Raf Vallone was an internationally acclaimed Italian movie star known for his rugged good looks. The athletic Vallone, a former soccer player who often was compared to Burt Lancaster, was born Raffaele Vallone in 1916 in Tropea in Calabria, Italy, the son of a prominent lawyer and his aristocratic wife. At the University of Turin, Vallone took degrees in law and philosophy and then entered his father’s law firm.
Vallone played semi-professional soccer but never realized his dream of becoming a professional athlete. Subsequently, he became a sports reporter for L’Unita, a communist newspaper, and also a drama critic for La Stampa. During World War II, Vallone served with the anti-Fascist resistance.
His first job as a movie actor was a bit part in Noi vivi (1942) (aka, “We the Living”), but Vallone was not serious about acting as a career. Hired as a researcher on a film about labor unrest, director Giuseppe De Santis cast Vallone as a soldier competing with Vittorio Gassman for the love of Silvana Mangano in what became the neo-realist classic Bitter Rice (1949) (“Bitter Rice”). The film propelled Vallone, pronounced a natural actor by De Santis, into international stardom and ended his journalism career.
Vallone became a major star in Italy in the 1950s and then a player in the global film industry, making movies in Italian, French and English. Vallone achieved popularity with American audiences in the 1960s, starting with his supporting roles in Two Women (1960) (“Two Women”) and El Cid (1961), both co-starring Sophia Loren. Other major actresses he co-starred with on film and stage included Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Melina Mercouri, Simone Signoret, and Elena Varzi, to whom he was married for 52 years, until his death in 2002.
Vallone’s first “American” role was as the incest-minded Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone in Sidney Lumet’s film of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (1962) (“A View from the Bridge”). Other prominent roles in American films included Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963), Roger Corman’s The Secret Invasion (1964), Harlow (1965) starring Carroll Baker, and Henry Hathaway’s Nevada Smith (1966).
Vallone played many priests during his long career, culminating with the cardinal-confessor of mobster Michael Corleone, a priest who becomes pope and is murdered by the Mafia, in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III (1990). Appearing for the other side, Vallone was memorable as the Mafia boss Altabani in the original The Italian Job (1969).
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