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Van Cleef, Lee


Nationality: American. Born: Somerville, New Jersey, 9 January 1925. Family: Married 1) Ruth Ann (Van Cleef) (divorced); 2) Joan (Van Cleef) (divorced), two sons and one daughter; 3) Barbara Hevelone, 1976. Career: World War II—served in the U.S. Navy; then farmhand, factory worker, and accountant; amateur actor; 1950—in road company of play Mister Roberts; 1952—film debut in High Noon; followed by a series of minor roles as villains; 1954—television debut; 1966—role in For a Few Dollars More brought international attention; subsequently a star in his own right, especially in Italy. Died: Of a heart attack in Oxnard, California, 16 December 1989.

Films as Actor:


High Noon (Zinnemann) (as Jack Colby); Untamed Frontier (Fregonese) (as Dave Chittun); Kansas City Confidential (Karlson) (as Tony Romano)


The Lawless Breed (Walsh) (as Dick Hanley); Tumbleweed (Juran) (as Marv); Arena (Fleischer) (as Smitty); Jack Slade (Schuster) (as Toby MacKay); The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Lourie) (as Corporal Stone); White Lightning (Bernds) (as Brutus); Vice Squad (Laven) (as Pete); The Nebraskan (Sears) (as Reno); Private Eyes (Bernds)


Rails into Laramie (Hibbs) (as Ace Winton); The Bandits of Corsica (Nazarro) (as Nerva); The Desperado (Carr) (as Buck/Paul Creyton); Gypsy Colt (Marton) (as Hank); Arrow in the Dust (Selander) (as crew boss); The Yellow Tomahawk (Selander) (as Fireknife); Dawn at Socorro (Sherman) (as Earl Ferris); Princess of the Nile (Jones) (as Hakar)


The Big Combo (Lewis) (as Fante); The Road to Denver (Kane) (as Pecos Larry); A Man Alone (Milland) (as Clantin); The Vanishing American (Kane) (as Jay Lord); Treasure of Ruby Hills (McDonald) (as Emmett); Ten Wanted Men (Humberstone) (as Al Drucker); I Cover the Underworld (Springsteen) (as Flash Logan); Man without a Star (Vidor); The Naked Street (Shane); The Kentuckian (Lancaster)


The Conqueror (Powell) (as Chepei); It Conquered the World (Corman) (as Tom Anderson); Tribute to a Bad Man (Wise) (as Fat Jones); Backlash (John Sturges); Red Sundown (Arnold); Pardners (Taurog) (as Gus)


Accused of Murder (Kane) (as Sgt. Lackey); The Quiet Gun (Claxton) (as Sadler); The Badge of Marshal Brennan (Gannaway) (as Shad Donaphin); The Last Stagecoach West (Kane); The Lonely Man (Levin) (as Faro); Joe Dakota (Bertlett) (as Adam Grant); Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (John Sturges) (as Ed Bailey); Gun Battle at Monterey (Hittleman) (as Kirby); China Gate (Fuller) (as Major Cham); The Tin Star (Mann) (as Ed McGaffey); Raiders of Old California (Gannaway)


Day of the Badman (Keller) (as Jake Hayes); The Bravados (King) (as Alfonso Parral); The Young Lions (Dmytryk) (as Sgt. Rickett); Machete (Neumann) (as Miguel)


Ride Lonesome (Boetticher) (as Frank); Guns, Girls, and Gangsters (Cahn) (as the husband)


The Guns of Zangara


Posse from Hell (Coleman) (as Leo)


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford) (as Reese)


How the West Was Won (Ford and others) (as Marty)


Per qualche dollari in più (For a Few Dollars More) (Leone) (as Colonel Douglas Mortimer); Call to Glory; Il buono, il bruto, il cattivo (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) (Leone) (as Setenza)


Da uomo a uoma (Death Rides a Horse) (Petroni) (as Ryan); La resa dei conti (The Big Gundown) (Sollima) (as Jonathon Corbett); I giorno dell'ira (Der Tod ritt Dienstags; Day of Anger) (Valerii) (as Frank Tolby)


Commandos (Crispino); L'uomo che viene de lontano (The Man from Far Away); Al di là della legge (Beyond the Law) (Stegani)


