I have some sad news to report. The great Tomas Milian, an actor beloved by fans of Italian cinema everywhere, has died. He was 84.
Perhaps because of the type of films that he made, Milian was never the household name that he deserved to be. In the United States, his death is not even trending on twitter. #ThickThighTwitter, which is essentially a bunch of people bodyshaming anyone who happens to be slim, is trending. Tomas Milian is not.
And it’s a shame because Tomas Milian was one of the best. He may have been beloved by fans of Italian cinema but Milian was truly an international actor. He was born in Cuba, the son of a general who committed suicide after being jailed. Milian left Cuba after his father’s death. He moved to New York City, was a member of the Actor’s Studio, and became naturalized citizen in 1969.
Milian’s acting career took off when he started making movies in Italy. He appeared in everything from spy movies to spaghetti westerns to horror films to 1970s police dramas. Whenever I see one of the many films that Milian made in the 60s and 70s, I’m struck by his intensity. Milian was one of those power actors who often seems like he might leap off the screen at any moment. He played driven and often haunted men. Along with an undeniable charisma, Milian radiated danger.
Of the many Westerns he made, The Big Gundown may be his best known. Here’s Milian with co-star Lee Van Cleef:
My personal favorite of his spaghetti westerns? The surreal Django Kill:
For me, Tomas Milian was at his most menacing in Lucio Fulci’s underrated (and not for the faint-of-heart) Four Of The Apocalypse:
Four of the Apocalypse was not the only film on which Milian would work with Fulci. He also played the hero in Fucli’s classic giallo, Don’t Torture a Duckling:
In the 70s, Tomas Milian appeared in several Poliziotteschi, Italian cop films that were largely designed to rip off the success of gritty cop films like The French Connection and Serpico. Milian was always the ideal rebel cop, though he could play a dangerous criminal just as easily. Check him out in The Cop In Blue Jeans, perhaps parodying Al Pacino in Serpico:
The films weren’t always good but Milian always commanded the screen. It’s hard to think of any other actor who was always so much consistently better than the material he had to work with.
With the decline of the Italian film industry, Thomas Milian relocated his career to the United States. In his later years, he was a character actor who frequently appeared as corrupt military men and politicians. His best known performance from this time may be his quietly sinister turn in Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning Traffic:
Earlier today, Tomas Milian died of a stoke in Miami. Rest in peace.