His name was Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode and he was a football star, a professional wrestler, a WWII veteran and a famous Hollywood character actor who should have become a star. But the closest Woody Strode ever got to playing the leading role in an American film was Sergeant Rutledge (1960), in which he portrayed the title character but was fourth billed after Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Tower and Billie Burke. In an ironic twist that makes sense in a Pre-Civil Rights Hollywood, Strode had to travel to Italy to finally receive top billing and the only genuine leading role of his career in Black Jesus (1968) aka Seated at his Right (the Italian title is Seduto alla sua Destra). It is probably one of his least known films but easily his biggest role and possibly his best performance.
Each year hundreds of international films never get picked up for distribution in the U.S. and the select few that do are either high profile film festival prize winners like Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) or popular commercial hits like March of the Penguins (2005) from France and Life is Beautiful (1997) from Italy. So when you come across an austere and haunting cinematic work like Valerio Zurlini’s The Desert of the Tartars (Il Deserto Dei Tartari), you have to wonder how many great films from other lands are out there that you are not going to see…and probably never will. Continue reading