Thursday, August 16, 2018

An American Gladiator In Rome: An Interview With Actor Roger Browne

When Italy's Sword and Sandal genre is mentioned, Steve Reeves is normally the first name that comes to mind. Many other actors followed in his footsteps--essaying characters of Herculean strength; Roman centurions framed by guileful throne usurpers; or gladiators embroiled in mortal combat by oppressors of freedom. Some of these actors made better impressions than others. One of the best, most charismatic of the lot was American Roger Browne. Starring in several Torch and Toga pictures--some of which are highly regarded as shining examples of the genre--Roger Browne made a comfortable transition from peplums to the Eurospy genre that was all the rage in the wake of the James Bond classic, DR. NO (1961). He's likely best known globally as the eccentric superhero spy ARGOMAN; or, under its original title of HOW TO STEAL THE ROYAL CROWN (1967; see insert). He filled out his resume with several other productions and television appearances before eventually leaving the industry by the end of the 1970s. Roger Browne's contribution to the Italian film industry goes beyond merely appearing before the camera. Mr. Browne details what it was like making those movies and his other endeavors that made Italian genre pictures so memorable, and so much fun for fans of a bygone era.

VENOMS5: You were born in Cincinnati, is that correct?

ROGER BROWNE: My parents lived in Northern Kentucky. Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and evidently they didn't have hospitals in Northern Kentucky at the time so they went across the river to have me at Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati.

V5: How did you become interested in acting? Were there any actors that influenced you to get into the industry?

RB: No, I wasn't interested in acting growing up. I liked movies when I had the chance to see them which wasn't very often growing up in Lexington, Kentucky. There wasn't much opportunity to see theater there. Later in life I didn't finish college so I was working on a beer truck waiting to get back to graduate school. So I'm delivering beer in Hollywood and one day an agent came up to me while I was looking at clothes in this store called Sy Devore where all the big stars bought their clothes back in the day and he handed me a card and said, "If you're interested in getting a screen test I may be able to arrange it for you. I found Rock Hudson driving a truck". I took the card and said 'thank you' and didn't think much more about it because I really wasn't interested in becoming an actor. Just living my own role in life was difficult enough than thinking about living in some other role which would be more difficult. I found later it was the other way around--it was much easier to play a role on the stage or in films than it was to live the real life. (laughs)

A few days later I was at my fraternity house at UCLA and I told all the guys about it and they said 'give the guy a call, maybe you'll get to go on a studio lot and meet somebody, who knows?' So I called the agent and told him who I was... I grew up by the name of Bill Brown, by the way. I eventually used Roger, which is my middle name and that was the name I used for my work. So I called him, spoke to his secretary and she said "Mr. Wilson said you'd be calling." And I said, "He did? I didn't even know I'd be calling." So I went over and met the agent; he took me over to Universal Studios and showed me around. He took me over to Rock Hudson's cottage and introduced me to Mr. Hudson. The agent had to step out to make a phone call so I'm sitting there with Mr. Hudson and he asked me "What do you do?" I told him I was working in a health studio over in Beverly Hills and I give massage and exercise for clients--several of whom are in the movie business; Jimmy Stewart, for instance... Stanley Kramer, to name a few.

So the next day Mr. Wilson calls me and says, "Rock tells me you're a masseur." I said, 'Yeah'. And he says, "I have a masseur over here at my house a couple times a week. If you can use the money it's $10 a shot, what do you think?" I said, "Sure, okay." I went over there and it didn't work out. He had other things in mind that I won't get into; but anyway, we didn't see each other for a couple years after that. In the meantime he'd gotten me into an acting school at 20th Century Fox run by an old time acting coach by the name of Ben Bard (see insert). That was my first exposure to acting and it ended up being kinda fun! I thought maybe it was something I could get interested in after all, whether as a hobby or a sideline.

Then I met a girl by the name of Ramona Rush. Her big sister was Barbara Rush (see insert), a well known actress at the time. So Ramona and I were in class one day and she asked me, "Why don't you study with Estelle Harman, the woman I'm studying with over on La Brea in Hollywood? Give her a call and see about studying with her." So when the class with Ben Bard was finished, I went over to audition for Estelle Harman, who had been an acting coach at Universal. She worked with a lot of people like Rock Hudson and others of that ilk in the mid 50s. 

Both Barbara Rush and her sister got me into some serious studying with Estelle and she told me somebody she knew named Gerald Shepard was putting together a little film. He was asking for people to come over and audition for the various roles. The film was HEROES DIE YOUNG (1960). It was my first movie role. I played the part of Mule. One thing led to another and it allowed me to get into the Screen Actor's Guild. We were supposed to make $350 on the film; it was non-union. Anyway, they came to us and said they could only afford to pay us $250. So we took the $250 and with that I was able to join the union. It cost me $500 to join the union. So back then it only cost me $250. What a deal, huh? (laughs)

The next one I did was a union film called 13 FIGHTING MEN (1960) with Brad Dexter, Peggy Lee's second husband.

I worked with Estelle for a couple of years and decided I needed a change. I got in touch with probably one of the top acting coaches at that time--a fellow by the name of Jeff Corey. He'd been an actor but he was blackballed because of communist or pinko organization connections after the war. He was blackballed as an actor but became a very successful and well respected acting coach. So I worked with him for about six months before going to Europe.

V5: How did you end up in Italy making movies?

RB: I was a struggling actor, studying, not really getting anyplace. I was working at an old studio giving home massage treatments. One of my home massage clients called me and said that his father and wife were in from the islands and he had a bad cold and if I could go over to the Beverly Hills Hotel at his cottage there and take care of him and try to make him feel better. Herbert May was his name. This was 1960. Afterwards he said, "My wife and I are going to Europe this summer and we always take a masseur with us; a healthcare professional to work us out giving us exercises and massages. We have a man in Washington but he's married, a family man, and he probably won't wish to be gone as long as four to seven weeks. If he doesn't want to go would you be interested in going with us?" I told them, "Only if you give me ten minutes to pack otherwise I don't think I can make it." So I'm thinking this isn't gonna happen. I'd never had this kind of luck being invited to go to Europe. I'd always wanted to go and never thought I'd go. So a couple weeks later he calls me and asks if I'm still interested in going with them. I told him, "Where and when?" He gave me a date to be in Washington to meet them in June of 1960. I closed up out here and went home to Louisville and stayed with my folks a week or so; took a plane to Washington and met them and off to Europe I went. It was terrific. I used to take care of Mr. May primarily. I worked on Mrs. May once and I think I rubbed her the wrong way. (laughs)

V5: Your first movie in Italy was VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1962), is that correct?

RB: Yeah, that was my first film over there in an important role. Big part, small film. I was sort of discovered on that one. I'd gotten into doing English dubbing over there and I was sitting outside a dubbing studio outside of Rome and a fella came over to me and said, "Are you an actor?" I told him 'yes' and he said, "I have Emimmo Salvi over here, he's a director and producer. He's seen you and he'd like to meet you." So he sent me over and I met him and he told me about this movie he was shooting, VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER with Rod Flash Iloosh.You remember him? Big Iranian guy. Wonderful guy. Terrific guy. Not too partial to bathing but anyway, that's okay. So Emimmo tells me he has this role for the antagonist in the film, Mars God of War. He told me I'd have a lot of fight scenes and action against the Vulcan character and asked if I'd be interested in doing it. And I said, "Would I be interested in doing it?! Where and when?" (laughs) It was just like going to Rome--just give me ten minutes to pack! (laughs) It was a good experience.

It didn't really lead to my first lead role which happened to be MARS GOD OF WAR (1962). One didn't have anything to do with the other. There was no connection there. But MARS GOD OF WAR was my first leading role. That was such a successful film that I took my later-on-in-life-to-be-wife to see it. I was so proud of it. After about twenty minutes I wondered how she was liking it so I looked over and she was fast asleep. So I figured, at least she's got good taste. (laughs) So anyway, we eventually ended up getting married. I gave her a few years so she could forget that she'd seen that film. I didn't want her to hold it against me. (laughs)

Roger and Gordon Scott in the failed pilot for a Hercules TV series
V5: You were a fantastic actor in these movies. Next to you, Gordon Scott was an intense actor as well. You worked with him on the TV pilot HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965). Do you have any memories of him?

RB: Gordon was a good guy. I didn't get to know him very well. We did one film together. He was a nice guy; an intelligent guy. He was a little bit flaky. I think he ended his career badly. I heard a story when he finished up in Europe he came back here and was living with Jack LaLanne. Jack was a very well known fitness guru on television back in the 50s and 60s. He did many feats of swimming across bays of water while pulling boats. He was an acrobat at Muscle Beach and part of the Pyramid of Four (see insert; third from bottom). Anyway, I don't know at what point Gordon was staying with him, but he'd asked to borrow his 10-speed bike and Jack never saw him or the bike again. When I worked with him, Gordon was a funny, quite intelligent guy. I think Scilla Gabel had the hots for him. I don't know what happened to Gordon after that. Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. There's not too many still around. I'm one of the few remaining. 

I saw Robert Woods a couple weeks ago at the Autry Museum. Once every two months they have a seminar on westerns. Robert invited me to go with him. I was over there for a couple of hours.

V5: I'm not entirely sure, but I think Mark Forest is still around.

RB: He's still around. He's teaching opera singing now. I never knew him. He was a big name when I was just getting started over there. I never got a chance to meet him. He had a nice career, big muscleman. Richard Harrison, whom I haven't seen for a lot of years, he's still around. Gordon Mitchell is gone; Brad Harris died last year; Dan Vadis died a lot of years back so there's not many of us left.

Mario Novelli, Mimmo, & Roger in THE 3 CENTURIONS
V5: Mimmo Palmara passed away two years ago.

RB: I talked to Mimmo on the phone probably about ten years ago. We were getting residuals from all the old films that were showing on television in Italy. And I was trying to work it through him so I could get the checks sent to me but it was too complicated and I think that whole program fell through. When I talked to Mimmo I don't think he remembered me even though we'd done three films together. One thing that impressed him the most was that I took so long eating lunch. (laughs) Mimmo was a good guy. He always thought he should be the lead in the film. He had a great look but it was a great look for an antagonist; and he did it well. Big, strong guy, athletic guy. But you'd never see him smile. I didn't even know he had teeth till I saw him eating.

Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (left) and Roger Browne in SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD
Another one who was like that was Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, remember him? Nice guy. Terrific guy. Good looking guy. A great horseman and very athletic. Very stern looking and always the heavy. He ran the emotions from A to B.

V5: You worked with Giacomo in an incredible trilogy of gladiator movies directed by Michele Lupo. What can you say about those?

RB: We shot those first two back-to-back, REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964) and SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964). Michele Lupo was really good with action and fight scenes. I wasn't a natural stuntman so I had to work hard at it. Just before I began work on those films they took me up to meet a stunt master by the name of Alfio Caltabiano whom you've seen countless times. He took me up to his villa near Cinecitta for a couple weeks before the start of filming to work on fight scenes. I was a baseball player and a tennis player so I could move good and he made it so I could perform these fight scenes. After one long day of shooting on THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS--it was the scene where I return home and find my family slaughtered and I'm fighting eight Roman soldiers--I'd been working all day and I'm soaking in a bathtub at De Paolis Studio trying to get the grime and the soreness out of me and there's a knock on the door. It was a stuntman by the name of Fortunato Arena; an old time stuntman. He came in and he said, "Roger, I want to tell you... you did good work today." For a stuntman to admit to an actor that he did well was like the highest compliment you could get; because for those guys, that was their living to do the stunts. So for him to take the time to come in and compliment me at the end of a day, I really appreciated that.

V5: How long did you work on-set a day?

RB: They were long days. There were no union rules over there. One thing they did was they'd send a car to pick up the leading actors. They'd pick me up at 7am and we'd reach the studio around 7:45 or 8am depending on how far away we were on location. Then you'd be in makeup for an hour. And maybe your first shot would take place around 9am. You'd work till 1pm then take an hour for lunch; then you'd go back and work till the sun went down. If it was in the studio, you worked till they turned the lights out. You might work 6 in the morning to 7 at night and you'd do that six days a week, too. It was not an easy life but I was happy to do it. I was just a redneck from Kentucky living and working in Europe and by God I was in hog heaven. And it was so much fun. When you're young you can handle anything in those days. The 1960s in Rome was terrific.

Gordon Mitchell and Roger in THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS

V5: You had a good chemistry with Gordon Mitchell. Can you talk about your relationship with him?

RB: Gordon was a good guy. He was one of the really good guys. I knew him socially, too. We did those two films together and he got me out of a jam a couple of times. They sent us to Trieste to do a film called 'La Morte Ha Ballato Il Twist'; 'Death Danced the Twist' in English. That film fell through after a few days. We were supposed to get paid. We were supposed to get Per Diem; something like 50,000 lira a day. I foolishly took very little money with me as I was counting on being paid for this movie. When the film was abandoned they told us we could go back to Rome. Well they'd only given us one-way tickets. I didn't have money for a ticket back to Rome. So Chuck... Gordon Mitchell's real name was Chuck Pendleton, he told me not to worry about it that he would take care of it. He gave me the money to get back to Rome--I paid him back, of course.

And then another time, before I'd really got started working I couldn't come up with the money on this apartment I was renting and I called Chuck and I asked him if he could help me out and he said, "Sure, how much do you need?" It was a hundred thousand lira or so and he took care of that. Then I started to work--this is around 1961 or 1962--and I didn't have any problems. But on those two occasions I really appreciated that he was there for me. A really nice guy who is no longer with us.

V5: Your leading ladies on these films were Scilla Gabel and Jose Greci. Do you remember much about working with them?

RB: Yeah, Jose Greci. I worked with her on THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963) and SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965; see insert). Thank God for makeup. I remember first day on the set I came in and there's this little girl, very plain little girl sitting in the corner there, very shy... I thought she was an extra or something. I hardly said hello I just nodded and got in the makeup chair. Next thing I know she's the leading lady in the film! (laughs) With the makeup, eye lashes, hair, everything... she came out a beauty. She really was. A very nice girl. She married a director, I can't remember his name. I played him in a tennis tournament once. Foolishly enough, I beat him... and if I had any sense I'd of let him beat me and maybe I'd of got cast by him. I wasn't very smart, either! (laughs)


Scilla Gabel (see above) was Sophia Loren's stunt double. She didn't look much like her, I don't think. She had the same bone structure, high cheek bones, voluptuous figure. She was perfect in long shots.

Same thing with Steve Reeves's stunt double, Giovanni Cianfriglia. He didn't look like Steve but he had the same proportions. He was smaller, but very well built. In long shots you could believe it was Steve Reeves. Steve wasn't very athletic. He looked good and he could pose well, but with the right stuntman in all those action films, Steve was great. So many of us owe so much to him because he started it all with HERCULES (1957) and HERCULES UNCHAINED (1958) for Pietro Francisci. He was discovered by Francisci's daughter after seeing him in an American movie called ATHENA (1954). She said 'that's the guy' and the rest is history.

V5: Did you ever get to meet Steve Reeves?

RB: I only met him one time. He was a friend of Dan Vadis and I met him when we were all shooting at De Paolis Studio once. Seemed like a nice guy but I didn't really get to know him.

V5: You worked with Dan Vadis on THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963). What can you say about him? Did you keep in touch with him up till he died in 1987?

RB: Dan and I we ran around together, we played tennis together. He was a terrific athlete. My God, I was just hoping he wasn't going to kill me in our fight scene or drown me or something. We looked good doing it, he made me look good. He was the head gladiator and I was just a Roman patrician. We were antagonists before we got together and formed the team but Dan was a great guy. I could beat him in tennis but he could beat me in about anything else. We used to go out and play football together at Villa Borghese. He was a terrific athlete. He was fast, he could run, he could do martial arts and everything... I ran into him once over here when I was working at the hospital. He was visiting a relative or something. We promised to get together but next thing I know he died. I don't know if it was to do with drugs or he didn't pay somebody off. He was into that life a little bit. I'm not sure what happened there but it was an untimely death, I think. He was a good guy, though. Brad Harris was telling a story once they were in someplace like Hong Kong or Shanghai and he had some cocaine spread out on the bed and Brad just about flipped. Dan pushed the envelope a little bit. Died in a car out in the desert. He wasn't even all that old. He was a hulky guy. Vadis didn't have a typical bodybuilder's body. He was naturally that way--big, athletic and strong. We worked out once at Muscle Beach before we each went to Rome. I was just a skinny guy trying to pump up my 13 inch arms.

Roger on right side of Jayne Mansfield.
I'll tell you another good guy who I never worked with but I met him because I worked with his wife in that film IT HAPPENED IN ATHENS (1962). It was Mickey Hargitay who was married to Jayne Mansfield... who didn't even know I was in the film even though I've got photographs all over (laughs). She had eyes for no one but herself. But anyway, that was okay. That was my first film when I got to Europe and I was glad to get it. But I met Mickey and he was very nice, very cordial; then I saw him years later in Rome in a restaurant with Gordon Mitchell. Mickey remembered me from IT HAPPENED IN ATHENS and he was a terrific guy; very down to earth, pleasant, sweet guy.

V5: Was there any competition between the American and Italian actors behind the scenes; Or did everyone get along?

RB: Well, the Italians were a lot like Mimmo. He thought he should've been Hercules. For one thing they didn't have the cache of acting and another was to have an American actor in your film over there was a real plus; thanks to Steve Reeves. Then Gordon Scott came over, then others came like Gordon Mitchell, and Dan, and Brad, and Mark and people like that. Having Americans in the movies was so good the Italian actors changed their names like Mario Girotti changed his name to Terence Hill. I dubbed him several times in his films; the TRINITY's I dubbed into English. There was a little tension over there. I ran into Terence Hill at the airport once. I walked up to him and I said, "Mr. Hill, I'm Roger Browne. I had the pleasure of dubbing you in English in several of your films." He sort of looked down his nose at me like, 'Huh, you're the one.' (laughs) But Terence Hill, I guess he was alright. I didn't get to know him at all. He spoke English quite well. His mother was German. He spoke English like Peter Lorre. You remember Peter Lorre with the funny accent? Well, I shouldn't of told him I was the one doing the dubbing. (laughs) They don't like that. Anyway, it was a pretty good living for me for quite a while there. (laughs)

V5: There were several hundred westerns made in Europe prior to the end of the Sword and Sandal and muscleman movies. Did you ever receive any offers to star in any of those?

RB: I started a western and was on it for one week then the money fell through. Other than that I never got the chance to do those. I don't think I was the western type in those days; between the age of 30 and 40. Maybe after 40 when I started getting some character in my face. I never saw myself as a western type. Maybe it's just an excuse but I'd of certainly done it. I don't think anyone saw me as a western actor. I was a much better fit for the spy films.

V5: I think you would've made a fantastic James Bond.

RB: Yeah, that was the goal of everybody to be James Bond. I've got photos trying to copy that look holding the gun across my chest.

V5: Did you ever meet Sean Connery?

RB: No, but I did meet Roger Moore before I went to Rome. Met him at a party once on Sierra in Hollywood. I was just a nobody and we shook hands and that's it. Later on I did an episode of RETURN OF THE SAINT. Roger Moore had already moved on from THE SAINT and Ian Ogilvy took over. It was an episode shot in Rome. I wasn't in it very long. I played an American spy and I had lots to do. Ian Ogilvy was a nice guy. He said "You guys are amazing. You come in here, you work one day, you get pages of dialog, you get killed, and I just sort of float through the day there as the lead." (laughs) I told him, "You're a lucky son of a gun and I'm glad I'm getting to work with you." (laughs)

V5: One of your best Eurospy pictures was OPERATION POKER (1965). What happened with Ken Clark, who was originally set to star?

