Wait, you’re that guy from that movie, aren’t you?
Many may not know his name but almost every Italian genre fan will know his face. Having appeared in over 70 movies, although not always credited, the career of Luciano Rossi appears almost a paradox.
Constantly in work but barely ever in truly memorable roles, Luciano Rossi would be seemingly invisible in the grand scheme of things, often reduced to a mere footnote, due to the frequency of being cast in a minor or extra role, usually as a glorified punch-bag.
However thankfully his contribution has been not only noted, but actually the sole purpose of the book A Violent Professional by Kier-La Janisse, and it is in this spirit of recognition that I wrote this brief piece on his more known genre work. And if you enjoy this piece (or even if you don’t) I would suggest picking up A Violent Professional, which marks an interesting read and discovery of the man’s roles.
Luciano Rossi was born in Rome on the 28th November, 1934 and would begin adulthood working at an import/export business before deciding that acting would be the career for him. As a result he began visiting Cinecittà regularly looking for any work that he could find as an actor.
No doubt aided by his distinct and stereotypically un-Italian appearance his first, albeit uncredited, role was as a German soldier in the 1962 war drama ‘Dieci italiani per un Tedesco (Via Rasella)’ which literally translates as ten Italians for a German.
For whatever reason it would be a further four years before he would return to the big screen – this time appearing in the Franco Nero fronted DJANGO. Although uncredited once again, this brief role saw him play a lackey to the town Major, and would set the tone for many of his future roles as viewers would witness him being violent towards a woman before being killed. Normally I might consider that bit of information a spoiler but as this is Luciano Rossi we are talking about these actions are almost a given.
Several varied roles followed across a range of genres as Luciano Rossi, like many other Italians in the industry, forged a journeyman career but at least for him there was one constant – Django! In total he would go on to feature in seven Django films during the late sixties (including ‘Sentenza di morte’) as well as a handful of other westerns and crime flicks.
After a very active 1968/69 his career was on an upward trajectory, at least in terms of volume of work, but it would be another uncredited role in 1970 that would see him appear in perhaps the most successful film he would ever be involved in – Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST. It is just a shame that his role is so brief that you might miss him even if you don’t blink.
However things would soon click for Rossi however with a role in Roberto Bianchi Montero’s 1972 giallo-esque thriller SO SWEET, SO DEAD which is also known by the catchy title THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC or if you manage to get hold of the US hardcore sex version, PENETRATION. Although I suspect that version had a very targeted audience for whom plot and mystery had little to do with the appeal.
Roberto Bianchi Montero’s film features an almost moralistic killer who targets adulterous women resulting in several denouncements for misogyny and it certainly does attempt to live up to the more salacious and presumed stereotype of the sleazy side of the genre, However due to the cast this film is still worth your time, but don’t go expecting a classic.
In it Luciano Rossi plays a morgue attendant who likes to engage in, let’s say, extracurricular work activities but portrays the character more as pitiful than perverse – a distraction or a lead suspect, that is for you to find out.
In addition to this, Luciano Rossi would go on to feature in a small but notable role in Luciano Ercoli’s giallo DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, 1971. Playing Hallory, a very distinctive village local, he managed to briefly steal some of the attention away from our leads in a terrific and intriguing little robbery thriller-come-giallo.
Now whatever he did on set, he clearly did it well enough to feature in the directors second ‘Death walks…’ feature, released the following year. Although in truth it was probably harder to not be recast by Luciano Ercoli than it was to be cast as highlighted by the return of several actors.
Only this time in DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT he gained a bit more screen time with his memorable role as Hans, seeing him cast as a German once again while also maintaining his default comeuppance and ultimately taking a beating.
Crazy and hamming it up, Luciano Rossi not only looked fantastic in this film but also puts in arguably one of his best performances, even if he was had very little dialogue or variety to work with.
Now death isn’t a good thing for most people but Luciano Rossi thrived off in a manner of speaker as he followed up these two films with appearances in Maurizio Pradeaux’s neat little giallo DEATH CARRIES A CANE, seeing the actor once again feature alongside Luciano Ercoli’s other half and muse Nieves Navarro aka Susan Scott. This film of ‘death’ was soon followed by DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER by Joe D’Amato. In this he managed to secure a relatively awful lot of screen time as the hunchback Fritz in what Janisse would call “one of the most satisfying roles of Rossi’s career”.
