Offscreen Notes

Tomas Milan: 1933-2017

March 24th, 2017

Cuban born American-Italian actor Tomas Milan died at the age of 84 on March 22, 2017. Though best known for his run of well over two dozen Italian western and crime films of the 1970s and 1980s Milan’s career also spanned films in England and the United States, plus art house films in Italy (Boccaccio ’70, Ro.Go.Pa.G., Identification of a Woman, in which he starred as Michelangelo Antonioni’s alienated movie director Niccolo ). Milan excelled in both serious roles, comic roles, and roles that blended both comedy and tragedy (a trait of Italian popular cinema). His poor anti-hero Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez, who first appeared in the classic 1966 Spaghetti western The Big Gundown, became a symbol of the lower class, Mexican underdog in a series of politicized westerns. In 1967 Milan starred in Giulio Questi’s surreal, baroque western masterpiece Django Kill….If You Live Shoot!, which saw him depicted as a Christ-like Stranger. In my own words from an earlier Offscreen essay, the film is “…perhaps the most violent, surreal, horrific, Biblical and apocalyptic Western ever made. Thomas Milan plays the mysterious Christ-like character yet again christened The Stranger who returns from the dead in the opening scene of the film –he literally crawls out of his grave and is brought back to life by a pair of Indian witch doctors– and is later crucified in a prison cell in one of the most blatant Western gunfighter-as-Christ images ever put to celluloid.” Milan starred in only one giallo, but it was a great one, Lucio Fulci’s 1972 Don’t Torture a Duckling. One of his most impressive later star turns was as General Arturo Salazar in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000). Milan left Cuba after his father committed suicide and settled in Italy for 25 years, becoming a naturalized Italian citizen. Milan would return to the United States where he worked in both film and television until his death in his home in Miami. It is hard to imagine such a varied career, spanning seven decades across so many genres and countries, to come our way again any time soon.

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