It’s superficial of me, I know, but I became much more interested in, and approving of Victor Mature (1913-1999) once I learned he was half Italian. His father, Marcello Maturi was a Kentucky knife-sharpener from the Alpine village of Pinzolo.
Mature got his start at the Pasadena Playhouse in the late ’30s. His break came when Hal Roach signed him, believe it or not, though this was after his period as a comedy mogul. Mature was a caveman in One Million Years B.C. (1940), and forever after that was his image, a sort of muscular beast who fights, kills, and is, um, impolite with ladies. His cameo in the Monkees movie Head (1968) pictured above becomes much more witty when you have that context. Blown up to the size of the Jolly Green Giant he’s even bigger and stronger and more imposing than his previous image, times ten. He was 55 at that point, not too old by today’s standards, but back then it was like a blast from the past.
If I had to identify him with a single genre, it would be sword and sandals stuff, and related historical spectacles, e.g. Samson and Delilah (1949), Androcles and the Lion (1952), The Robe (1953), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), The Veils of Bagdad (1954), The Egyptian (1954), Zarak (1956), Hannibal (1959), and The Tartars (1962).
Two westerns are notable: My Darling Clementine (1946) in which he played Doc Holiday (seems to be referenced in that scene in Head), and Chief Crazy Horse (1955), in which he played the title character.
Mature played a showman in Irwin Allen’s The Big Circus (1959) which seems to draw from his real life (he’d gone to business school and actual owned a restaurant and sold candy early in his career) as well as his early career, when, believe it or not he was in lots of show bizzy musicals. These included the 1940 revival of No, No, Nanette; the Paul Dresser bio-pic My Gal Sal (1942); Footlight Serenade (1952); Red, Hot and Blue (1949); Wabash Avenue (1950), and Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
He also starred in lots and lots of noir and crime thrillers, the first couple of which are among the best remembered, I Wake Up Screaming and The Shanghai Gesture, both 1941.
The wacky Vittorio de Sica comedy After the Fox (1966) with Peter Sellers was his last starring picture for a while. In 1972 he was persuaded to return from the Cy Howard mafia comedy Every Little Nook and Cranny (1972) with Lynn Redgrave, Paul Sand, John Astin, Dom DeLuise, Austin Pendleton, Louise Sorel (then best known for things like The Don Rickles Show and Plaza Suite), Maggie Blye (from the original The Italian Job), Pat Morita, Phil Foster, and Pat Harrington. Now that is an early 70s comedy cast.
Mature’s last role was in a 1984 TV movie version of Samson and Delilah, no longer in the lead of course, although that would be an interesting choice, perhaps to play the “after” version following the haircut.
Mature was married five times, but I’m much more interested in his affairs with the likes of Lili St. Cyr and Rita Hayworth, and his onscreen ones with Hedy Lamarr, Diana Dors, and Gene Tierney. (Wolf whistle, wolf whistle, wolf whistle!)
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