From my Torso Tribute Week at Harry Moseby Confidential.
French born Luc Merenda came into this world as Luc Charles Olivier Merenda in September of 1943. Handsome, intense, charismatic and extremely talented, Merenda proved himself to be a key ingredient to many of Italy’s most memorable genre films from the seventies and eighties.
Merenda made his film debut right at the beginning of the seventies with a small role in the film The Palace of Angels for Brazilian director Walter Hugo Khouri. Merenda’s good looks in the film set him apart from the crowd and he immediately scored a role in the French-Italian co-production of OSS 117 Takes A Vacation (1970) opposite Elsa Martinelli.
His successful role as OSS led the way to an extremely prolific and noteworthy career in front of the camera through the seventies. Roles for noted directors Marcel Carne’ and Terence Young soon followed and Merenda even got to work with the legendary Steve McQueen in 1971’s Le Mans for director Lee H. Katzin.
Covering nearly every conceivable genre in just his first few films (including a Western and a Nunsploitation picture!) Merenda hit pay dirt in 1973 with two roles for director Sergio Martino, first in the police drama The Violent Professionals and then in the violent Giallo Torso (the film that provides the screencaps seen here). Merenda is terrific in both films, especially the former, and they would mark him as one of the most adept actors in both the Italian crime and thriller genres of the seventies.
It would indeed be the Italian Police Thrillers (Poliziotteschi) of the period that would give Merenda his greatest roles. Terrific films like 1975’s Chopper Squad and Gambling City (both again with Martino) would show Merenda to be one of the most compelling figures in the Italian films of the period. He would also do great work with controversial director Fernando Di Leo in both the Poliziotteschi and the Italian Western, with 1975’s Kidnap Syndicate being particularly impressive.
Refusing to be typecast though, Merenda played very well opposite Edwige Fenech in the 1976 sex comedy Who Mislaid My Wife for Ugo Tognazzi, but it would indeed be the near dozen or so Poliziotteschi he would shoot in the mid to late seventies that would make him a legend among Italian Genre fans.
Merenda continued working steadily in the eighties with more Police based dramas and off the track films like the Catherine Spaak vehicle Honey (1981) and a couple of more roles opposite Fenech but by the mid part of the decade he began to slow down diverting his attention to other interests outside the cinema. A handful of Italian television roles in the nineties seemed to spell the end to Merenda’s career in front of the camera before a surprising and welcome comeback came last year courtesy of mega-fan Eli Roth.
Edwige Fenech got the most publicity for her cameo appearance in Roth’s highly undervalued Hostel Part II (2007) but one could make the case that the most memorable return was Luc Merenda’s chilling scene at the beginning of the film as the Italian Detective doomed Jay Hernandez mistakenly trusts. Still incredibly handsome and not lacking any of the intensity that characterized his best performances in the seventies, Merenda is chilling and unforgettable in his brief scene in Roth’s film. It will, alas, most likely be his final role though as the walk on was a favor to Roth who asked him specifically to come out of retirement for his film. I would love to be proven wrong though as it is easy to see in just this one scene that there is a lot of juice left in Luc Merenda as an actor and an iconic presence.
Luc Merenda is one of my favorite actors from the seventies, I’m thrilled to see a number of his films finding their way to DVD in the past few years. May I recommend NoShame’s terrific special editions of Gambling City and A Man Called Magnum as ideal starting points for the uninitiated, both of which feature Merenda himself in the supplemental material.