happening is a lot more enjoyable than any of the teen angst vampire crap on TV and in movies today, but maybe it's just that I like flicks full of bare tits). Like fellow American eurostars Clark and Forrest, he produced an entertaining body of spaghetti cinema work, with his own entertainingly hot body providing lots of extra spice for the sauce.

Some Stills from Hunter's Spaghetti Westerns:

Death Walks in Laredo

The Hills Run Red