Hercules In The Haunted World

Hercules In The Haunted World (Mario Bava, 1961)

aka HERCULES IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH / ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA / HERCULES VS. THE VAMPIRES

After thwarting an assassination attempt on his life and that of his best friend, Theseus, Hercules returns to Ecalia. Upon his arrival to see his beloved, Deianira, Hercules learns that Uriteis, the king of Ecalia has died under mysterious circumstances. Deianira, the king’s daughter, has suddenly taken a strange illness, rendering her incapable of ascending to the throne. Her uncle, Lyco, has taken over in her place as a great evil descends upon the city. Hercules learns the only way to cure Deianira is to traverse the horrors of Hades and retrieve a magical stone. But first, to be able to enter and leave the Land of the Dead alive, a Golden Apple, a treasure of the evil God Pluto in the marshes of Hesperides must be obtained. Meanwhile, the vile Lyco plans to sacrifice Deianira to Pluto during an eclipse; drinking her blood and gaining immortality in the process, and plunging Ecalia into eternal darkness forever.

An exquisitely stylish and visually impressive film from Mario Bava–who is like a little kid in a candy store with his new toy: Technicolor film stock–this is hands down, one of the most gorgeous 81 minutes of film you are ever likely to see; a macabre painting brought lovingly to life by Mario Bava’s gleefully inventive approach to the material. Anyone familiar with his techniques showcased in such films as THE MASK OF SATAN (1960) or BLACK SABBATH (1963) will know what to expect here, as Bava’s trademark style is present in abundance. With what was reportedly a minuscule budget compared to that usually afforded these films, Bava of course, used his ingenuity to cover up budgetary shortcomings, making use of limited sets by simply rearranging or combining existing sets to make them appear different. Also, the use of mirrors is employed to give the illusion you are seeing more than what is actually there and painted backdrops being utilised to great effect, complimenting the nightmarish world of Hades. This also lends the proceedings a cadaverously opulent, operatic feel. Bava also goes the full mile by incorporating opaque colours and gels and milky black shadows to drive home his fantastic vision.

Not content with just the films direction, Bava also handles the cinematography as well as the effects work which in itself saved some valuable production money. What is immediately noticeable upon seeing this film is that Bava creates some interesting ways to shoot action sequences. Numerous shots display some wonderfully varied angles within which the action takes place. Bava utilizes wide shots from afar to allow the viewer to see the scope of the scene at hand. There are also some striking composite shots during the lengthy Hades sequence including one in which Hercules and Theseus are atop a massive precipice looking down into an enormous sea of flame. Whereas directors both before and after Bava’s entry were content with “playing it safe” when it came to shooting the action scenes. This is taking nothing away from the number of true artisans that laboured away in the genre, it’s just refreshing to see it done with as much vigour and love for creating something special. Bava not only loved movies, but loved making them, too.

Reg Park was a former Mr. Universe, having won the title in 1951, 1958 and 1965 and had even attained second place against Steve Reeves in 1950. Park didn’t partake in Italian cinema for the fame but for a stepping stone for his future business ventures in body building and fitness. He starred in five films in the genre with the remaining four being HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961), HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1964), MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1964) and HERCULES THE AVENGER (1965). Each of Park’s torch and toga movies diminished wildly in quality, with HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1964) being an especially limp and lazy effort from Antonio Margheriti; one that returned to the horror elements that made Bava’s movie so enduring. One of the most famous men inspired by Park is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger who held great reverence for Park, plastering his walls with posters and articles about the distinguished British muscleman. Reg Park would die on 22nd November 2007 after losing his battle with skin cancer.

Christopher Lee is an odd but easily gratifying choice to play the lead villain, Lyco. What is disappointing here and really the only negative I can levy at the film is that Lee did not dub his own voice. So much more depth of character and malice would have been evoked had Lee dubbed his dialogue in his patented deep, commanding tone. Lee was a great admirer of Bava and I’m sure was delighted at the chance of working with the grand old man of Euro horror. Lee was, of course, famous for his portrayal as Dracula in the Hammer films series and whether the role was advantageous or detrimental to his career is a matter of opinion, though vampire lore does seep its way into the narrative of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. Although Lyco bears no fangs, he intends to drink the blood of Deianira “when the dragon devours the moon” gaining him eternal life and transforming Deianira into the undead. While it’s not shown on screen, Lyco kills a beautiful woman in vampiric fashion; her blood running out onto the marble floor and Lyco’s visage suddenly appearing in the pool of plasma.

