Gianni Medici was one of the numerous Italian actors who had a brief flirtation with stardom during the late 1960s and early 1970s without ever really hitting the big time. Although he only appeared in a half dozen films, they were spread over almost fifteen years and outside of his film career he was also a popular performer for the lucrative (and well paid, from an actor’s perspective) fotoromanzi. Internationally he’s virtually unknown, but in Italy his face was familiar to the many people who devoured publications like Lancio and Grand Hotel.
Almost all of Medici’s films were low budget affairs which, although often successful, had little in the way of foreign distribution, and his debut came in one of his most obscure productions. Roberto Mauri’s Un sporca faccenda was an early crime film directed by Roberto Mauri in 1964 about a group of young men who set about defrauding a woman who has won the lottery; naturally it all goes wrong and ends violently. As well as slightly higher profile performers like Nino Castelnuovo and Gina Rovere, this also featured several of Mauri’s regular actor / director chums, including Luigi Batzella and Alfredo Rizzo. Unfortunately the film is almost impossible to see today (if anyone knows the whereabouts of a copy, please let me know!)
After a small role in the Ken Clark spy filmFury on the Bosphorus (65), a sequel to the successfulMission Bloody Mary, in which he played a Turkish policeman and used his regular pseudonym John Hamilton for the first time, Medici was reunited with Mauri forLa notti della violenza, a modest (and again obscure) giallo with a decent cast including Lisa Gastoni, Alberto Lupo and Marilu Tolo. Again, Medici had a small supporting role in what was an interesting if little seen production. Also in 1966, though, came his first starring role inUn brivido sulla pelle, another little seen affair also featuring an early starring performance from Femi Benussi. Directed by Amasi Damiani, information about this production isn’t even included in many Italian film guides, which is also true of many of Damiani’s other works, many of which remained unreleased or received spotty distribution at best.
It was back to a supporting role with Giuseppe Vari’s above average spaghetti western Django, the Last Killer, starring George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiore) as a rancher out for revenge against land baron Daniele Vargas and forming an uneasy alliance with the taciturn, untrustworthy Anthony Ghidra. This wasn’t a big production by any means, but it’s well made, has decent production values and made it beyond the regional Italian cinemas. Unlike Assassino senza volto, another long-forgotten giallo, this time directed by Angelo Dorigo, which again featured Medici in a supporting role, this time to Laurence Tierney and Luigi Batzella (again). This is possibly the most mysterious film in Medici’s CV – and there’s some stiff competition – and no reference exists in the C.C.C. volumes, the key resource about Italian film history.
1968 also saw Medici in another starring role, this time alongside American actor and producer John Ireland in the western Revenge for Revenge. Another spaghetti western, he plays Shalako (any confusion with the titular character from the Sean Connery filmShalako released the same year is purely intentional), a dodgy character who discovers the whereabouts of his lover’s rich husband’s stash of booty and sets about stealing it. Unfortunately his lover’s rich husband is the vicious Major Bower (John Ireland), who’s determined to have his revenge. This is a pretty dismal film, a distinctly unimpressive genre entry directed by Mario Colucci, who would also called on Medici again to play a small part in the equally unimpressive horror filmSomething Creeping in the Dark (71). He’s a hippie butler, seemingly the lone resident of a spooky villa at which a group of dodgy travelers – including Lucia Bose and Stan Cooper – and a fugitive (Farley Granger) stumble upon on a dark and stormy night and get bumped off one by one by a mysterious killer.
One of Medici’s best known performances didn’t actually come in an Italian film but a Spanish one. Fangs of the Living Dead was a Hispanic horror hodge-podge directed by Armando De Ossorio, starring Anita Ekberg as a model who returns to her ancestral castle in the middle of god-knows-where in order to receive an inheritance. Here she meets a sinister Uncle (Julian Ugarte, who looks younger than Ekberg) and not one but two brunette vampiresses (Adriana Ambesi and Diana Lorys). Medici plays the heroic doctor who comes to Ekberg’s assistance.
His next film was undoubtedly his highest profiles work. Terence Young’sRed Sun (71) was another western starring Charles Bronson and Alain Delon as a pair of bandits who manage to steal a priceless sword from a group of travelling samurais. Toshiru Mifune is the man sent to get it back and the A-Grade cast also includes Ursula Andress, Capucine and a young Luc Merenda. Medici has a small but notable role, and it’s all the more surprising that just when his career appeared to be taking off it simply… stopped. Probably this was down to troubles in the Italian film industry: the turn of the decade saw a downturn in profitability and the number of productions, especially low to middle budget productions, dropped off notably. Many lower-level stars left the industry to work in the more profitable fotoromanzi or on TV (although historical information about Italian TV is so sketchy that the extent to which people worked in the medium is unknown), and this certainly seems to be true of Medici. It also has to be said that Medici’s southern looks were perfect for playing Mexicans or Spaniards, but slightly less suited for the newly popular poliziotteschi, giallo and sexy comedy genres.
After a five year break he did reappear on screen with two films for director Claudio Giorgio. L’unica legge in cui credo was a poliziotteschi in which Giorgio also starred,La febbre Americana a George Eastman scripted vehicle for Mircha Carven. Neither of these films received widespread distribution and neither of them are easy to see today. Medici had prominent roles in both of them, but they were to mark his last brush with the film world. Little biographical information about the actor is available, even whether he’s still alive. If anyone knows any more, please help to fill in the blanks!