Once Upon a Time: Ty Hardin

Ty Hardin got his start when he dressed as a cowboy for a costume party. A scout from Paramount spotted him and Ty – after hiring Henry Willson as his agent – was put under contract. Ty auditioned for the Ricky Nelson role in Rio Bravo and while he was unsuccessful, John Wayne hooked him up with Howard Hawks who helped move Hardin’s contract to Warners.

Big Clint Walker was the star of Cheyenne. He and Warner Brothers had a beef in 1958 and Walker walked away from his show. Hardin got his big break when Warners plugged him in as replacement Bronco Layne. Cheyenne carried on to the end of the season with Ty until Walker and Warners mended fences resulting in Clint’s return to the show. But Hardin as Layne had proved popular enough to warrant a show of his own.

Ty Hardin’s American television western was titled Bronco and ran from 1958 until 1962. Bronco was a former Confederate officer who wandered the Old West. Hardin worked on the show with a typical but stellar roster of guest stars including Ahna Capri, Pernell Roberts and Jack Nicholson. He matured under the watchful eye of Bronco directors like Lew Landers, Robert Altman, Richard C. Sarafian and Marc Lawrence.

Bronco from Warner Brothers

When Bronco went off the air in the spring of ’62, Hardin went right back to films like PT 109 and Palm Springs Weekend. Then, he got the call. Italian filmmakers were out to redefine the western film but, in order to attract audiences, they wanted recognizable American actors to star. When Sergio Leone was casting his next film, he offered to lead to many Americans including Ty Hardin, who turned it down. Leone would find his lead for Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars) in Clint Eastwood, the iconic emblem of American Actors Abroad.

L’uomo della valle maledetta (Man of the Cursed Valley, 1964) was Ty Hardin’s intro to European filmmaking and its release date places him right on the ground floor of Americans working in international films. It was released in Italy on May 22, 1964 while Clint’s Per un pugno di dollari hit theatres in September. You could say then that Ty was first out of the gate and in this Eastwood and Leone were able to gauge audience reaction to an Italian film starring an American TV star. Cursed Valley was shot where so many “spaghetti westerns” were filmed, in hauntingly beautiful Andalucía, Spain.

Man of the Cursed Valley. Always great posters for these films at this time.

Today we concern ourselves with a Eurospy film. Eurospy films are spy films from Europe “that either sincerely imitated or else parodied the British James Bond spy series feature films”. For me, they have a wonderful atmosphere and their exotic settings are a feast for the eyes.

What we are featuring on this episode of Once Upon a Time is the 1967 Eurospy film Bersaglio mobile, aka Death on the Run, aka Moving Target. It was directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci who was known as “the other Sergio”. Perhaps no other Italian of this time – including Leone – contributed more notable titles to ExPat Cinema – that brand of international film that often starred Americans and utterly fascinated North American cinephiles like myself – than Corbucci. Early on, he made sword-and-sandal films (Goliath and the Vampires), horror films (Castle of Blood with Barbara Steele), westerns like the early spaghetti Minnesota Clay with Cameron Mitchell and Navajo Joe starring Burt Reynolds and at least one iconic film, the original Django (1966) with my man, Franco Nero.

In Death on the Run, Hardin plays Jason, an “international man of mystery” who has in his possession a micro film that is desired by criminal organizations and by the police. The film is shot in Greece and the exteriors are gorgeous and the interior locations are appropriately charming and rustic but sinister. Among the cast are Briton Michael Rennie of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Island in the Sun and Gordon Mitchell, another American who worked mostly in ExPat Cinema. Among the internationals of the cast are pretty Paola Pitagora and sexy Graziella Granata.

Corbucci knows what he’s about on this film and while not a whole heck of a lot happens what does happen happens at a brisk pace and the action never lags. The soundtrack is exciting and is just as urgent as the action. Those sharp-eyed fans of Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may recognize Death on the Run. QT uses clips from it to represent Rick Dalton’s Eurospy film, Operazione Dyn-O-Mite. See specifically the car jump over the bridge.

Many of the films we will look at in this series will be interesting and fun but maybe not the greatest. Death on the Run, however, is a good film. As of this writing, it is available here.



    • It would’ve been a totally different dynamic, for sure. Ty seems twice the size of Rick for one thing. The role would’ve been more substantial in a couple ways.

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