The set design is stupendous and Bava clearly shows his knack for making so little appear to be so much more. Other than a clunky rock monster, the effects are incredibly imaginative and innovative with what little the director had to work with. The gloriously spooky score by composer Armando Trovajoli is suitably fantastical and even includes a nicely bombastic Hercules Theme. This version of the film utilizes the original HERCULES IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH moniker. Bava’s sole directorial effort in the fusto arena would be distributed in America by the Woolner Brothers as HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, re-edited and cut, eliminating some important exposition. The Woolner Brothers version was released to VHS back in the late 80s from Rhino with terrible sound quality. However, the anamorphic DVD from Fantoma is a glorious presentation with the 2:35:1 framing allowing even more appreciation of Bava’s visionary and visual accomplishment. Colours are strong and the many blues and reds jump off the screen, complimenting the exemplary mise en scene of the world Bava has created. Liner notes by Tim Lucas are provided but a commentary from the man would have been the icing on the cake though nonetheless, is a welcome extra. The US trailer–under the HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD title–is on hand as is a photo gallery of stills and poster artwork. English and Italian language soundtracks are available options as well as English subtitles, which give a slightly different interpretation of the storyline. The mono sound quality is also strong throughout.

Enough cannot be said about Mario Bava’s commendable journey into this misunderstood genre. An auspicious start for Bava entering the world of colour photography; his stamp hovers and engulfs every frame of this picture. One of the finest achievements of Bava’s distinguished career and easily one of the best and best-loved muscleman movies to ever come out of the fabled Cinecitta Studios of Italy.

(Brian Bankston)

 

La settima donna – Ray Lovelock Interview

The following interview came with an Italian VHS release of ‘La Settima Donna’ aka Terror. Many thanks to Hari Alfeo for translating the interview into English…

Your name, Raymond Lovelock, doesn’t seem Italian yet you’re an Italian through and through?

One hundred percent. I was born in Rome , my father was English, my mother Italian, and I’ve always lived in Italy .

Did you feel you found the artist in you after a movie like Plagio and Banditi a Milano, i.e. did you seriously consider continuing to work as an actor or did you hesitate?

What can I tell you… Those were busy years, I took things as they came along. The same goes about my wife. We met in 1968 and were married in 1970 because we got along well. We got married without thinking too much about it. It’s now 29 years that we’ve been together. I’ve been very fortunate, but the decision to get married could just as easily have been a risk. I took things with ease. Tomas Milian had a lot to do with that. He was like an older brother and I did everything he said.

Unlike, say, Maurizio Merli, who did everything one could do with the poliziesco in Italy , which eventually typecast him in the genre, you crossed every genre without risking overexposure…

It’s a question of choices. I was fortunate to have on my side a partner who saw things a certain way, i.e. we never cared that much about money. Especially at that time, because as you get older you start putting things in proportion, but money has never been my life’s goal. So the way I approached things was: “Now I’ll do a picture and with the money I make I’ll get by for as long as I can, while turning down the things I don’t like” That’s how it was for many years. Then again, it’s not like I led this life of luxury. Eventually, however, when I found myself with only 50,000 lire in the bank, I had to be less choosy and, in order to survive, accept parts that were worse than those I’d rejected.

It seems to me, however, that this proved good for career longevity…

Frankly, I’m incapable of making such assessments. If I’d been different and more yielding with regard to certain things, I might’ve done much more. I can see that now, it would’ve led to other things. Just think that at one time I even had the chance to move to the States and work there. I was doing Il grande attacco with Umberto Lenzi and this woman, Sala, called me, she was selling films abroad, and told me about an American lawyer who’d seen me in some films and wanted me in his movie agency. It was a small agency with three American actors, the rest were European. I went to meet him because we shot two weeks of Il grande attacco in Los Angeles . So this guy didn’t make any guarantees, but said that I might manage to work in the American star system. The only thing was that I had to move to the States for at least one year. My wife said immediately that she had no problem with it, but I knew I would’ve had to deal with the kind of person I am. I know what I’m like: very anxious, very tied to my roots, my neighbourhood, things… Anyway, I passed. I was fascinated by it but at the same time it scared me. You know what scared me at first? Not so much having to leave the Italian star system, which at that time wasn’t even that strong, but being squashed by the American machine, being unable to manage my career properly. I could think of so many people I knew who were very satisfied professionally but very unhappy inside.

