Henry Silva, one of cinema’s ultimate badasses, has passed away

I have Quentin Tarantino to thank for my love of Henry Silva. Many, many moons ago, Tarantino came to Austin and displayed his personal collection of 16mm and 35mm prints of his favorite films, all to support the Austin Film Society. If it wasn’t for watching the obscure movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s with Tarantino introducing them all, as the most exciting film professor ever, I probably wouldn’t have discovered how bad Henry Silva was. was, most likely just recognizing him from the original “The Manchurian Candidate” or perhaps as one of the villains in “Dick Tracy”.

As we recognize his contribution to the art of cinema in the wake of his passing at the pleasant old age of 94, it’s probably best to say up front that Silva was a ruthless screen presence. He just looked like a killer, and that inherently intimidating presence was the foundation of his massive career that spanned from 1950 all the way to 2001.

Being a bad mother is the best kind of job security as an actress because movies always need good villains. He was a staple of westerns and crime films until they went out of fashion, and then he moved on to the gangster films of the 1970s followed by the potpourri of genre films that dominated the 80s and early 90s. From comical children’s films to the most violent crime films ever made, Silva was there.

From Sinatra to Seagal


Silva’s most prestigious role was probably Chunjin in the original 1962 “Manchurian Candidate.” Although problematic by today’s standards, Silva’s Sicilian and Spanish heritage gave him a unique enough look to play a Korean houseboy who was secretly a communist agent. This was one of his three on-screen appearances with Frank Sinatra. He had a small role in 1960’s “Ocean’s 11”, then reappeared with the entire Rat Pack in the 1962 Western “Sergeant’s 3”.

While he was prolific in the 1950s and ’60s, going up against big-screen icons like Randolph Scott in “The Tall T” and Gregory Peck in “The Bravados,” his true time to shine came in the 1970s when Hollywood underwent a radical change. The strict Hayes Code was dismantled and audiences demanded more realism and violence from their films.

Some of the hottest movies showing at drive-ins across the country were Italian crime flicks, and one of the kids eating them up was a young Quentin Tarantino. He shared that love with Austin audiences by showing his personal prints of “The Boss” and “The Italian Connection,” both of which were directed by the great and undersung Fernando Di Leo.

It’s like Silva was born to be an assassin, and both of these movies took full advantage of that, creating sort of proto-John Wick characters that you absolutely, positively, under no circumstances want to mess with, and if you do . .. well, then you get what you deserve.

Gangsters And Hitmen


These Italian crime films were sexy, violent, brutal and built to entertain rowdy crowds.

If you’ve ever been to an Alamo Drafthouse and seen one of their hilarious “No Talking” PSAs pulled from old movies, you may have seen a bit of “The Italian Connection” where Silva sits up in a projection booth as a gang of gangsters watch a porn movie together (hey, it was the 1970s). He slowly loads what can best be described as a rifle firing an RPG, then blows the entire theater away.

That’s the kind of ridiculous we’re talking about, but it was part of one of cinema’s most bizarre and entertaining eras. Tarantino hints at the prevalence of Italian genre films in his own “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton heads over to Italy and makes what feels like half a dozen Westerns and crime films.

Although Silva never appeared in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it is certain that Rick Dalton co-starred with him in at least one of those films.

A reliable threat on screen


As the 1970s gave way to the 80s, Silva worked harder than ever, jumping from genre to genre but always playing a tough bastard. He was tasked with hunting the man-eating gator in “Alligator,” went up against Steven Seagal in 1988’s “Above the Law,” and appeared alongside Chuck Norris in “Code of Silence.”

As he got older, he only became a more menacing presence on screen, and all of that seemed to culminate when he played Influence in 1990’s “Dick Tracy.” The man already had a face that screamed evil henchman, and when you factor in the absurd, repulsive and extremely cool makeup, the result was an impressive comic book villain for the ages.

Silva worked throughout the 90s in films that are mostly lost to time, but he had one last one-two punch in the late 90s and early aughts. He appeared in 1999’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” and made a cameo as one of the last surviving cast members of “Ocean’s 11” in the George Clooney 2001 remake “Ocean’s Eleven”.

Silva was an outstanding actor and his passing will be mourned by cinemas around the world.

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The post Henry Silva, One of Cinema’s Ultimate Badasses, Has Passed Away appeared first on /Film.

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