European Women in Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 14, 2015

European Women in Westerns

In the days of silent movies, it was common to see European actors playing American (or any other) parts, because moviegoers obviously couldn’t hear the accents.  Silent movies transplanted well from country to country, with film kind of a universal language.  With the coming of sound, however, an actor’s accent usually had to be explained.  As a land of immigrants, there were always people with foreign origins on the American frontier, although those immigrants were not often the leads in westerns as Mads Mikkelsen is in the recent Danish western The Salvation.  As one of the most American of film genres, Americans felt proprietary about these stories in particular, and they had to appeal to American audiences first, at least until the coming of spaghetti westerns, when most voices were dubbed.

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Lili Damita (a French actress married consecutively to Errol Flynn and to director Michael Curtiz) and Gary Cooper in Fighting Caravans; and Sophia Loren, Italian, in her only western, Heller in Pink Tights, about a troupe of actors in the west.

With the popularity of Italian actresses Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida (among others) in the 1950s, and with Americans becoming more aware of foreign cinema during that period, there began to be increasing interest in Hollywood in using exotic actresses in westerns, too.  Although there had been a few showing up since the early days of sound (see Lily Damita in 1931’s Fighting Caravans, for example), it was usually thought to be necessary to have some explanation of the accent.  Sometimes that was dealt with by having the actress speak a rudimentary version of English, and not very much of it, because she was an Indian; see Elsa Martinelli as Red Cloud’s daughter in The Indian Fighter, for example.  More often, they were said to be Mexican (Claudia Cardinale in The Professionals, Luciana Paluzzi in Chuka) or were encountered in Mexico (Denise Darcel in Vera Cruz, Senta Berger in Major Dundee).  Sometimes the character was said to have originated in Louisiana with Creole roots, where French was still spoken (Hedy Lamarr in Copper Canyon, Capucine in North to Alaska, Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West).  Most inventively, the actress may have had no lines of dialogue at all because her character’s tongue had been cut out by Indians (Eva Green in The Salvation).  And sometimes no reason at all was given for the character’s accent, as with Bibi Andersson in Duel at Diablo.  The peak of this fashion of using European actresses appears to have been in the second half of the 1960s, from 1965 to 1970.

There are probably other actresses of European origin who don’t appear on this list.  Please leave a comment if you know of one such.  As a general matter, this list does not include English or Irish actresses, such as Maureen O’Hara, who appeared in several westerns, usually playing a character of American origins (Buffalo Bill, Rio Grande, War Arrow, The Deadly Companions, McLintock!) rather than English or Irish (The Rare Breed), Maureen O’Sullivan (The Tall T) or Jean Simmons (The Big Country, Rough Night in Jericho).  Nor does it generally include actresses in spaghetti westerns, whose voices were almost always dubbed along with those of most actors.

For more information on women in westerns generally, see the posts on Women in Westerns and Great Women’s Performances in Westerns.

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Denise Darcel and Robert Taylor in Westward the Women; and Capucine and John Wayne in North to Alaska.

Lily Damita [French] in Fighting Caravans (1931, with Gary Cooper)

Hedy Lamarr [Austrian] in Copper Canyon (1950, with Ray Milland)

Denise Darcel [French] in Westward the Women (1951, with Robert Taylor)

Denise Darcel [French] in Vera Cruz (1954, with Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster)

Corinne Calvet [French] in The Far Country (1954, with James Stewart) and Apache Uprising (1965, with Rory Calhoun)

Anna Maria Alberghetti [Italian] in The Last Command (1955, with Sterling Hayden at the Alamo)

Elsa Martinelli [Italian] in The Indian Fighter (1955, with Kirk Douglas)

Ursula Thiess [German] in Bandido (1956, with Robert Mitchum)

Anna Maria Alberghetti [Italian] in Duel at Apache Wells (1957)

Nicole Maurey [French] in The Jayhawkers (1959, with Fess Parker and Jeff Chandler)

Audrey Hepburn [Dutch-English] in The Unforgiven (1960, with Burt Lancaster and Audie Murphy)

Capucine [French] in North to Alaska (1960, with John Wayne and Stewart Granger)

Sophia Loren [Italian] in Heller in Pink Tights (1960, with Anthony Quinn)

Anita Ekberg (Swedish) and Ursula Andress (Swiss) in 4 for Texas (1963, with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin)

Elke Sommer [German] in Frontier Hellcat (1964, with Stewart Granger)

Senta Berger [Austrian] in Major Dundee (1965, with Charlton Heston)

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Senta Berger enjoys the river in Major Dundee; and Bridget Bardot, unlike Berger, is overdressed in Shalako.

Bridget Bardot [French] and Jeanne Moreau [French] in Viva Maria (1965)  Not really a western, it takes place in Central America in the era of early 20th century revolutions, like The Wrath of God.

Claudia Cardinale [Italian] in The Professionals (1966, with Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster)

Bibi Andersson [Swedish] in Duel at Diablo (1966, with James Garner)

Luciana Paluzzi [Italian] in Chuka (1967, with Rod Taylor)

Bridget Bardot [French] in Shalako (1968, with Sean Connery)

Elsa Martinelli [Italian] in Il Mio Corpo Per un Poker (1968, as Belle Starr)

Camilla Sparv [Swedish] in McKenna’s Gold (1969, with Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif)

Claudia Cardinale [Italian] in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, with Charles Bronson and Jason Robards)

Jeanne Moreau [French] in Monte Walsh (1970, with Lee Marvin)

Gina Lollobrigida [Italian] in Bad Man’s River (1971, with Lee Van Cleef)

Ursula Andress (Swiss) in Red Sun (1972, with Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune and Alain Delon)

Liv Ullman [Swedish] in The Emigrants (1971, with Max von Sydow). More a Midwestern than a western; a tale of emigration from Sweden.

Liv Ullman [Swedish] in Zandy’s Bride (1974, with Gene Hackman)

Catherine Spaak [French] in Take a Hard Ride (1975, with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson)

Isabella Rossellini [Swedish-Italian] in Monte Walsh (Made for television, 2003, with Tom Selleck)

Penelope Cruz [Spanish] in Bandidas (2006, with Salma Hayek)

Eva Green [French] in The Salvation (2014, with Mads Mikkelsen)

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Claudia Cardinale being Mexican in The Professionals; and Camilla Sparv messing around behind the scenes in McKenna’s Gold.
European Women Directors of Westerns

Lina Wertmuller [German], co director of Il Mio Corpo Per un Poker (1968)

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