What did you mean by “I might’ve done much more”? You mean in terms of movies?

That too… actually I’ve never been the jet set type who went to parties, sucking up to producers… I never wanted to take part in certain scandals or certain scoops that were offered to get my name in the papers. Even my agent, Luciana Soli, urges me telling me “But Ray, you have to go to these promotional parties from time to time because you can meet important people, you have to do it as though it were part of your job” And she’s right, it’s all true, but I’d tell her “Look, for me, it can even be counterproductive. Let’s say I go there, and then I either can’t utter a word or act all disinterested or unpleasant, I’d ruin my chances myself” It was a bit of an alibi, because the truth is I just don’t care about the jet set life. I wanted to land roles because a director had seen me in something and liked me, not because we’d had lunch together.

Nevertheless, you continue working…

Yes, it’s true. There was something Pietravale told me at the beginning of my career, “It’s not difficult to make it but stay there”, and that’s always been my rule. Besides, it’s just a question of how you approach life, because obviously there are times when you’re on top and times when you’re a bit on the decline, then other times when you’re wanted again and others when you hit a trough. The important thing is how you take the success and lack thereof. I knew colleagues who’d get depressed if two instead of ten people turned around to look at them in the street. It’s a game, you mustn’t take these things too seriously…

Were you one of those actors who went to see their movies in cinemas?

Not always, when they invited me. This thing about looking at my work became more pronounced in television, not for personal reasons but because in television it’s always possible to redo a scene that didn’t work. Way back when I started working in television there was always a monitor on which you could always check everything was all right. If something didn’t work you saw it in real time and could ask the director “You mind if we do it again?” Because even there, assuming that you’re never satisfied with what you do, you could spend days trying to improve it.

How did you rate as an actor in those years?

Look, I experienced, let’s say, big success, with television. At the movies, I had my space and nothing more. I don’t think I was ever a movie star. Perhaps only Banditi a Milano was a big success with both the critics and the public. As for the rest…

Are you satisfied with your acting career?

Yes, sure. You know, parallel to this acting career I had the fortune to have a wife and a daughter, which isn’t the custom in the movies. And perhaps this helped me to keep the right distance from things.

 

Incantesimo – Ray Lovelock Interview

The Following interview is translated from the Croatian magazine Gloria and was first published in early 2003. Many thanks to Hari Alfeo for translating the article for the website…

Ray Lovelock, the Italian actor who plays surgeon Hans Rudolf in the TV series “Incantesimo” (Magic), talks about his English origins, his career as soccer player and musician, and reveals that 33 years ago, he and his wife spent their honeymoon in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

“In movies it’s easy to burn brightly, but it takes talent to last. When the producers of ‘Incantesimo’ offered me the part of Dr. Rudolf, I knew that my career, after some 50 parts in movies and on television, was still on the up” says the 53-year-old Italian. “I spent three months in Zagreb in 1970, shooting the American film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. A week before arriving in Zagreb , I had married Gioia, after two years of being together, so that we spent our honeymoon at Zagreb ‘s Esplanade hotel”

Were you ever to return to Croatia after that?

“I returned to Zagreb in 1984 to shoot the ‘Two Prisoners’ five-part TV series. I also visited Istria several times, when I was working in Trieste a few years ago”

How come both your first and last names are English?

“You mean despite the fact that I was born in Rome and spent my entire life living and working in Italy ?” (Laughs) “My father was British, a member of the Allies, who towards the end of World War Two, in 1944, liberated Italy by toppling the fascist regime. But he didn’t return home because he had fallen in love with my mother, Maria Antonietta. My parents were married the following year and had four sons. I’m the third and the only artist in the family”

Who chose the name Ray?

“Ray is short for Raymond. I got it by accident. My mother, who worked for the Australian embassy for years, actually wanted to call me Simon, but my late father misheard her and had me registered as Raymond”

When did you realise you wanted to become an actor?

“That happened by accident too. When I was young I dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player, but when I realised it wasn’t going to work, I enrolled in a mechanical engineering college. While studying I also played in a rock band, worked as an extra in movies to make some extra money, and did commercials. I realised that acting was interesting when I was 17, when director Carlo Lizzani gave me an important part in ‘Banditi di Milano’, which was a big success with both the public and the critics. Looking back, that success went to my head, so I ended up being an actor.”

What motivates you to continue working after 35 years in the movies?

