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Legendary actor Franco Nero recalls starring in Giallo classic ‘The Blue-Eyed Bandit’ – and we trace its seminal Morricone score
By Lorenzo Ottone | Film+TV | 19 October 2021

Ennio Morricone’s return to improv jazz coincided with one of Franco Nero’s greatest performances, as the titular character in Alfredo Giannetti’s stunning 1980 Giallo-slash-cop film The Blue-Eyed Bandit. Celebrating the mastery of Morricone’s score, recently revived cult Italian label CAM Sugar has re-issued the soundtrack – reviving its brilliance alongside an interview with Nero (premiered exclusively above); the actor famed for first giving a face to Django and working with Quentin Tarantino recalls the moment he disappeared before filming and why having to shave his moustache was such a drama.

It was only when I approached the piano and saw the sheet music on the stand that I began to understand,” legendary Italian jazzman Enrico Pieranunzi tells us, recalling the day he walked into the Fonogram studios in Rome to join Ennio Morricone as a pianist for the recording sessions of The Blue-Eyed Bandit. “The pieces were mainly in 5/4 – the tempo made famous by the acclaimed Take Five by Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck – and their harmonies were jazzy.”

The album represented an unexpected return to jazz improvisation for Morricone, something he hadn’t dabbled in for nearly ten years, since his early forays into avant-garde and concrete music under the moniker of Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza; an open supergroup revolving around Franco Evangelisti, Egisto Macchi and the Maestro himself. There is a photoseries capturing one of their studio sessions where, in a room packed with instruments as varied as trombones and gongs, a chessboard sits between all this sonic potential, pointing towards the level of intellectual and conceptual stimulation that Morricone encouraged.

The same complex freedom resurfaced in 1980 when Morricone wrote the music for the score that soundtracked Alfredo Giannetti’s The Blue-Eyed Bandit, a quintessentially Italian cop movie that, however, nodded to both American police stories and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The film narrates the story of a lonely, crippled office clerk above any suspicion who, once removing the contact lenses concealing his icy blue eyes, turns into a ruthless robber, and public enemy number one.

The perfect man for the double-role was Franco Nero, the legendary Italian actor renowned for first impersonating Django and beloved by Quentin Tarantino who wanted him for a cameo in his take on the Sergio Corbucci 1966 classic. Nero’s dramatic features, enhanced by years of theatre performances, met with his penchant for dynamic roles.

“On The Blue-Eyed Bandit, I remember a story back in the days had me in a cold panic,” recalls Nero, now 79. “The movie’s original title was Double Face because the protagonist had a split physical personality: by day he was a dull office clerk, limping, balding, with dark eyes, and fake moustache… completely anonymous. But in the evening he would turn into a blonde, blue-eyed woman! And so I had to cut my moustache. But I felt naked and awkward without it. My hand was always covering my top lip and I couldn’t understand why.

“A good friend of mine, a famous dermatologist, Professor Muscardin, told me: ‘Franco, it’s normal: you’ve had a beard and moustache for the last three years, and your skin has stopped breathing. So, now your mouth is like a dead mouse. You need at least three months of sunshine and sweat in a hot climate so your pores can get re-accustomed. Well, that was impossible! The timing of the movie’s production wouldn’t allow it, so I went into a serious panic and disappeared for a couple of days which of course sent the production into an even bigger panic, as they went searching for me. In the end, the director Alfredo Giannetti, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, tracked me down and said: ‘Franco, there is no problem: keep your moustache. Instead of a blonde woman, you will be a blonde blue-eyed bandit!’”

In the end, the film was a hit, in no small part due to Morricone’s music, a score that mirrored the inner-city tension of the film, set in Genova among its modernist architecture and vernacular docks wrapped in mist and smoke.

Key to Morricone’s improv jazz were the soloists Ricardo Del Fra (double-bass), Roberto Gatto (drums), and the aforementioned Pieranunzi (piano), to whom the Maestro even dedicated the brilliant Per Enrico, Riccardo e Roberto. The track is a take on the film’s main theme Città Viva and moves with a distinctively East Coast jazz energy that showcases the soloists’ talent and their experience forged from performing with some of the giants of the genre, like Chet Baker.

The score has just resurfaced, fully remastered both digitally and on vinyl, for the first time since its original and only 1983 release thanks to the meticulous work of CAM Sugar, the cult Milanese label whose archives offer a spectacular journey into the history of Italian cinema: from Michelangelo Antonioni to Federico Fellini, not to mention many rarities. We recommend purchasing the icy blue vinyl version, a hue as deep as the Bandit’s pearly blues. 

The Blue-Eyed Bandit (aka ‘Il Bandito Dagli Occhi azzurri’) is now available on black or icy blue vinyl, CD, and on all digital platforms via CAM Sugar.

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