RB: That was another fluke. I got a call from a cameraman on the last Sword and Sandal movie I did, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). He tells me the director, Osvaldo Civirani, was having problems with Ken Clark. They wanted to dye Ken's hair black. He didn't want to do it because he wanted to keep the blonde hair. So they agreed not do it. So I was asked if I was interested in doing the film. And again, "Only if you give me ten minutes to pack!" (laughs) You can dye my hair whatever color you want. Just give me a chance to do something in clothes, you know? I went in to meet the director and they'd started the wardrobe for Ken Clark. They'd picked out the clothes at Brioni's in Rome so they sent me over there. Ken was bigger than me but we were more or less the same proportion. They could make minor adjustments to fit the clothes to me; and so that's how that turned out. I got very lucky and got into doing Eurospy movies and adventure films.

V5: You were directed by Umberto Lenzi on three of your spy pictures. What was your impression of him as a director?

RB: "Maledetto Toscano" (Damn Tuscan). He was Tuscan and he would cuss all the time. People from Tuscany were known to use foul language a lot. He was good. Not real great with actors, but he would always bring the film in on time and under budget. He was good with putting all the action scenes together. He didn't know how to instruct actors so he sort of left it up to them. Most of the people he used, like me for example, he just gave me the script and let me figure out what I'm supposed to do. I was always like George Raft--I'd learn my lines, hit my mark and worked with a cold. We had good casts and crews on the Lenzi pictures. He kept it moving. Lenzi always came to the set prepared. The only problem I had with him was on one film I'm playing an American spy. And in one scene to determine whether I'm right or left handed--this was how much he didn't know about American sports, in particular baseball--he said, "This guy's gonna throw you the key and you're gonna grab it. That way they're gonna find out if you're right-handed or left-handed." So they threw it to me and me being an ex-baseball player I catch it in my left-hand, of course. Lenzi goes, "No, no, no, you're right-handed; you can't catch with your left hand." I said, "No, Umberto. I'm right-handed. I throw with the right hand. I catch with the left hand." He says to me, "Va bene, Che cazzo so io di Pallebase?" Roughly translated to English, "Okay, what the fuck do I know about baseball?" (laughs) 

Another time on the set of THE SPY WHO LOVED FLOWERS (1966), Yoko Tani--who was a real flake--asked Umberto, "Che cos è La Fregna?" This is an Italian slang for a woman's private part. Without missing a beat Umberto responded, "Tu hai Bella, Emma Daniela ha brutta." In English that's "You have a beautiful one, Emma Daniela has an ugly one." Emma Daniela was the female lead in the picture. So that's how it was working with Umberto Lenzi.

Like with the baseball story, sometimes you have to help the directors in other ways. Another story along the same line happened on ARGOMAN, or HOW TO STEAL THE ROYAL CROWN. You saw ARGOMAN, right? There's a scene with the girl, Mirella Pamphili. She's got the crown and she's walking down the staircase with this crown on her head, holding her hands up on the crown. I look under her arms... hair under the arms. I told the director, Sergio Grieco, "If you want to distribute this in the English language you might want to take Mirella back to wardrobe and shave those armpits." He tells me "Why? It's what we do." So I explain I'm not discussing that, it's a culture thing in America that it's going to be laughable out there. So they took her back and shaved her armpits and we finished the scene. Every now and then you have to help them out like that. (laughs)

V5: Regarding your leading ladies during this period, what can you say about Rosalba Neri and Helga Line?

RB: Both were very nice. Sort of cold-fish type girls. One of the times I worked with Helga--it was on OPERATION POKER (1965)--the director had us too close, and for some reason I had to slap her. I was so close that when I went to do a stage slap I actually hit her. They had us too close together and I felt bad about it. I didn't hurt her. I was very apologetic to her and they gave us some more room to play with otherwise I'm just short-arming her and it would look funny. It was the first time I'd ever hit an actress. (laughs)

V5: Did you ever have any off-screen romances with some of your leading ladies? Or were you married by then?

RB: No, I wasn't married yet. I met my to-be wife in 1971 and by then the bulk of my career was over. I was working a little bit here and there but I wasn't doing any big parts anymore. My wife and I we married in 1976. Till then I led a normal, red-blooded life. Nothing scandalous or anything, but there's one I can tell you about. I took the family to Rome 12 years ago. My wife and Kelsey are walking down the street and we saw a billboard of Edwige Fenech who I was seeing for a little while after making SAMOA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE (1968). That was a tense moment there, but that was years before I'd met my wife. When I met Edwige I didn't know whether to date her or adopt her. (laughs) I decided not to adopt her.

V5: ARGOMAN is likely your most well known picture. Was it difficult acting in that suit?

RB: It was terrible. I couldn't see a thing. It was very uncomfortable. I did so much of the film in that costume. I had to jump onto tables and fight and I could hardly see anything. It was not an easy thing to do. You know, I'm glad I did it. If they had really been smart--and I'm glad they weren't--you couldn't tell who was in that costume anyway. It could've been anybody. The only scene I wasn't inside the suit was when he was running on top of the train. That was the only time I used a stuntman. I wouldn't of done that anyway because I probably would've fallen off the train, got knocked off or blown off by the wind or something. Everything else was me.

