The Hawklike Guy We Loved To Hate
The Chicago Tribune (December 20th 1989)
By Bob Greene
One of the features that newspapers always run at the end of every year is a list of notable people who have died since the previous Jan1. These lists usually appear with the deaths mentioned in chronological order, beginning with the January deaths. Thus, the death of Lee Van Cleef - who died last Saturday in Oxnard, Calif. - will appear toward the very end of the 1989 lists. If it appears at all, that is; many editors may not consider Van Cleef a "major" celebrity.
Which is a story in itself. Lee Van Cleef, who was 64 when he died, had a long career as a villain in movies - mostly Westerns and cowboy movies. Almost without exception, Van Cleef was cast as a bad guy. And he was very convincing as a bad guy; movie audiences looked at him, and they were scared of him and they hated him and they wanted the hero to kill him.
He was a bad guy in some of the Clint Eastwood "spaghetti Westerns," and he was a bad guy in some low-budget films, but the movie that established him as a bad guy was one of the best movies ever made - "High Noon," the 1952 Western that won the Academy Award for its star, Gary Cooper.
In "High Noon," Cooper was cast as the heroic marshal of a town called Hadleyville. On his wedding day, he learns that Frank Miller, a killer he put in prison, is coming back to town on the noon train. Three members of the Miller gang - including the bad guy played by Lee Van Cleef - are in Hadleyville to wait for Miller. The Gary Cooper character could leave - but he doesn't. He stays to face down the Miller gang. All four of the Miller gang die.
"High Noon" was perhaps the pinnacle of Cooper's career - the movie that established him as the ultimate cinema symbol of decency and honor. In a way, "High Noon" may have been the pinnacle of Lee Van Cleef's career, too. You watch that movie and you see Van Cleef - with his sinister face - and you can't wait for Gary Cooper to put him away. If Van Cleef's assignment was to make movie audiences despise him, he did a wonderful job of it.
And now that he's dead, perhaps it is worth spending a moment or two thinking about why he was chosen for that particular assignment. Certainly his path through life had been conventional enough: He was born in New Jersey, he served in the U.S. Navy, he worked as a farmer, a gas station attendant, a painter and an accountant before going into acting. People who knew him say that he was a pretty nice guy.
But Gary Cooper was cast as the heroic marshal, and his performance in that role still has the power to bring tears to people's eyes. Lee Van Cleef was cast as Jack Colby, one of the fearsome desperadoes in the Miller gang.
Why the casting? In an interview 20 years ago, Van Cleef said he believed it was because of his nose. Lee Van Cleef's nose was often described as a "predator's nose," and his face was often described as "malevolent" and "wicked" and "hawklike."
"I didn't speak a word in 'High Noon'," Van Cleef said in the interview - a fact that may be surprising to people who think they recall every detail of the movie. His portrayal of the villainous Jack Colby was so memorable that it is hard to conceive that he did it without speaking.
Van Cleef said that when "High Noon" was being cast he was offered a more glamorous role in the movie - "providing I would have my nose fixed." Van Cleef declined to have the nose surgery, and thus was relegated to the dastardly Miller gang. "Now, people remember this beak," he said.
And that was the determining factor in the course of his career, really. Lee Van Cleef's face - a face with that oft-described "predator's nose" - made him the ideal bad guy. Van Cleef was a fine actor; Gary Cooper was a fine actor. It's senseless to compare the acting abilities of the two men, but it's fair to point out that Lee Van Cleef received the roles he did because of what his face looked like. Gary Cooper? Well, Gary Cooper looked like Gary Cooper.
The great majority of us aren't movie stars, but the Gary Cooper-Lee Van Cleef rule often applies nevertheless. If your face has a certain look, people can imagine you as the heroic marshal. If your face has a different look, people can see you only as one of the henchmen in the Miller gang. Even if you never say a word. Especially if you never say a word.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Posted today are a few pics I have collected online over the years of LVC at work!
Click on 'em to make 'em bigger!
Click on 'em to make 'em bigger!
For a Few Dollars More
For a Few Dollars More
Day of Anger
The Stranger and The Gunfighter
Friday, October 26, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article from the Associated Press in June of 1977.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — After a 12-year absence, Lee Van Cleef, the lean, hard-eyed Old West gunsel of "High Noon" and later Clint Eastwood's "For a Few Dollars More," is returning to television.
Irony attends his return. He just finished playing a modern hit man in a movie filmed in Spain. Now, he'll play a modern U.S. marshal guarding an ex-hit man who is testifying against a syndicate boss.
Van Cleef's show, airing Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC, is a series pilot called "No Where To Hide" He plays Ike Scanlan, protector of an informant to whom the mob wishes to render a .357 Magnum salute.
It's a strange role for the man who, because of some 60 movies and 150 TV shows, is well-known as one of acting's most sinister villains. It's even stranger to find the villain a funny, easy-going character.
Interviewed at his tree-lined home in suburban Tarzana, he popped open a can of beer for his visitor, lit a cigarette and then denied that Sunday's show is the first time he's represented the forces of decency.
"Naw, not really," chortled the 51- year-old native of Somerville, N.J., who started acting in the early 1950s' in the road company of "Mister Roberts," which led to his big film break in "High Noon."
"Back in the Fifties I did a couple of good guys," he insisted. After thinking hard, he cited a "Medic" episode where he played a doctor.