By this point the Italian industry saw the giallo wane, at least in terms of its golden period, with this genre being overtaken in popularity by the rise in eurocrime and poliziotteschi. So it would be no surprise to see Luciano Rossi, along with many others in the Italian film industry which no doubt suffered from cronyism, make the move across. However this would not be it for him and the giallo as he would return later to the genre, if only loosely with 1974’s PROSTITUZIONE by Rino Di Silvestro – a curious hybrid of giallo and social sleaze.
However back on cinematic trend, Luciano Rossi went on to appear in THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS (1973) alongside Luc Miranda, Silvano Tranquilli and American actor Richard Conte…however he would not event make it out of the first act, such is his lucky.
This role however would set him off on a spate of eurocrime including an uncredited role in EXECUTION SQUAD (aka Le mano spietata delle legge; The Bloody Hands of the Law) in which he receives a blowtorch to the groin courtesy of the one and only Klaus Kinski. According to writer/director Mario Gariazzo this scene was somehow set to be even more violent but was shortened in order to appease both the producers and the ensure an easier ride with the censors.
Roles soon followed as part of the Comissario Betti films, first as a low life rapist in the 1975 film VIOLENT ROME before scoring a more substantial role in Umberto Lenzi’s follow up VIOLEN NAPLES in which Maurizio Merli reprised the role of Betti handing out judo chop after judo chop.
In VIOLENT NAPLES Luciano Rossi plays young thug Quasimodo who, as part of a small gang kidnap a married couple and rape the wife. This action all occurs near the start of the film and is the initial trigger for Comissario Betti to rally against the bureaucratic and restrictive system and culminates in a battle against John Saxon and the mob. Although that is not before the world’s worst escape attempt in which poor Quasimodo is impaled on a spike in an almost comedic manner. VIOLENT NAPLES proves that rarity of a sequel in that it actually manages to surpass the original with Luciano Rossi playing the small-time, loathsome criminal perfectly as ever.
Once again, the by now dare we say character actor, must have made a good on-set impression as Umberto Lenzi would also give him a part in his 1976 crime drama Il trucido e lo sbirro which was co-written by Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci regular Dardano Sacchetti and stared another genre icon, this time in the shape of Tomas Milian.
Now Luciano Rossi was ever worried that he would be typecast as a low-level criminal he needn’t have worried as that another stereotype – a Nazi – would provide him with some variety. First briefly in SALON KITTY by Tinto Brass and then in Fabio De Agostini’s THE RED NIGHTS OF THE GESTAPO.
Based on a book by Bertha Uhland, the ridiculous plot sees a group of German industrialists try to overthrow Hitler . This film however is one for the dedicated only.
Unfortunately it was around this time that depression began to sink in, perhaps due to the frustration of always being the nearly man. Eventually the actors health began to give way as severe weight loss and muscular dystrophy took hold and the mid-to-late 70s marked the beginning of the end for Luciano Rossi.
The final act of Luciano Rossi’s career saw more brief roles in minor films, primarily in the ailing eurocrime genre with little of interest except perhaps the 1977 film CRIME BUSTERS starring former Django Terence Hill (who he featured alongside in THEY CALL ME TRINITY and DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN) and Bud Spencer.
It wouldn’t be until 1980 when, thanks to Lucio Fulci, Luciano Rossi would be back on the cinema screens thanks to CONTRABAND in which he played a chemist and in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, released the same year, where he played a policeman. Both very small roles but he is instantly recognisable if inconsequential.
Eventually Luciano Rossi would see out his career with roles in a few footnote films (HOTEL PARADISE; SANGRAAL; La spade di fuoco) culminating with the comedy LONG LIVE THE LADY! in 1987 which was the end of a deteriorating career that would parallel his health.
Having starred alongside and for many greats of the 1970s Italian film industry, many of which he would work alongside on multiple occasions it is a shame that someone who toiled away in the background so often and on so many entertaining and quality films would ultimately be remain overlooked struggling to get his due for many decades.
For whatever reason that breakthrough to the next level of success eluded him but thankfully now with the re-release of many classic and not so classic films he is finally, albeit posthumously, getting the attention that he deserves.
So next time you recognise that blonde haired, short little sleazeball or that chemist that the camera holds on for slightly too long think of Luciano Rossi and what a life he must have lived.
Brief note, depending on the film and the release you have Luciano Rossi may also be known by one of his anglicised pseudonyms such as Lou Kamante, Lucky Ros or Edward/Edwin Ross.