V5: You had a well-written, complex, eccentric character. Did you have any input for the role or did you just follow the script as written?

RB: No input at all. I hardly knew what I was doing when I was doing it. They gave me the script and all I could hope for was that it was a good translation of the Italian script. They usually were. Every now and then you'll come to a line that they'd need to adjust a little. They make a lot of changes in the dubbing anyway. Dubbing was a way of life over there. It's a way of life for their own films that they dub in their own language because after the war they used so many people right from the street that they'd put in the film. They'd have the right look for the part, like vegetable sellers or things like that. They would get the theater actors to dub them after shooting was done to round out the part. I don't know what they're doing now; maybe they're doing direct sound but back in those days you'd have a guide track to help the adaptation for the dubbing. Sometimes it didn't make any difference what you said they were gonna change it anyway; or change the dialog in the dubbing studio.

I did a film called I TRE CENTURIONI (THE THREE CENTURIONS [1963]). When I got the script it was a literal translation from the Italian. It wasn't made into speakable English. It was impossible. I told them there was no way for me to do this in English. There was no time to have it redone by somebody and adapt it; and I wasn't gonna do it myself; they weren't paying me to do an adaptation and it wasn't my niche anyway to write dialog. So I told them I was just gonna do it in Italian. So I shot the whole film in Italian and they dubbed it afterward. There was a dubber by the name of Pino Locchi. Nice guy. Little guy with a deep, very masculine voice. He was the one who dubbed all the heroes in the Italian films. He did Terence Hill in Italian; Giuliano Gemma in Italian; he dubbed me in Italian; other people too like Brad Harris and Gordon Mitchell... a lot of people. I dubbed myself in English but spoke Italian in the film. That turned out to be a peculiar situation, but it was fun.

V5: So you could speak Italian?

RB: I did, yes. I started learning it the first day I got to Italy. I had an Italian book for tourists and on IT HAPPENED IN ATHENS (1962) I worked with Bob Mathias... you remember Bob Mathias? He was a two-time Decathlon champion in 1948 and 1952. He played the coach in the movie. He turned me on to a book called 'Italian For Americans'. I've still got it, too. I tried to study a half hour everyday. Italians are very good. You string three words together and they love you for it; they embrace you. You've honored them by speaking their language. Whereas you go to France and you don't speak it maturely they don't wanna know about it. The only one who ever complimented me in France for my French was a cab driver taking me out to the Roland Garros Tennis Tournament; and he was just looking for the tip. (laughs)

I was called in to test for an actor by the name of John Philip Law in 1963. He did an episode for an Italian television series where he was supposed to speak Italian. They wanted somebody who spoke Italian but had an American accent. So I did that and at that point, I figured I was speaking Italian pretty well.

V5: Of the two major genres you worked in--the gladiator and spy genres--did you prefer one over the other?

RB: The spy pictures were more interesting. They're more modern. I got to travel a lot. I went to Spain a few times; to Switzerland a few times; Greece was another place... they were more interesting from that point of view. The Sword and Sandal movies were fun, they were hard work; a lot more physical. For their time they were fine. I liked the process of acting. It was fun and exciting. Even today; I don't do that much today but when something comes up I do it and it's still fun to do.

V5: This goes back to the dubbing discussion, but I'd read you were the president of ELDA, the English Language Dubbers Association. Can you elaborate on that?

RB: I was the president for nine years. I sort of fell into it. I was on the by-laws committee before. The opening came available and I didn't wanna do it. Somebody chose me and somebody else wanted to do it named Michael Torp. A very intelligent guy but if we had him as president it would've gone downhill; no telling what would've happened. So I got in there by default. It was nothing all that prestigious. It had its problems. I got mugged once carrying money back to the office. It was interesting. I might've got a little bit more work from being president but most of my work was from having established myself. We weren't legal with the government at that time. It was sort of a fly-by-night outfit. We functioned as a union but it wasn't official. We just sort of established the rates, made them more fair. We went on to a line count--so much per line of dialog. I was the point man on establishing that. Two things I did as president was establishing the line count--changing the whole financial system; and I was the first person to get the ball rolling by no longer allowing smoking in the dubbing studio. I just got sick myself standing up at the Dais trying to dub and the dubber next to me is smoking cigarettes and the smoke is curling into my eyes while I'm trying to do a scene. So those are my greatest claims to fame--the line count and no smoking in the studio.

V5: What years were you president?

