This week’s Cool Actor is one of the coolest, Carmine Orrico of Brooklyn, NY, better known as John Saxon. In a career spanning an incredible seven decades he’s gone toe to toe with Bruce Lee and Freddy Krueger, guest starred on just about every cop and private eye show of the 70’s and 80’s and starred in some of the greatest poliziotteschi alongside Italian film legends like Maurizio Merli and Tomas Milian.
Saxon’s career started when an agent spotted the 16 year old aspiring model on the cover of a detective magazine and convinced his parents to let him take young Carmine to Hollywood. Now that sounds awfully sketchy but I’m pretty sure John Saxon is all man so don’t get any ideas.
Saxon quickly established himself with small parts playing the standard roles available to “ethnic” actors in those days: Italians (natch), Indians, Mexicans and any other vaguely non-white stereotype. He took an interest in martial arts and it served him well in his breakthrough role alongside Bruce Lee in the classic Enter the Dragon.
Saxon was now established as a top billed star of B movies and earned Special Guest Star status on just about every crime show of the period, always playing either a cop or a villain. One unusual role had him playing an alien on The Six Million Dollar Man. Not just any alien, he was bent on world domination and used Sasquatch to rob banks to fund his evil machinations!
It was during this period that Saxon made the journey to Italy to star in the violent crime films that were popular at the time. My personal favorite is 1977’s Il cinico, l’infame, il violento, which was like a poliziotteschi dream team: Directed by the legendary Umberto Lenzi, soundtrack by Franco Micalizzi and starring the number one cop actor Maurizio Merli, the number one villain/anti-hero Tomas Milian and the imported American machismo of John Saxon. The plot has Saxon as crime boss Frank DiMaggio (Il cinico, the cynic) locked in a power struggle with Tomas “The Chinaman” Milian (l’infame, or The Rat in English versions) while hard boiled cop Inspector Tanzi (il violento), played as always by Merli, manipulates them both. Full of beatdowns, car chases, gun fights and even scenes of DiMaggio siccing his dogs on people who owe him money, Il cinico, l’infame, il violento is one hell of a good time.
Most mainstream audiences know John Saxon from his role as the police lieutenant in Nightmare on Elm Street and his various TV roles but he’s had a long and varied career. Happily, he’s still going strong. Not surprisingly, at the age of 75 he looks like he could still kick some ass. Here he is in an advance trailer for a Eurocrime documentary: