The Mondo-Esoterica Guide to

Gianni Garko


Garko was born Giovanni Garkovich in 1935 in the Italian enclave of Zadar on the Adriatic coast. After the Second World War when the territory was ceeded to Jugoslavian control, he moved, along with his family to the Italian city of Trieste and later to Rome when he gained a place in a drama school. He made his first major theatrical appearance on 10th October 1958 underneath theatre and cinema director Luchino Visconti (Il Gattopardo (1963)) and alongside actress Lilla Brignone in Look Homeward, Angel, Ketti Frings' adaptation of the classic Thomas Wolfe novel.

In the same year, Garko made his first film appearance with a bit part as an official in the WW2 comedy Pezzo, capopezzo e capitano (1958) starring Vittorio De Sica and a minor role in an Italian television adaptation of Treasure Island. Bit parts did not last for long though and during the next year he played the leading role in Morte di un amico (1959) written by Pier Paolo Pasolini and a major role in the Oscar nominated concentration camp drama Kapò (1959). Arthouse films however were never a particular staple of Roman cinema and like most Italian actors, Garko soon found himself in the Italian popular cinema, appearing in a number of sexy comedies including Eighteen in the Sun (1962) and Crazy Desire (1962) and the current boom genre, the Sword and Sandal Peplum, including Maciste, l'uomo più forte del mondo (1961) and La leggenda di Enea (1962) alongside Steve Reeves as well as two Biblical-Pepla Ponzio Pilato (1962) and playing future King in Saul e David (1964). He rounded this era off with a part in the long running and popular Don Camillo series, Il compagno Don Camillo (1965).

In 1966, two years after Sergio Leone's iconic Fistful of Dollars (1964) had turned the Italian Western from a small side show into a mass-production genre, Garko made his first Spaghetti Western appearance, playing a villain in Mille dollari sul nero (1966) second-billed to Anthony Steffen. His performance was noticed and he was quickly signed up for a pair of films being produced by Sergio and Luciano Martino - 10.000 dollari per un massacro (1967) and Per 100,000 dollari ti ammazzo (1967) - not too well received at the time, they have re-emerged onto video in recent years and are often hailed among the genre's best entries.

With his name becoming known in the genre, Garko was snapped up by producer Aldo Addobbati for another film. Wanting to move away from the dark vengeance stories, Garko refused several scripts before agreeing to one that placed his character as one just seeking for profit, not revenge. In light of the popularity of Mille dollari sul nero, Garko's character was given the same name as his part from that film - Sartana. The result was Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte (1968) directed by Gianfranco Parolini which introduced Sartana as the black suited, "always one-step ahead" gunman, loaded with gadgets. He played the part again in Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino (1969) before turning down the third film (which would become C'è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara (1970) with George Hilton in the title role) to try something new - Enzo G. Castellari's giallo Gli occhi freddi della paura (1971).

Garko did return to the Sartana role twice more however and Spaghetti Western roles continued into the 1970s, from the comic They Call Him Cemetery (1971) to the murder mystery inspired Il venditore di morte (1971), but the genre was fading away and Garko's role as an Islamic gunfighter in Campa carogna... la taglia cresce (1973) would be his final appearance in the genre that had made him famous. But as well as appearing in the theatre, Garko continued to explore other cinematic fields and a variety of interesting parts opened up during the era, including the French gangster film Un condé (1970), the Italian crime film Il boss (1973) for Fernando Di Leo and a small but significant performance as French General Antoine Drouot in the epic Waterloo (1970). In 1974, French director Louis Malle offered Garko the lead role in an upcoming drama he was shooting, but with commitment to a theatrical contract, Garko declined and the role would be taken by Keith Carradine opposite Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby (1978).

As the decade moved on however, the quality of the parts declined and after an impressive showing in Lucio Fulci's erudite Giallo Sette note in nero (1977), Garko found himself back in the sex comedy genre, this time for the German audiences with Sylvia im Reich der Wollust (1977), Summer Night Fever (1978) and the bizarre Graf Dracula beißt jetzt in Oberbayern (1979). He also made a trio of films for director Alfonso Brescia (better known as Al Bradley and often ranked as the most inept of all the Euro-cult directors), culminating in a leading role in part of the director's much derided Space Opera series, Sette uomini d'oro nello spazio (1979).

Into the 1980s and 90s, Euro-cult cinema had entered terminal decline and Garko had only a couple of film parts during this era including a brief appearance, along with several other Peplum veterans, in Luigi Cozzi's Hercules (1983) and in Lamberto Bava's modern Giallo Body Puzzle (1992) and his painfully bad Jaws rip-off, Shark: Rosso nell'oceano (1984). Instead he focused his attention on television roles and began to make a name for himself again as a character actor, including a two-year run as the patriarch of the Moretti family in the very popular Italian soap Vivere (1999 - 2008). Today he has largely retired from acting.

DVD Reviews: Films starring Gianni Garko

10.000 Dollari per un Massacro (1967)

Koch Media German Region 2 DVD
Gianni Garko has the lead role in this superbly written and directed Spaghetti Western.
Highly recommended
Encounters in the Deep (1979)

23rd Century UK Region 0 DVD
A rightly forgotten and obscure sci-fi film set in the Bermuda Triangle. Garko just looks bored.
Not recommendable
Five For Hell (1969)

Koch Media Region 0 DVD
A highly entertaining if completely inaccurate war film with Garko in the lead role.
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend (1970)

X-rated Kult Region 2 DVD
The third Sartana film for Garko and it is an enjoyable if rather unoriginal entry.
Of interest to fans of the series.
Light the Fuse, Sartana is Coming (1971)

X-rated Kult Region 2 DVD
Garko is Sartana once again in this enjoyable entry to his iconic Spaghetti Western series.
Of interest to genre fans.
Per 100,000 Dollari ti Ammazzo (1967)

Koch Media German Region 2 DVD
Well written, well filmed and with a superb leading performance from Garko, this Spaghetti Western is one of the very best.
Highly recommended
Sette note in nero (1977)

Severin Films US Region 1 DVD
Garko plays well in Lucio Fulci's very well written and directed Giallo, ranking as one of the best in the genre.
Highly recommended to Giallo fans
War of the Trojans (1962)

Retromedia Region 0 DVD
A short but interesting part for a young Garko in this middle-of-the-road Peplum entry, starring Steve Reeves.
Of interest to Peplum and Reeves fans
They Call him Cemetery (1971)

Koch Media German Region 2 DVD
Bounty Hunters find themselves mixed up in a small town feud in this comic and entertaining Spaghetti Western.
Recommended to fans of the comedy westerns.



Return to main menu.

Return to Mondo Esoterica Guides menu.

All text in this page written by Timothy Young - July 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: