Henry Silva dead, goodbye to ‘rubber-faced villain’

He mainly played thugs, hit men and every other nefarious or threatening character in 140 films

He played mostly thugs, hitmen and every other nefarious or threatening character, but he was proud of his ability to play every villain differently: the American actor Henry Silvastar of 140 films including “Colpo grosso”, “Go and kill” and “Johnny Cool, messenger of death”, died on the eve of his 96th birthday on Wednesday 14 September of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Woodland Hills Hospital in Los Angeles, son Scott Silva announced to “The Hollywood Reporter”.

The only child of parents of Sicilian and Spanish origins – he had denied the rumors that they wanted him to be Puerto Rican – Silva was born in New York, in the Brooklyn neighborhood, on September 15, 1926 and grew up in Harlem. He had been renamed “the actor with the rubber face” due to his characteristic face for impassivity and harshness of expression. Alongside a long and successful career in Hollywood, Italy was also successful by participating in western and police-oriented films, with titles such as “La mala ordina” (1972) and “Il boss” (1973), both directed by Fernando Di Leo, “Milan hates: the police cannot shoot” (1974) by Umberto Lenzi (1974), “Make yourselves alive, the police will not intervene” (1974) by Giovanni Fago and “The man in the street does justice” (1975) still of Lenzi.

Among the many films, Silva starred in Fred Zinnemann’s “A Hat Full of Rain” (1957), John Sturges’ “Challenge in the Dead City” (1958), “The Kansas Rebels” (1959) by Melvin Frank (1959) , “Three against all” (1962), also by Sturges. He was the draconian killer commander Kane in “Captain Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979) and starred in Burt Reynolds ‘”Cop Skin” (1981), Richard Brooks’ “Deadly Goal” (1982), “Dick Tracy “(1990) by Warren Beatty (1990),” A Call in the Night “(1993) by Fred Williamson,” Invisible Crimes “(1996) by Wim Wenders (1997),” Ghost Dog – Code of the Samurai “(1999) by Jim Jarmusch.

In 1955 Henry Silva was admitted to the New York Actors Studio where he participated in the theatrical staging of “A Rainy Hat” by Michael V. Gazzo with Paul Richards and Anthony Franciosa. After appearing on Broadway in 1955-56 as the pusher named Mother in “A Hat Full of Rain”, Silva reprized the role for the 1957 film version directed by Zinnemann (he and Franciosa were the only actors to make the leap from the stage to the big screen).

He was again threatening in the role of the evil Korean agent Chunjin in John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), a title translated into Italian “Go and Kill”, one of four films he made with Frank Sinatra.

Silva also appeared with Sinatra in “Ocean’s 11” (1960, in Italian “Colpo grosso”) as one of the Las Vegas casino thieves, in “Three Against All” (1962) as a Native American named Mountain Hawk, and in “America’s Craziest Race # 2” (1984) as a henchman named Slim.

Henry Silva was linked to the so-called ‘Rat Pack’ (literally “herd of rats”), the name with which the group of actors formed by Sinatra, Dean Martin, was nicknamed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. , Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. His ties to the ‘Rat Pack’ were evident when he played a Sicilian-born hitman in William Asher’s “Johnny Cool, Messenger of Death” (1963) (1963), a cult classic of neo-noir produced by Peter Lawford and with cameos by Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr.

After playing the role of the Japanese secret agent in “The Return of Mr. Moto” (1965), reprising the part originated by Peter Lorre in a series of films from the 1930s, in 1966 Silva moved to Italy and Spain to shoot “The hills flow red”, the first spaghetti western, followed by “The rulers of the prairie” and “A river of dollars” by Carlo Lizzani (1966).

He later shot dozens of films in Europe, most of them in the police genre. “The funny thing”, Silva said in a 1971 interview, “is that in the US they see me as a villain, while in Europe they see me as a hero”. Silva was fluent in Italian and Spanish, which made him natural for his European works: among others “Assassination” (1967) by Emilio P. Miraglia, “Matchless” (1967) by Alberto Lattuada, “Quella carogna dell ‘inspector Sterling “(1968), also by Miraglia,” Probability zero “(1969) by Maurizio Lucidi (1969),” Quelli che contano “(1972) by Andrea Bianchi,” White Fang to the rescue “(1974) by Tonino Ricci , “The trucid and the cop” (1976) by Lenzi, “Violent policemen” (1976) by Michele Massimo Tarantini, “Napoli shoots!” (1977) by Mario Caiano (1977).

While continuing to act on various occasions in Italian films, in 1977 Silva returned to his homeland, where he participated in the film “Crossed shot” (1979) by Stuart Rosenberg.

After numerous minor films, in 1983 his career had a revival thanks to the film “Escape from the Bronx” by Enzo G. Castellari, in which he returned to be the protagonist. He had starring roles in “The Code of Silence” (1985) alongside Chuck Norris, “The Lost City Adventurers” (1986), Andrew Davis’ “Nico” (1988), “The Last Game” (1990) , the last shot in Italy directed by Fabrizio De Angelis (1990), and “A call in the night” (1997) with Peter Fonda.

His last film appearance dates back to 2001, in a cameo in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven – Play your game” by Steven Soderbergh.

(from Paolo Martini)