Bite the Dust; Ehi, amico . . . c'e Sabata, hai chiuso? (Sabata) (Kramer) (title role); Creed of Violence


Barquero (Douglas) (as Travis); El Condor (Guillermin) (as Jaroo)


. . . e continuavano a fregarsi il millione di dollari (Martin); Captain Apache (Singer) (title role)


E tornato Sabata . . . hai chiuso (Return of Sabata) (Kramer) (title role); El gran duelo (The Grand Duel) (Santi); The Magnificent Seven Ride! (McGowan) (as Chris)


Johnny le Fligueur (Mean Frank and Crazy Tony); Dio, sei proprio un padreterno (Il suo nome faceva tremare . . . Interpol in allarme!; Gangster Story; The Gun) (Lupo)


Moneda sangrienta (Blood Money) (Dawson)


Take a Hard Ride (Dawson) (as Kiefer)


The Stranger and the Gunfighter (Dawson); God's Gun (Kramer)


Kid Vengeance (Manduke); Verano sangrieto (Killers) (Sirko); Nowhere to Hide (Starrett—for TV)


Controrapina (The Squeeze; The Big Ripoff) (Dawson)


The Hard Way (Dryhurst—for TV)


Trieste File; The Octagon (Karson) (as McCarn)


Escape from New York (Carpenter) (as Bon Hauk)


The Killing Machine (Loma) (as Maitre Julot)


Codename Wildgeese (Dawson); Goma 2 (Loma)


The Master (Hessler—for TV); Jungle Raiders (Captain Yankee; La legenda del rudio malese) (Dawson) (as Inspector Warren)


Armed Response (Olen Ray) (as Burt Roth)


Commander (Dawson)


Speed Zone (Drake) (as Grandfather)


On VAN CLEEF: books—

Horner, William R., Bad at the Bijou, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1982.

Buscombe, Ed, editor, The BFI Companion to the Western, London, 1989.

Sinks, Charles, Up Close, Tarpon Springs, 1993.

Malloy, Mike, Lee Van Cleef: A Biographical, Film & Television Reference, Jefferson, 1998.

On VAN CLEEF: articles—

Simsolo, Noël, "Lee Van Cleef," in Image et Son (Paris), September 1973.

Ciné Revue (Paris), 19 May 1983.

Obituary in Variety, 20 December 1989.

Nicholls, N.C., "Lee Van Cleef on TV," in Classic Images (Muscatine), November 1991.

Harnack, D.J., "Pasta Primo!" in Filmfax (Evanston), August/September 1997.

* * *

Lee Van Cleef entered films after a brief and unspectacular stage career. For a while he was a member of a small amateur dramatics group, after which he appeared in Joshua Logan's stage production of Mister Roberts. He was then spotted by Stanley Kramer in his starring role in Heaven Can Wait. Eventually, he won the part of one of the desperadoes stalking Gary Cooper in High Noon, in which Van Cleef was first typecast as a baddie.

Over the years, Van Cleef perfected his screen persona as a ruthless villain. His athletic frame, steely-eyed stare, hooked nose, demonic smile, and imposing presence all contributed to his success as an antihero. Inevitably portraying a lone, proficient killer, Van Cleef concealed a gentility beneath his tough exterior that gained the sympathy of the audience; although brutal, his actions could usually be traced to a justifiable grievance.

Van Cleef's flagging film career suddenly picked up in the mid-1960s when he appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns Per qualche dollaro in più and Il buono, il bruto, il cattivo. Unlike Eastwood, who returned to Hollywood to further his career, Van Cleef stayed in Europe, where he successfully rode the spaghetti and paella trail, playing his invincible gunfighter in a succession of European-made Westerns.

By the early 1970s, he was one of the ten most popular box-office stars on the Continent, and had established himself as a cult figure. With well over 800 television and film appearances to his credit, Van Cleef endeared himself to cinemagoers as a man they love to hate. Although typecast from the outset of his Hollywood career, unlike many other actors in his position, he used this obstacle to his advantage by creating a memorable and immensely popular cinema character.

—Curtis Hutchinson

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