But Van Cleef, who at home does such unvillainous things as paint, play guitar and sing — surprisingly well — in the Johnny Cash manner, admits his Bad Guy image does cause him woe at times.
When asked if, while taking the waters in a bar ...
"Do guys come up and say, 'Are you as .tough as you play in the movies?" he said, posing the question in a low, tough-guy voice. He sighed and looked at his knuckles. "I'm counting a couple busted hands out of that."
Then the actor, who at 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds appears fit enough to hunt bears with a toothpick, started laughing. "The last one I had was in a bar down on Sunset Boulevard and a Texan about 6 feet 5 was pulin' that jazz. I knew what was happening, so I accidentally knocked my change off the bar. Then I went down to pick it up, came up and 'Boom!' Almost tore hishead off. So they carried him out theback and I walked out the front, adios."
But Van Cleef, a mild-mannered man with a hipster's sense of humor, emphasized he tries to avoid such situations, even though they're part of the hazards of playing the baddie so often in films.
He also said he specifically took the part of Scanlan, the lawman, in Sunday's show "as a change from being the bad guy." And now he even wants to, give situation comedy a shot.
Van Cleef, whose greatest fame came from the roles he played in a series of spaghetti Western made in Italy and Spain was asked why he's stayed out of television for so long.
"Oh, I was having a lot more fun in Europe," said the veteran movie gunfighter. He smiled when he said it, pardner.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Monday, October 15, 2012
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Stranger With a Fast Draw: Van Cleef Heads Cast in 'Sabata'
By ROGER GREENSPUN
Published: September 3, 1970
"Sabata," which opened yesterday at the DeMille and neighborhood theaters, is a very long, hugely eventful, moderately bloody, immoderately inventive, generally good-humored Italian Western that succeeds in a lot of the areas that better, or at least more serious, movies tend to ignore. As heroic fiction, it is stronger on colorful success than on noble character, but it is so energetic and at the same time so tactful about its achievements that I find it impossible not to credit most of its ideas at face value—and sometimes a little more.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef) is a black-cloaked mysterious stranger, with looks of Judex and the manner of Fearless Fosdick, who foils a clever $100,000 bank robbery by the simple expedient of single-handedly shooting to death all seven robbers, and then blackmails their employers into paying him a like amount in hush money.
The employers ultimately pay the blackmail—both because they are ostensibly respectable men who in the first place only wanted the money so they could buy Texas with it, which they would then sell to the railroad; and because Sabata, against the usual overwhelming odds, eventually does them all in, and where they're going they won't need it.
Sabata is one of those rarities (even among mysterious strangers) who absolutely never make mistakes, never is surprised, and always win, usually by superior fire power, even when their enemies number an army. He is as-sisted (not that he needs it) by a Mexican ne'er-do-well (Pedro Sanchez) and an acrobatic Indian (Nick Jordan) whose leaps and somersaults wonderfully extend the meticulous agility that is central to Sabata's enterprise and to the film's style.
Style is really the substance of Sabata's chief adversary, Stengel (Franco Ressel, who has the appearance, but, alas, not the technique, of William Buckley.) Stengel lives, with countless henchmen, in an incredible ranch featuring a decor that ranges from late medieval to early rococo — all in one room. Since Stengel indulges in various effete cruelties and ornamental assassinations, experiencing him is rather as if you had scratched the dust of the desert and discovered, of the sins of the Borgias.
And style must be very nearly an article of faith with Frank Kramer (his real name is Gianfranco Parolini) whose graceful camera performs elegant arabesques above the simplicities of a plot for which he is also partially responsible. "Sabata" keeps throwing out almost gratuitous pleasures in movement and design—like the lovely Mario Bava adventure films—and for this enterprising prodigality Kramer deserves praise.
So do the cast members I have mentioned, and also one Gianni Rizzo, as the villainous Judge O'Hara, and William Berger, as a treacherous pal of Sabata who shoots with his banjo. Finally, credit is due to the plucky populace of the film's Daugherty City, Tex. No sooner are they all shot dead (at least once a reel), than they spring back to life for more action in the best traditions of show biz and the spirit of the Old West.
SABATA, directed by Frank Kramer; screenplay by Renato Izzo and Gianfranco Parolini; director of photography, Sandro Mancori; produced by Alberto Grimaldi; released by United Artists Corporation. At the DeMille, Seventh Avenue at 47th Street, and neighborhood theaters. Running time: l06 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Administration classifies this film "GP—all ages admitted, Parental guidance suggested.")
Sabata . . . . . Lee Van Cleef
Banjo . . . . . William Berger
Carrincha . . . . . Pedro Sanchez
Indio . . . . . Nick Jordan
Jane . . . . . Linda Veras
Stengal . . . . . Franco Ressel
Fergusson . . . . . Antonio Gradoli
Oswald . . . . . Robert Hundar
Judge O'Hara . . . . . Gianni Rizzo
Friday, October 12, 2012
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Coming to blu-ray in Japan on December 5th!
Rough translation of what to expect-
- Specs list this as a Region A disc
- 83 minute and 109 minute versions of the film
- Video interview (Giuliano Gemma)
- TV spot
- Almeria Then and Now
- “Day of Anger"&"Days of Wrath" video gallery (alternate title sequences I assume)
- Posters and leaflets Gallery
Monday, October 8, 2012
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who reads the blog!
Last month we crossed over 10,000 page views since opening in May.
The numbers are increasing every month, so keep spreading the word!