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What kind of a mess is that? … platonic …

What kind of a mess is that? … platonic …

In our times, relationships almost traditionally don’t last long. In our case, it is less about a marriage or otherwise amorous liaison, although we can speak of a deep friendship here. But more on that later.

Does that sound boring? It is. Almost. According to reports, this long-standing relationship came about because of a broken leg. But let’s start at the beginning.

We’re talking about Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli, two Italians, the first of whom has partly Saxon roots – unmistakable thanks to his world-famous steel-blue eyes and mop of blonde hair, at least in his younger years. He has also held German citizenship since 2022.

Pedersoli and Girotti met as actors by chance and discovered that they harmonised well in front of the camera. This later continued in their private lives. Their cinematic achievement is to transform the genre of the Italian western with its bloodthirsty attitude into a pleasantly humorous genre that still sets standards today. So much so that early productions were dubbed in order to posthumously improve the later refined style.

Acting performances are rather incidental, as both are professional amateurs. However, this is not to say that neither of them could not shine with their skills. They transformed revolver duels with fatal consequences into brawls with recorded sound effects, and the bawdy dialogues between lead shot and funeral were considerably enhanced, especially in German, and became a trademark of Girotti and Pedersoli’s films.

The two always performed dangerous jumps and other risky manoeuvres themselves. No wonder, because they are athletes and well trained. Even though Pedersoli was always able to impress in front of the camera as a man who was always hungry – he is tall and somewhat corpulent – his career as an Olympic swimmer must be recognised. He was the first Italian to cover the 100 metres in less than a minute.

Girotti, of slender stature, obviously leaves no doubt about his athletic aptitude. He was and is considered to be well-trained and also health-conscious in his lifestyle.

They both ride horses, fly aeroplanes and heavy land vehicles. They fight and are thuggish. So far, so good. What tends to fade somewhat in the face of the fireworks of slogans and fists are the subtle personal influences that both Pedersoli and Girotti allow to shine through.

Be it that Girotti likes pistachio ice-cream and therefore complains heartily to Pedersoli that the latter, playing an ice-cream seller, has none in stock. Or Pedersoli’s flippant comment, after pretending to be deaf, that he wasn’t blind after all. He was actually very short-sighted, see below.

Both show an ethical awareness, in fact this must be seen as an expression of their faith, because they always help weak and defenceless, often devout people who are peaceful because of their religion. Of course, they can also be characterised as weird birds. But this should not obscure the deep piety of both actors, which is clearly evident in many of their films. They never commit blasphemy, even when they handle weapons and get involved in fights as missionaries.

The fact that no one ever has to die in the films may also be due to the fact that Girotti had to witness the bombing of Dresden in 1945 as a young boy, where his father was involved as a first responder. Traumatised by such atrocities, the family fled with little Mario from Lommatzsch near Dresden in Saxony to Italy. Here, too, it must be assumed that this had an influence on the design of the film scripts and possibly on the departure from the classic Italian western.

A harp is a garden fence that you can grab into. (Rainer Brandt/Terence Hill)

Pedersoli’s musical skills are also impressive when he appears in the film with his saxophone. His pieces are composed – and of course played – by himself.

All in all, neither of them ever learnt their craft as actors, but they are multi-talented and always play themselves in one way or another. Or show a facet of themselves in front of the camera that would not have emerged without their stage partner. This is particularly true of Mario Girotti, who plays the go-getter in the films but is considered reserved and publicity-shy in his private life.

But Pedersoli was also peaceful in his private life and far less thuggish than in the film.

If you haven’t noticed yet, we are of course talking about Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, their international stage names.

What is truly masterfully staged, by the way, are the fights. Especially those involving the villains. All the sequences were precisely choreographed and synchronised. The personal touch here is that Pedersoli was severely short-sighted and actually wore glasses. However, these fell out in front of the camera, so he had to memorise everything with precision so as not to really hurt anyone. It is said that there was a kind of drumbeat that sounded during the film shoot to ensure that every move was performed to the point. A real choreography that is in no way inferior to the effort of a dance performance. The „ensemble“ of villains also seems to have remained quite unchanged over the years. No wonder, as everyone knew which move had to go where to make the performance effective (and painless).

The film music, most of which was written and performed by the band Oliver Onions (Guido and Maurizio De Angelis), is also perfectly matched to the films. The song Flying through the Air is just one example.

The solo film Renegade by Mario Girotti with his adopted son, stage name Ross Hill, is also downright touching. The two meet as vagabond roughnecks, get to know and appreciate each other and form an alliance. More than companions, but also like father and son. The film is accompanied by music by Lynyrd Skynyrd (the song Simple Man in particular beautifully describes the deep humility of this film in the face of life: Simple cadences underscore a mother’s admonishing words to her young son that he should become a simple (i.e. humble) man. She wants him to be happy. And he should not forget that there is someone „up there“. It is tragic that the van Zant brothers from Lynyrd Skynyrd died just as suddenly as Girotti’s son.

Make way, I’m the bailiff!

The depth is omnipresent in Spencer/Hill films, but is covered up by slapstick. Humour, however, can be a vehicle to get some distance from the action. And the films are full of it. Especially in the German version. The so-called „Schnodderdeutsch“ was created by Rainer Brandt and was initially an experiment, as Brandt reported in an interview. Another was the dubbing actors, who gave the exceptionally international film cast a harmonious German voiceover.

In general, the viewpoint of the films was often thoroughly European, even though the majority of the films were set in America. Girotti’s attachment to Germany and his closeness to the Christian faith make the films a flagship of Western culture, brimming with political incorrectness, which not even contemporaries of today dare to criticise.

And the moral of the story can be two things at once: Evil can really just be … evil. But it can be defeated. As in the Christian faith, good always has the last word. And secondly: no destructive force is needed to defeat it. Even if Girotti and Pedersoli always appear invincible, they put themselves in danger for their works and took the rap. And they endured the setbacks of their lives with humility.

They always confront evil with cunning, humour and strong self-confidence. Above all, however, these films are full of grace, humility and a luminous aesthetic. Even a kind of spirituality, be it the recurring binges, can be a lesson for one’s own life.

It is not the transgression of manners and conventions, but the enormous efficiency of both protagonists, their deep relationship with each other, their at least equally deep Christian faith, which remain visible again and again like an unspoken root of their actions, which gives them the sovereignty to completely throw clichés and conventions overboard. There is always a consensus that this is an act. Their real conviction stands behind them like a monolith that cannot be overlooked.

This is unique and unrivalled at the same time. And so a Carlo Pedersoli comforted his friend Mario Girotti when his adopted son died in a car accident shortly after the shooting of the film Renegade. And Mario Girotti gave a heart-wrenching farewell speech to his long-time partner Carlo Pedersoli when he died in 2016, now well over 80 years old. In doing so, he comforts more than one person and pays his last respects to his companion.



Sven Stemmer

Arnold Welsch