“Good parts are a challenge. I can’t say that I took only parts that I liked. I accepted some to survive, to give myself and my family a nice life. But the Hans Rudolf part isn’t one of them”

What did you do before you became an actor?

“I played for the local soccer club in San Lorenzo . Then in 1966 I formed a band with my friend Tomas Milian, a famous Italian musician (sic). We played Rolling Stones songs. An acting agent spotted me at the Piper, a cult Roman nightclub, and offered me my first part in a picture. That’s how it all started”

What type of music do you listen to today?

“Bob Dylan remains number one for me. I love his songs and I have all of his records at home”

Were you a rebel as a young man?

“I grew up without my father because my parents got divorced and he returned to Great Britain when I was six. For me, the divorce was not traumatic because my mother is a wonderful person who raised us to believe that freedom is the greatest virtue. That’s why I never felt the need to rebel. I did wear my hair long, down to the middle of my back, as well as a leather jacket, but my mother and two aunts, her sisters who lived with us, didn’t complain about it. Although many thought I was a delinquent because of the way I dressed. Nice guys wore suits and ties”

When did you move out of your mother’s?

“Very early. I met my wife Gioia in 1968, at a party given by a common friend, and we got married in 1970. We had a great time together so we decided to marry. Our only daughter Francesca Romana was born in 1971”

What does she do?

“Francesca is an assistant director and has been working in Naples for two years now. We’ve worked together twice so far and I truly enjoyed being on the set with her”

Do you also work with your wife?

“Gioia is my agent. I convinced her to do it ten years ago and we’ve never had a row so far. Our relationship is one of the few in the movie business that is excellent even after 35 years. We have lively talks every day. My wife is my best friend”

Which part would you never take?

“Every part is a challenge for me. Even when I play bad guys and rotten criminals”

What’s the most unpleasant thing you had to do in a movie?

“It was a Spanish movie. I was riding on horseback and was supposed to fall into a ditch. But the people on the movie hadn’t checked the ditch before the shoot so I fell into filthy water, full of mud and junk”

What can make you happy?

“I like to help people who are in most need of help. I inherited this feeling of social justice from my mother, and as the years go by it’s increasingly stronger”

How do you relax?

“Watching movies from the 40s, the 50s and the 60s. I like to hang out with my friends, play soccer and listen to music. I’ve been on the Italian actors’ soccer team for 18 years now, and I’ve recently been made captain. I’m especially glad that we give all the box office money to charity”

What would your ideal day look like?

“There would be no wars, no class differences, and money wouldn’t be the moving force of mankind. I was once shooting in Brazil and spent five weeks in shock at the poverty in the streets I’d never seen before. Whenever we had lunch in a restaurant, there was a bunch of dirty, poor children staring at us from outside with their mouths open. And the worst of all was that I knew I could give those kids only alms but not really help them in the long term”

The Man From The Morgue – Ray Lovelock Interview

The following interview is taken from issue 89 (Feb/Mar 2001) of The Dark Side Magazine. It is reproduced here with kind permission…

The Man From The Morgue

One of the most prolific of 70’s Italian action stars, actor Ray Lovelock is best known to Dark Side readers as the star of the cult horror flick, Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue. Josephine Botting talked to him recently on our behalf…

Italian actor Ray Lovelock is keen to point out that his English name is not an invention to satisfy the demands of local producers (as in Stan Cooper, aka Stelvio Rosi) but the result of his having an English father, now resident near Barnstable . Despite his Anglo-Saxon roots, Ray speaks very little English and prefers to be interviewed in Italian. I visited him in his sixth floor flat not far from the centre of Rome, where he sat surrounded by photos of himself with some of the actors he’s had the pleasure of working with.

While not a big star, Ray has worked consistently, first in film and now as a familiar face on Italian television. A modest person, he prefers to talk about his many co-stars rather than himself, and hasn’t lost the sense of awe he no doubt had when he first met them. He obviously hasn’t been seduced by the showbiz life and is happiest at home with his family.

When Ray began his cinematic career, Rome was the place to be. The 1960’s were an incredibly active period in Italian cinema history. Cinecitta was dubbed ‘ Hollywood on the Tiber ‘ and the Via Veneto was awash with US stars and technicians. In 1966, at the tender age of 18, he landed his first speaking part. Se sei vivo… spara! Starred the legendary Cuban actor Tomas Milian and actually remains Ray’s only Spaghetti Western.

“Up until that moment” he says, “I had been studying and playing football, which was my passion, and every now and then I worked as an extra here in Rome . But that was the first time I had a proper part. At that time one of the studios in Rome, Elios, had a ‘Western’ village built specially for shooting spaghettis, and it was filmed there and also outside Madrid.

“From there, everything started. After that film I joined a pop group formed by Tomas Milian, called The Tomas Milian Group and we sang in bars. One night, while we were playing, an agent asked me if I wanted to take up film acting seriously. I gave him some photos and the first job I got was with Carlo Lizzani who was preparing a film called Banditi a Milano. I played one of the guys in the gang and the film did very well, even winning the Golden Globe from the Foreign Press Association. I received several offers after that and I didn’t know what to do because up until that point I hadn’t taken it too seriously: it’s not as if I had the ‘sacred flame’.

“After that I went to London to spend four days working on an Italian film. With the money I made I was able to spend a couple of months with my brother, who lives in London . My agent rang to offer me work but I kept turning it down, so in the end e said to me ‘Listen, if you want to get on you’ve got to do something. Come to Rome , there’s a German producer coming here to make a film.’ It was a rather complicated story (Haschen in der Grube, 1969) directed by Roger Fritz and we filmed it in Spoleto during the festival. From then on I took it more seriously.”

Ray carried on working in Italian films but then got the chance to make his first big budget Hollywood movie: Fiddler on the Roof.

“The way Fiddler on the Roof came about was very strange, Lynn Stalmaster was here to cast a film – they were looking for an Italian actor for a film about the race at Indianopolis. So I went along and when she saw me she said she was also casting another film called Fiddler on the Roof which I’d never heard of. She explained that it was a big musical and that she thought I’d be good for it. I was asked to learn a scene from it and she went to call Los Angeles. Then she asked me if I could go to the States, in fact she said ‘What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?’

“It was strange because I was about to go to Tokyo to do some publicity for an Italian film called Il plagio which had been sold to Japan . So they suggested that I return from Tokyo via Los Angeles. I learnt the scene and travelled to La where I met Norman Jewison. I didn’t do a screen test but just recited the same scene that I’d done in Rome. Jewison thanked me, I went back to Rome and a week later my agent told me I’d been chosen for the part. So you see how these things happen.

“I was 20 when I made Fiddler on the Roof and as I started out so young I didn’t go to college. I was lucky to have an agent who was a bit like a big brother to me: only now do I realise how good his advice was. He told me to make the most of this job as it was also a chance to learn. The experience I had on Fiddler on the Roof was important for that reason.

“I worked on it for three months and the filming method was completely different to that in Italy. I played a young Russian and as it was filmed with direct sound I had to speak English with a Russian accent. So I found a Russian teacher here in Rome, went along with my lines and did recitations and exercises with her. I learnt a lot”

Il plagio (1968) was a strange experience for Ray. “Il plagio was incredibly successful in Japan – not so much in Italy because it was rather a bizarre story. It was the story of a very rich young man who falls in love with a couple who are at college with him. He ‘plagiarises’ them in the sense that in the end he manages to go to bed with both of them. But the young man has problems – there’s a suggestion that he killed his parents, who were so much in love that he felt excluded.

“It’s quite hard to understand but the story takes place in 1968, a time of revolution, of student revolt. There were two nude scenes, not vulgar mind you, but they led to the film being confiscated. Then it was released abroad and was bought by Japan and they asked me to go over for two weeks to promote the film. And the film turned out to be the biggest hit of the year in Japan. In fact I went back a year later with the film Il delitto del diavolo which they also bought and it was a success. I even had a fan club.

“Il plagio really was a very special film: in fact I almost regret having made it so early in my career, perhaps I was a bit too immature for the character, which really was a great creation: maybe if I’d had a bit more experience I would have been better equipped to do it justice. I was completely guided by the director, Sergio Capogna, who had also written the story. At a certain point, the money ran out and most of the crew left rather than work for nothing. Only 12 of us stayed on so for a week we made the film ‘on the road’ with just the director, the cameraman and the actors. I even had to operate the clapperboard!”

Lovelock has worked with some of the legendary Italian gialli directors. Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci.

“I made five films with Umberto Lenzi. The first was a giallo, with Irene Papas and Ornella Muti. I think it was Ornella’s second film. It was called Un posto ideale per uccidere. Lenzi was an excellent director of gialli: the second one I did with him was a crime film, made in the mid-70’s, Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare. Then there were two war films (Il grande attacco and Da Dunkerque alla vittoria ) and a comedy, Scusi, lei e normale? (Excuse me, are you normal?)

