Five essential Bud Spencer films to watch this weekend

Italian silver-screen legend Bud Spencer passed away on Monday, aged 86.

Five essential Bud Spencer films to watch this weekend
Italian actor, Bud Spencer, passed away on Monday. Photo: Screenshot/YouTube

Although he didn't begin his acting career until the age of 38, he went on to star in 61 films, many of which gained cult status with cinema fans worldwide.

Spencer, the stage name of Carlo Pedersoli, is perhaps best remembered for his fruitful on-screen partnership with compatriot Terrence Hill during the 1970s and 80s.

Spencer's entertaining brand of low-brow European cinema made him a household name around the world and turned him into something of a national treasure in Italy.

After news of his death broke on Tuesday, even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi paid his tributes to the film-star, tweeting “Bye #BudSpencer, We loved you.”

If you're looking to remember, or even discover, the delights of the late Bud Spencer's work, here are five films you should definitely watch.

They Call Me Trinity – 1970

In this spaghetti western shot in southern Italy, Spencer stars alongside Terrence Hill, who was his on-screen film partner for some 18 films. Spencer plays a stand-in sheriff who teams up with his brother (Hill) to stop an evil land baron from taking over land belonging to a group of Mormons.

The film was a box office sensation, raking in more than each of the films in Sergeo Leone's trilogy, thanks to its blend of humour, action and the iconic theme tune by Franco Micalizzi.

Due to its success, the film spawned an instant sequel (Trinity is Still my Name – 1971) but many spaghetti western fans say its excessive use of slapstick humour and parodic use of western conventions all but killed the spaghetti western as a serious cinematic genre.

Flatfoot -1973

Flatfoot is a crime-police romp set on the mean streets of 1970s Naples, the city in which Perdersoli, aka Spencer, was born and raised.

Spencer stars as commissioner Frank Rizzo – the eponymous 'flatfoot' whose unorthodox methods to help him bust a gang of drug dealers from Marseille, who are trafficking drugs into the city using frozen fish.

The hulking 6'4 Spencer spends the majority of the film as a one-man demolition squad, punching the living daylights out of anyone who stands in his way.

In addition to the action, the film combines elements of slapstick comedy and great on-location footage of the southern Italian city. It proved to be a recipe for success: the film was a huge commercial hit and spawned no less than four sequels, which saw Rizzo fighting crime in cities all over the world.

Watch Out We're mad – 1974

This comedy romp sees Hill and Spencer star as rival race-car drivers who are battling for control of a special off-road car they both think they won as a prize.

However, when a local mobster destroys their coveted vehicle the pair join forces in a bid to get a new one…causing chaos to break loose. The film sees Hill and Spencer at their best and includes a star-turn from the late Donald Pleasence as a Freudian psychologist….

A Friend is Treasure -1981

Spencer and Hill star as two friends trying to retrieve a stash of Japanese booty left on a South Pacific island during the Second World War.

As part of the quest, the pair must overcome sharks, pirates, unfriendly natives and even a crazed Japanese soldier who still lives on the island trying to protect his treasure.

It's probably not the most politically correct film ever made, but the never-ending stream of punches, gags and the great chemistry shared by Hill and Spencer make it a delight to watch. 

Double Trouble – 1984

Hill and a noticeably paunchy Spencer star as a pair of look-alikes who are hired to stand in for a pair of Brazilian billionaires hiding out from an assassination attempt.

The pair successfully survive attempts on their life, but use their newfound identity as billionaires to live a lavish playboy lifestyle – which creates new enemies in the form of their employers.

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Seven classic films to watch for an Italian Christmas

What to watch over this year's quieter than usual Christmas holidays – whether you're in Italy or just missing it.

Seven classic films to watch for an Italian Christmas
Italian Christmas cinema is a whole genre of its own. Photo: via Pexels

Vacanze di Natale (Christmas Holidays)

Let’s just get this out of the way, shall we: this 1983 farce is the original cinepanettone or ‘cinematic Christmas cake’, the name given to a particular genre of Italian Christmas comedy that’s every bit as sugary, festive and familiar as a loaf of panettone. 

They’re less Hallmark romcom, more Carry On film, with visual gags, double entendres and questionable attitudes aplenty. Good taste it ain’t, but they at least have the advantage of being easy to understand even if your Italian is limited.

Vacanze di Natale is the mother of all cinepanettone, a culture-clash comedy about rich Milanese colliding with a rough and ready Rome family over a ski break in the Alps.

Other classics of the genre – most of which star the same two comedians, Massimo Boldi and Christian De Sica – include Natale sul Nilo (Christmas on the Nile), Natale a New York (Christmas in New York), and Natale a Rio (Christmas in Rio). Yes, there’s a formula.

Natale in casa Cupiello (The Nativity Scene)

At the exact other end of the spectrum is this classic family drama by Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo, written in 1931, adapted for Italian TV in 1977 and now appearing in a new version this year on Rai 1.