RB: I was president from 1966 to 1975. In 1975 we got organized, got a lawyer and made it official. It's a shame it didn't happen earlier. If you're a lead for 20 years you can qualify for an Italian pension, Italian social security. I was at 20 years and I get Italian social security today. It's been great. But if I'd had those 15 years of dubbing--I did a lot of dubbing in those years from 1960 to 1975. If I had that going towards my social security, that would've been very nice. But people started ELDA on somebody's kitchen table. Back in the late 50s, they had these films and they needed somebody to dub. They needed people who knew something about acting and they had a few English teachers there and a few actors around town; they got them together and started dubbing films. You learned by the seat of your pants. When I got there in 1960 and got in on it and learned what to do and how to do it... it was not an easy craft. We didn't have all the technology of today to move things into place. Back then we had to pretty much hit it on the mark. It was quite an industry in itself over there.

V5: Why did you leave the industry in 1980? Had you grown tired of acting or was it something else?

RB: I'd already passed my heyday. I was married and my son was born in 1979... I got married in Nashville and my wife liked it over here and I figured maybe it's time to move back and get back into healthcare. So we came back to America in 1980. I went to chiropractic college and started working in a hospital. I'd been a physical therapist before. So I passed my exam and worked in the hospital for almost 32 years. Well, 31 years minus one day. I mean, sometimes enough is enough... right? (laughs)

V5: Out of all the years you worked in the film industry is there a film or films you're particularly proud of? And is there one you wish you'd never done or wish you could do over again?

RB: I liked most of them that I did. I liked all the Sword and Sandal films I did except for THE THREE CENTURIONS (1963). I did the most dangerous scene I've done in my career. I'm going downhill and the horses are pulling me down and I have to jump off because the horses are going over. I jump off and when I landed everybody gasped and thought I'd hurt myself really bad. I'm okay and I'm thinking how good this is going to look on the screen. But the filmmakers did such a poor job shooting it you never see the stunt; it was like I jumped off a stool or something. I'm particularly fond of the three I did for Michele Lupo. They had good fight scenes and good production values. ARGOMAN has the most production value of them all. The Lenzi films I enjoyed making. They were clean; nothing spectacular, but I had good people all around me on those.

V5: There's one film you did that's difficult to find, even in an Italian version, called ATTACK ON THE STATE TREASURY (1967). It's a spy/heist type picture.

RB: I hardly remember that film at all other than shooting on the beach, but I do have a funny story on it. My nephew by marriage, he's a musician. He was in Spain after a gig and he was up in his room late at night. He turns on the TV and he was watching this old Italian movie; he didn't know the name of it, you know. So he's watching it and he sees this guy and he's thinking to himself, 'This guy... he looks familiar to me. I wonder who that is? I feel like I know him. I feel like I've seen him before.' So he goes down to the concierge and says, "This film that's playing on TV... what's the name of the lead actor?" And the guy says, "Oh, that's Roger Browne." And my nephew goes, "Oh hell, he's my uncle!" (laughs)

V5: Last question. Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans, and to any who may be discovering your work for the first time?

RB: Yes, I'd like to say where were you when I needed you? (laughs) But seriously, it's nice to be remembered after all these years. Something's happened in the last few months. People from all over the world--from Norway, Switzerland, Germany, France, Canada, certain places in America... people sending me things or wanting autographs. I don't know what's happened. This never really happened all that much before. I didn't pursue it. When we came back to America in 1980 and I started back working in the hospital I had opportunities to do interviews but I didn't really have time and I really wasn't interested in it. My late wife used to do some of those things for me and she saw that I wasn't all that interested in it. I was married and had one child at the time, and then Kelsey, in 1985. But with this new interest in my work, it's heartening to know there's people who remember who I used to be.

I'd like to thank Roger Browne for taking the time to participate in this interview. I would also like to thank his daughter Kelsey for setting it up for me. I wish Mr. Browne and his family all the best in their future endeavors. 

You can find him on Twitter HERE.

You can find him on Facebook HERE.

You can also see him on the ELDERS REACT series on youtube HERE.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

TV Movie Terror: Snowbeast (1977) review


Bo Svenson (Gar Seberg), Yvette Mimieux (Ellen Seberg), Robert Logan (Tommy Rill), Clint Walker (Sheriff Paraday), Sylvia Sidney (Carrie Rill)

Directed by Herb Wallerstein

The Short Version: JAWS in the snow tells of a flesh-hungry Bigfoot ruining everybody's vacation at a popular Colorado ski resort on its 50th anniversary. For a Made For Television production, it's pretty decent and arguably the best cast to ever see a Sasquatch. Wallerstein treads as close to Spielberg's blockbuster fish opus as he can without receiving a lawsuit; and much like Spielberg's movie, you see very little of the monster. You do see lots of skiing, though; so much, in fact, that if you've never hit the slopes before, you'll feel like an expert after watching SNOWBEAST.

A carnivorous Bigfoot attacks and eats skiers during the 50th anniversary of Rill's Lodge Winter Carnival. The Lodge's owner, an old flame, a former friend, and the town sheriff go on a hunt for the monster to stop it before it can kill again.

In the annals of Made For TV horror, SNOWBEAST (1977) is one of the better known of the form--amassing a minor cult following from both genuine devotee's, and fans poking fun of its accidental campiness. It's a fairly well made one--with some surprisingly good performances, a compelling script by Joseph Stefano, and a few moments of concrete suspense. Unfortunately, much of this ends up covered in an avalanche of unintentional humor by some of the limited scenes of the Bigfoot itself.