“Lenzi is a director who shouts a lot but when you get to know him he’s OK. At first I was a bit nervous of him, then on the second film we had a squabble. He did call me again though, so despite all of the shouting he was a nice guy. After that we got on fine because I realised he must think a lot of me. We had a good relationship. He was quite a demanding director but that’s the way it should be. He was rather impatient and would get annoyed very easily if something didn’t go right. We only had the one row and that was it, there weren’t any more problems.

“I made only one film with Lucio Fulci – Murderock. He was one of the masters of film – of horror films and gialli. A bit like Lenzi in the 1970’s I’d say. I believe he’s very well thought of in France. We got on well on set but off set we didn’t associate very much. We filmed in Rome and also spent 10 days in New York , where the action takes place. It had music by Keith Emmerson.

“In general I’ve always got on well with directors, some better than others. I was, and I still am, a bit reserved which sometimes created difficulties forming relationships with people. The directors who understood this were easier to work with but on the whole I’ve never had many problems.”

In 1971 Ray made the film Il delitto del diavolo (Queens of Evil) for director Tonino Cervi, in which he is seduced by three gorgeous women; Haydee Politoff, Silvia Monti and Ida Galli. The plot is so bizarre that even Ray has trouble explaining it. “It’s a very strange film, the story of a hippy who arrives in a place where there are three women who turn out to be witches. He has an affair with each of them in turn but it all leads to a crime committed by the Devil.”

His role in Queens of Evil was a prototype for another motorbike-riding hippy – the character of George in the 1974 Spanish-Italian co-production No profaner el suefio de los muertos (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, etc).

“We filmed in Manchester and in a village near Nottingham called Castleton. (My atlas doesn’t show a Castleton near Nottingham , although there is one near Whitby). I have good memories of the shoot and I had a good relationship with the director, Jorge Grau. In fact, I kept in touch with him for some time after we finished. There are some directors who just say ‘hi’ when you come on set but he was always keen to explain things.

“There were lots of effects on that film too, done by some excellent Italian special effects men (Giannetto de Rossi and Luciano Bird). I remember in particular having to wear red contact lenses for the final scene, which were really uncomfortable. 1970’s contact lenses were not like the ones you get now, they were much harder and made my eyes water terribly.

“The things I remember about that film are not very interesting. Just personal anecdotes. I remember the motorbike I had to ride, a Norton, which was incredibly heavy. I prefer cars myself but I had to ride this bike and when I got off it all my thigh muscles ached. But I have really happy memories of making that film. I think I saw it twice when it came out but not since. I gather that it’s on TV every now and then late at night but I haven’t managed to catch it yet.”

Ray obviously wasn’t going to dish any dirt about the directors he’s worked with so I tried a few actors.

“One problem I did have was with George Peppard: well, it was my problem really. I had to play his son in the film Da Dunkerque alla vittoria : when we did it I was 28 and I think he was about 50 or 52, so I could have his son. But when he met me, he went to the producer and the director saying that he felt I was too old to play his son. Lenzi and the producer, Edmondo Amati, already knew, since we’d worked together before, and they didn’t think there was a problem. But they told me about his doubts and instructed me not to drink too much so I didn’t look raddled. I was a bit depressed and I suffered a lot because of it. In between my scenes I used to just sit alone thinking a lot: I had to get away for a while.

“George Hamilton, also in the film, was a really nice guy though and he noticed something was wrong. I told him how I felt and he told me not to take it to heart, that George Peppard was like that and that I shouldn’t take any notice.

“On the last day of filming we were in Rome. I went to say goodbye to everyone including George Peppard, and he said he had to talk to me. I was a bit taken aback but he took me to one side and said a whole lot of nice things to me about my performance. While he was talking to me I said to myself ‘If you’d said these things before I would have made this film in a completely different state of mind.’ It was really nice of him though, as compliments from other actors are very important.”

In 1973, Ray worked on the film Days of Fury, directed by Antonio Calenda and set in 18 th century Czarist Russia. One of his co-stars was Oliver Reed and the mention of his name brings a smile to Ray’s face.