‘Christmas in the Cupiello house’, as its original title translates, tells the story of the Cupiellos, two parents in Naples whose children’s desires threaten to pull the family apart. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve, as the father of the family attempts to demonstrate to his son the importance of the traditional presepe, or nativity scene. 

Tune in to Rai 1 on December 22nd for the new version, or find the 1977 classic online.

La Freccia Azzurra (The Blue Arrow)

This lovely 1996 animation, based on a fairy tale by Italian children’s author Gianni Rodari, was repackaged for American audiences as How The Toys Saved Christmas – but watch the original to find a story based around ‘Italy’s Santa’: La Befana, the witch who brings Italian children gifts the night before Epiphany (January 6th). 

La Befana (who was turned in the American version into a kindly grandma with a toyshop) falls ill the evening she is due to deliver her presents, allowing her dastardly assistant Scarafoni to step in. He secretly plans to sell off the toys – including the Blue Arrow of the title, a model train – to rich kids, but the toys have different ideas and conspire to deliver themselves to the children who deserve them most.

Set in a town based on Orbetello in Tuscany in the 1930s, it’s elegantly animated, beautifully scored and very, very charming.

Regalo di Natale (Christmas Present)

If you’re looking for something more substantial than a cinepanettone, this 1986 psychological drama is more main course than dessert.

Four old friends and one wealthy acquaintance meet for a game of poker on Christmas Eve. As the rounds unfold, we learn why each player is determined to win, and why their friendships have turned sour. 

It’s comic too, but with depth and an intriguing narrative that make it a compelling alternative to the usual festive fare. If you enjoy it, there’s a 2004 sequel: Il rivincita di Natale, or Christmas Rematch. 

La Banda dei Babbi Natale (The Santa Claus Gang)

This good-natured comedy from 2010 stars comedians Aldo Baglio, Giovanni Storti and Giacomo Poretti, a well-known comic trio who have been making films together for more than 20 years.

Here they play three hapless pals from the same bocce (boules) team in Milan, who end up in jail on Christmas Eve after being mistaken for a gang of burglars who, like them, are dressed in Santa suits. They find themselves recounting the various personal tribulations that have brought each of them there in order to convince the chief inspector (perennially likeable Angela Finocchiaro) that they’re innocent.

It has plenty of what Italian comedy does best: lots of silliness, self-deprecation, and a warm heart that never slides into total schmaltz. 

Parenti Serpenti (Dearest Relatives, Poisonous Relations)

Darker but possibly even funnier is Parenti Serpenti (literally ‘snake relatives’), a black comedy from 1992 that lays bare the cynical truth about many family Christmases: everyone’s terribly glad to see their relatives, so long as it’s only once a year.

The family in question have reunited at their parents’ home in Sulmona, Abruzzo, and the celebrations are going smoothly until the elderly mother announces over Christmas dinner that she and their increasingly senile father no longer want to live alone, and their four adult children must decide which one of them will take them in in exchange for a share of their pension and inheritance of the house. 

The children and their spouses end up competing among themselves to prove why they’re unsuitable to look after their ageing parents, airing long-hidden grievances and secrets in the process.

Don’t watch if you want your cockles warmed, do watch if you have a dark sense of humour – or if you want to be reminded why big family Christmases aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be.

Trading Places (Una Poltrona Per Due)

Why is a Hollywood movie on this list – especially one that isn’t exactly considered a Christmas classic in English-speaking countries?

Because this 1983 identity swap comedy has wormed its way far deeper into Italian hearts than arguably anyone else’s. It became a fixture on primetime TV in Italy in the late ’90s, airing almost every Christmas Eve on Italia 1, and continues to attract millions of viewers each time, regularly beating more recent festive offerings.

Most people say it’s essentially because Italia 1 worked out it was cheaper to buy the rights for an older movie, and the viewing public are creatures of habit. But is there more to it?

I’d argue that Trading Places – or ‘One Armchair for Two’, as it’s known in Italy – is actually the perfect Italian Christmas film: a bit slapstick, very ’80s and deeply cynical (think A Christmas Carol but where Scrooge doesn’t abandon his money-grubbing ways, just teaches Bob Crachit to game the system too). Our two heroes – a down-and-out hustler played by Eddie Murphy, who in a bizarre social experiment ends up stepping into the shoes of wealthy banker Dan Ackroyd – triumph by being that most Italian of qualities, furbo (‘crafty’ or ‘smart’). 

Parts of the film haven’t aged well (the N-word, blackface, jokes about sexual assault…), but if you can ignore those it remains a satisfying screwball comedy (as well as an excellent demonstration of how insider trading works, which you can’t say about too many Christmas movies). You can catch it on Italia 1 this year, as usual, at 9:30pm on December 24th. 

Other Hollywood Christmas films that are firm favourites in Italy include Mamma, ho perso l’aereo (‘Mummy, I missed the plane’ – Home Alone), Mary Poppins (watch the Italian version just to marvel at the ingenious translations), Gremlins, and Il Grinch (you can probably guess that one).