During the mid to late 1970s, the Italian film industry was in a considerable state of crisis. Audiences were drying up as people deserted the cinemas for the comfort of television and, what’s more, international distribution opportunities were closing off alarmingly. All of which meant that – until the arrival of video at any rate – producers were less willing to invest decent sums of money into cinema; the only exception being for established industry heavyweights such as Fellini, the Taviani brothers and Bertolucci. There was still a will to make exploitation films, just not to finance them with any more than the miminum amount required to get the darned things made and releasable.
All of which is a rather circuitous way of introducing the Italian career of American actor West Buchanan. Born in October 1934, Buchanan made his first listed appearance late, at the age of 31 in the 1975 film C.I.A. Secret Story, directed by the arch provocateur Giuseppe Ferrara. Before this, however, he had already been active in Italian cinema for almost half a decade – much like many anonymous American adventurers – as a stuntman and extra, sometimes using the name Buck West. Finding out information about this period in his career is tricky as he was never credited, quite possibly for tax and / or quota reasons.
His part in C.I.A. Secret Story was largely insignificant, and although he played a named character in Edward Dmytryk’s big-budget spy film The Human Factor he was just one of a number of jobbing Americans buried deep in the credits (including a very young Danny Huston, who was only thirteen at the time). More fleeting appearances followed – in Pupi Avati’s Bordella, Dino Risi’s Telefoni bianchi – before he secured his first major role in Mino Guerrini’s comedy Vinella e Don Pezzotta, based on a successful radio play and starring Giorgio Bracardi. A religious parody, the third billed Buchanan played Padre Splendid, a modernizing priest sent to Italy from the States.
Next came his best known roles, internationally at least: three appearances in the series of cheapskate Star Wars rip offs directed by Alfonso Brescia. In War of the Planets he was again third billed, playing space captain John Richardson’s engineer and right hand man as he battles a giant, malevolent robot. It’s not a good film by any means, but with his stocky build and shocking blonde hair Buchanan made an impression. He was back for Battle of the Stars, although this time round only in a cameo role as a pilot and friend of space captain John Richardson, again battling a (different) giant, malevolent robot. Finally came another guest spot in War of the Robots, this time as an associate of space captain Antonio Sabato as he battles several malevolent if not particularly giant robots.
Around this time there were other films as well. He popped up in Lina Wertmuller’s A Night Full of Rain (78), Pier Carpi’s gothic horror film Ring of Darkness, in which he played the husband of the protagonist Anne Heywood, Nino Manfredi’s Nudo di donna and the Giorgio Bontempi’s ambitious espionage thriller Spy Connection (83), which was made for TV but also released on video in a shorter theatrical version.
In the early eighties he moved back to America, where he starred in David Hess’s slasher movie To All a Goodnight (80) and well down the credits in Walter Hill’s epic western The Long Riders. A handful of small roles followed in low budget films before he made his bow in Rex Pickett’s obscure 1988 production From Hollywood to Deadwood.
Buchanan died aged 61 in 1995. If anybody knows anything more about his life and career, then please do get in touch!