Aside from breaking a few windows and a surprisingly intense attack on a gymnasium, the brute force of the flesh-eating cryptid is sloppily presented. To be fair, this is possibly due to the constraints of small screen production values and limitations on violence. With that said, the title monster has an awfully hard time breaking down a flimsy barn door; later displaying his primal ferocity by ripping a ski rack from the back of a truck. Moreover, other than a long shot of it on top of a hill partially hiding behind a tree, you never get to see the entire monster in-frame; instead, you get a clawed hand here, a clawed foot there, or a close-up of its face. This particular Bigfoot is supposed to be 12 feet tall only judging by the numerous POV shots, it's around half that size. 

As mentioned above, the creature's screen time is extremely limited. As a supplement, the movie is generously padded with skiing scenes. Lots of skiing. So there's that. The Colorado scenery is quite beautiful and the photography of Frank Stanley (DP of Eastwood flicks like MAGNUM FORCE and THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT) gives viewers a few good glimpses of it. And then there's the skiing scenes. To mix things up a bit, there's also snowmobiles. There's so much skiing that you'll feel like you've been on vacation in the Alps.

In spite of the abundance of snow action, what makes SNOWBEAST an enjoyable experience is less its monster than the characterizations between the three main leads due to the script from PSYCHO (1960) scribe, Joseph Stefano. Clearly JAWS (1975) was fresh in the minds of the filmmakers and Stefano swims a little too close to Spielberg's movie at times. Stefano even treads the outskirts of angles in Benchley's original novel that were dropped from the film version by way of the love triangle between Bo Svenson (THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS [1978]), Robert Logan (the DANIEL BOONE television series), and Yvette Mimieux (THE TIME MACHINE, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL).

Bo Svenson is top-billed as Gar, a former Olympic gold medalist who used to walk tall, but since fallen from grace and seeks the help of Tommy, his wife's former lover and the owner of the Rill Lodge. There's some good material here in that you feel there's a genuine friendship between the two men and that there may be some fire still flickering between Tommy and Ellen, Gar's wife. Avoiding the usual cliches this sort of love triangle brings with it, Stefano teases a potential affair between the two former lovers, but then throws in a surprising sequence that gives Gar both his manhood back and his wife.

Robert Logan had just come off of two back-to-back successes with related nature movies--the popular THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975) and ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE (1976). Logan was a family film fixture in the mid-to late 1970s so the snowy locale of SNOWBEAST was a good fit for him. After his Bigfoot excursion, Logan remained in the great outdoors with two sequels in the Wilderness family series--THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1978) and MOUNTAIN FAMILY ROBINSON (1979).

With an alleged 12 foot tall Sasquatch and the 6'6" Svenson there was room for one more big man in the form of 6'6" Clint Walker. The actor known for seven seasons of CHEYENNE (1955-1963) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) plays Sheriff Paraday--basically splitting the Brody role with Robert Logan. Walker isn't in the movie all that much; and his extra scenes in the longer cut (although his presence is most welcome) make little difference since he's given next to nothing to do. Walker's participation is so neglected, his sheriff character feels inconsequential to the action since he doesn't really do anything; and his undignified exit from the film is lazily implemented. Instead of having the Big Man square off against the Bigfoot, the monster kicks a stack of logs down a hill, turning the truck over that Walker never gets out of. Somehow, the logs manage to defy the laws of physics and end up planted through the back of the truck, too--successfully trapping Walker inside.

The other Big Man, Bo Svenson, does take on the snow 'squatch in a terribly disappointing climax using nothing more than a ski pole. Since Svenson had recently taken over the Buford Pusser role from Joe Don Baker in the WALKING TALL sequels and subsequent television series, what better way to end the picture than to have Svenson whack the hell out of the hairy beast with a tree like so many county line drug dealers and gangsters.

There needs to be more TV horror movies on DVD and or blu-ray and the fans of SNOWBEAST will be more than pleased with this presentation from Retromedia. Containing two versions of the movie--the original 72 minute version first broadcast in April of 1977; and an international version that runs approximately 16 minutes longer (see photo above and insert). The latter cut (which played in syndication after its debut) is slightly better than the shorter, premiere airing. Expanding even more on the three-character arc--as well as featuring more scenes with Clint Walker--it fills in some massive holes bigger than the Abominable Snowman's foot prints.

A remake starring DUKES OF HAZZARD's John Schneider hit the slopes in 2011.

Movies about Sasquatch were huge in the 1970s... literally. Some of the entries became fan favorites like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976). SNOWBEAST (1977) trails those two, but is unique for its strong cast and how brazenly it rips off JAWS (1975). If it weren't for the cast, and a couple tense moments, there'd be little to recommend outside of the spectrum of TV Movie curators, camp collectors, and Cryptid completists--all of whom will want to track this one down.

This review is representative of the All Region Blu-ray from Retromedia. Specs and Extras: running time: 01:12:42; international version running time: 01:28:21

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