“Working with Oliver Reed was a strange experience, but very good. I had to play his son in the film: I was 22 and he was only 35 but he looked old enough, with the beard that he had. When we met in Bulgaria, in Sofia, they gave a big lunch for the whole cast, and he began to eat the light bulbs. He had an enormous bodyguard named Reginald who sat wrapping stones in a napkin, giving a yell and crushing them with his fist. The whole meal was spent like that. I said to myself ‘I’ve got to work with this man for three months, madonna mia!’ But gradually I got to know him and we established a friendship.

“I saw him again at the press screenings of the film, at San Vincent. We were sitting next to each other at lunch and he told me he was bored and wanted to go and find somewhere to drink. I told him I’d take care of it and we crept out so no one would notice us. We hired a car and drove to a place in the mountains where we found a bar and had a few drinks. By the time we got back for the screening of the film we were good friends.

“Later I was making a film for Raphael Gil in Madrid (El major alcalde, e rey) and I heard that close by was the set for The Three Musketeers, which Oliver was filming, and I persuaded a Spanish friend to take me there. We asked at the entrance for Signor Reed and then I heard a voice calling ‘Raymond!’ and there was Reginald, the bodyguard, who gave me a big hug and took me up to the tent where Oliver was.

“They were filming and Oliver was there with five or six other people, sitting at a table with bottles of red wine all over the place. Oliver came over and hugged me, then took me back to the table. To everyone’s surprise he introduced me as his son and all afternoon kept asking me, ‘How’s your mother?’ He continued this performance while we drunk red wine and ate raw onions. Finally I felt so ill that my friend had to take me back to Madrid , rather the worse for wear.

“Oliver was great though and gave me loads of advice. It was strange, although he drank a lot, when he went out onto the set he was brilliant. It’s just as well we got on, otherwise it could have been a bit difficult.”

Ray, it seems, has never been tempted by Hollywood.

“When we made Il grand attacco, we went to Los Angeles. Before I left an Italian woman rang me, she used to sell films abroad, and she said she’d seen one or two of my films and that she knew an American lawyer who was starting up as an agent. I looked him up and he said he thought I could make a go of it in America . I would have had to live in New York for a year to see how things went but I didn’t want to. My wife was happy about it but I had a six-year old daughter and I was too attached to home: the idea of a year over there didn’t appeal. I think I was lucky to have ties in Italy because, you know, cinema is a very unusual thing. It’s a passion, and when you are torn between two passions you have to make a choice. Probably, if I hadn’t been married I would have gone but as it turned out I had plenty of work in Italy.”

Having worked with some of the great actors and directors, it’s difficult for Ray to single out any one period of his career as the most satisfying.

“I started my career at the end of the 1960’s and in the first few films I made, I had the good fortune to work with some of the masters of Italian cinema – Carlo Lizzani, Mario Monicelli and Alberto Lattuada. During this period, the successful films, the ‘B-movies’ allowed producers to use the money to make more worthy films, films a bit more politically and socially aware. At that time, there was still a certain kind of filmmaking in Italy , then in the 1970’s it was about police films and erotic comedies.

“So, in terms of cinema, I’ve done a bit of everything but it’s a shame I’ve never really made one of those films which really made its mark on history. I’ve had some great experiences, films like Fiddler on the Roof and The Cassandra Crossing, and worked with three great Italian directors. Then, since 1994, I’ve done some television work which has been a great success, two or three which have had good audience figures. And I’ve witnessed a generational change. Because when I started I was lucky enough to work with one of the fathers of film of the 50’s and 60’s and then with the new generation.

“I have no regrets, no cause to say ‘Oh dear, what a pity…’ Even the worst things I did were done for a reason, to live, to earn money. A couple of times, if I liked an idea, I tried to buy the option on it. It came off once and we made a television programme called A viso coperto and it also did very well.

So what is he currently involved in and what does the future hold?

“At the moment I’ve just finished two things: a two part serial with Barbara de Rossi which will be on in October. And I took part in a soap, the first one on RAI 1, every day for 20 minutes, 200 episodes. I did a film last year in Czechoslovakia, a giallo with Marisa Berenson but I don’t know when it’s going to come out.

“Next year I might do some more theatre as part of the Spoleto festival. I’ve already done an Arthur Miller play, The Last Yankee. I have very little stage experience, just a couple of plays and being in the pop group of course. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done: when I was first asked to do it I had doubts but I really like the professional atmosphere. When that kind of mechanism works, working becomes a holiday, you find something new inside yourself, there’s a kind of alchemy – which is important if you work a lot”