Here’s kicking off another series of posts to run in tandem with my other occasional threads, Black Actors in Cinecitta and American Actors in Cinecitta. Obscure Italian leading men is dedicated to, well, to the less celebrated stars of Italian cinema. The kind of people who would be called in when a producer couldn’t afford Franco Nero; heck, couldn’t even afford Terence Hill or George Hilton. People who appeared in a handful of films and were then promptly forgotten. They could be Italian, but also foreigners who had a brief career in Cinecitta. We’re talking about the likes of Fred Robsham, Lincoln Tate, Jeff Cameron and, in this installment, Stan Cooper, aka Stelvio Rosi.
Sr Rosi was born in 1938 in Rome, and appeared in a surprising amount of films over the course of his film career. He actually started off as a child actor, appearing in Ferdinando Maria Poggioli’s Sissignora at the age of four in 1942. After a break of nearly 20 years he started appearing in small roles in romantic comedies and musicarelli like Diciottenni al sole (62) and Gli onorevoli (63). He was one of several young actors (Terence Hill, Giuliano Gemma, Lou Castel) to appear in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (63), probably the most prestigious film he’d be involved with, and he also worked with the much respected comedy director Luciano Salce on La voglia matta (62).
Over the next few years the size of his roles increased and it looked as though he was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of Ettore Manni, Enio Girolami and Antonio Cifariello, leads from the 1950s who were growing too old for the youth oriented films in which they specialised. He was third billed in Domenico Paolella’s Ballo in maschera da Scotland Yard (63) and Mario Amendola’s Soldati e caporali (65). He had his first leading role in Crime Story (68), a cheesy and not particularly good caper film directed by José Luis Merino (I reviewed this one for the Eurospy Guide and can honestly say I can’t remember one thing about it). And he would feature regularly in Merino’s work; in 1969 he was the protagonist in two war films for the director, The Battle of the Last Panzer and Hell Commandos, both of which also co-starred American Actor Guy Madison. Cooper was hardly the most exciting presence in them, but they were decent examples of their type, and his next film with Merino, the western More Dollars for the Macgregors (70), was far better than it’s origins as an cheapjack rip off of Franco Giraldi’s Seven Guns for the Macgregors and Up the MacGregors would imply. In fact, this was one of Cooper’s best performances, and he seemed a more relaxed, charismatic presence in a villainous part (as a drunken, erratic bandit being chased down by Peter Lee Lawrence and Carlos Quiney) than he had done in his previous heroic roles.
While shooting these action films for Merino, he was still appearing as a support actor in lighthearted productions like Pensiero d’amore (69) and Venga a fare il soldato da noi (71), and in Italy he’s much better for these parts than any of his other work (whereas most of these films remain totally unreleased in the English speaking world). His first leading role away from Merino was in the rightfully obscure Something Creeping in the Dark (71), a rubbishy horror film also featuring Farley Granger and Lucia Bosé. He rapidly followed it with turns in several more spaghetti westerns throughout 1972: Great Treasure Hunt was a terrible Tonino Ricci film also featuring Mark Damon and Rosalba Neri (this really is one of the poorest films of its type), You’re Jinxed, Friend You’ve Met Sacramento was a middling Giorgio Cristallani film in which he had a supporting role and Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived in Eldorado was a frankly deranged film in which he was rather overshadowed by the scenery chewing antics of genre stalwarts Craig Hill and Gordon Mitchell. As the popularity of the Spaghetti Western began to fade in the early seventies he was called upon to appear in two 1973 adventure movies (Da Scaramouche or se vuoi l’assoluzione baciar devi sto… cordone! and They Were Called Three Musketeers But They Were Four). None of these productions were hugely successful in terms of either quality or box office and are frankly of interest mostly to die hard aficionados of B-Movies.
Suitably enough, his career came to an end in 1973 with another film for José Luis Merino, their sixth collaboration (thay’d also made a 1972 adventure film called Pirates of Blood Island). The Hanging Woman was another horror movie, but much more succesful than Something Creeping in the Dark, with Cooper starring as a young man searching out his inheritance in Scotland (a popular destination for Italian horror movies) and stumbling across occultists, mad scientists, a witch and Paul Naschy as a hunchbacked gravedigger. Completely nuts, but good fun.
After this highlight, Cooper simply disappeared. It’s really most peculiar: there are no indications that he appeared in TV or on stage, and his career didn’t so much fizzle out – as with most actors of the time – as simply stop. The only clue as to his activities after his brief flirtation with stardom is that IMDB has two credits for him in the 1990s, as executive producer on Lambada (90) and line producer on the big budget Anaconda (97), both of which were shot in Brazil, so if it was the same Stelvio Rosi maybe he ended up in South America for some reason? He’s not listed as a producer on any other Italian films, so he may have acted as ‘the Brazilian connection’ for films shot there. IMDB also has an interesting little bit of trivia about him, saying that he lives in Rio de Janeiro and runs a video distribution company. Much as I’m loathe to place trust in the IMDB, it does seem that there’s some credence to this. But it would be great to find out more about Stelvio Rosi, one of the more curious of Italian actors of the time. If anyone has any more information… please get in touch!
Here’s a super-cool Italian trailer for Something Creeping in the Dark (which really makes it look like a much more entertaining film than it actually is…)