When I was a young kid, there were some screen goddesses for whom I had eternal admiration. As some of you already know, these included Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andress and… Claudia Cardinale. Yes, this beauty with the husky voice was a little like an imaginary big sister, with her distinguishable pout or warm smile. I had this impression that it would more fun to hang out with Claudia than the others, as she seemed more down to earth and accessible.
There’s no words to express the impact of the release of Once Upon a Time in the West had on my life. Having members of my family talk about it (as they had seen it many times in theaters) gave me a chill, particularly when someone gave details about the plot. Was I ten or twelve years old when I saw it for the first time on television? Yes there was these guys with the long coats, that soundtrack that still gives me chills after all these years, the incredible visual direction, and… Claudia Cardinale in one of her best roles ever.
I had seen her before, of course, most memorably in Les pétroleuses, a comedy western with Brigitte Bardot that only its trailer on TV gave me warm feelings. But her part as Jill McBain in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece floored me with all its many nuances. I could began to understand now that beyond the pretty girls on screen, there was talent, there was someone actually acting. Claudia Cardinale gave me that lesson, and soon afterwards Miou-Miou did it, and then others…
I began thinking about Claudia a couple of months ago, when a new Fetish Cult Siren named Deanna Deadly submitted pics for inclusion on the site. One of them litterally floored me, as she looked so much like the actress did around the mid sixties. She was very glad when I mentioned this to her. So right there and then, I decided that Claudia Cardinale would be the next Cult Siren (and isn’t it about time?).
Claude Joséphine Rose Cardin was born on April 15, 1938, in Tunis, Tunisia. Her mother had Sicilian roots and her father was Italian. In 1955, at the Italian embassy in Tunis, she was elected the Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia. Since the prize was a trip to Venice, she got to visit the Venice Film Festival where she was of course offered movie parts. But this wasn’t part of her career plans at the moment, as she hoped to become a teacher. Around that time, she had a son with a Frenchman, said child who passed for many years as her younger brother!
Still, she was very soon after active at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Rome for some months (when she actually had to really learn the italian language, as she was only fluent in French and Sicilian at that time), with the whole family moving with her in a suburb. She won a beauty contest and then Claudia signed a 7-year contract with Vides studio, in which many strange clauses where inserted, like the tact that she was forbidden to gain weight, cut her hair, etc.
She made her feature film debut as a maid in 1958 in Goha, a French/Tunisian co-production starring Omar Sharif. Soon after, she followed with a big international hit Big Deal on Madonna Street, a very influential and much copied comedic caper film. Her career was managed by Franco Cristaldi, with whom she was married from 1966 to 1975.
It didn’t take long for the audience to notice Claudia as she quickly graduated to even more high-profile projects. Rocco and His Brothers, Girl with a Suitcase, The Battle of Austerlitz quickly made her an household name. 1963 remain probably her greatest year in cinema, as she was seen in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard and Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther. The Fellini film is actually the first one where she’s not dubbed in Italian. With the international cast of The Leopard, she actually spoke Italian, French and English on set. For this film, she and Alain Delon are still considered to be one of the most romantic couple ever paired for a film.
For English-speaking productions, Claudia could be seen in the following years in Circus World, Blindfold, Lost Command and The Professionals. Always incredibly sexy, she remained high-class throughout, and never show her chest on screen, even if her measurements were 37C-23-37! A breakthrough in America was never a priority though, as she preferred to stay and live in Europe.
Watch 1965’s Sandra of a Thousand Delights and try to convince me that Claudia Cardinale wasn’t a great actress… Then came Once Upon a Time in the West, where she enjoyed a rare and worthwhile female role in a Sergio Leone western. At the height of her beauty, she still mesmerize. She kept busy, mainly in France and Italy, and finally met her friend Brigitte Bardot for a comedy… yes BB against CC! Another one of her roles that moved me was as an adultress in the Jesus of Nazareth TV mini-series in 1977.
Around the mid-90s, she began to be less active in film work, becoming involved in theatre and writing, eventually coming up with a couple of books about her career and experiences. She has been involved in many humanitarian causes, pro-women, pro-gay, UNESCO… while still popping up in films from time to time and being honored at many film festivals.
Maybe the very first actress that really touched me personally beyond the beautiful physical allure, Claudia Cardinale will remain thusly in my psyche for all eternity. She could be a bored princess or the saucy neighbor next door, and still be able to hypnotize with her good humor. True, she didn’t act in horror or sci-fi films, like many of our guests here, but her inclusion is absolutely essential, as she remains a top influence on my life and a timeless cinema beauty.
1958 Goha; Big Deal on Madonna Street; Three Strangers in Rome 1959 The Magistrate; South Wind; Venetian Honeymoon; The Facts of Murder; Upstairs and Downstairs 1960 Bell’ Antonio; The Battle of Austerlitz; Fiasco in Milan; Rocco and His Brothers; Silver Spoon 1961 Girl with a Suitcase; The Lovemakers; The Lions Are Loose; Kolka, My Friend 1962 Cartouche; Careless 1963 8½; The Leopard; The Pink Panther; Bebo’s Girl 1964 Time of Indifference; Circus World; The Magnificent Cuckold 1965 Sandra of a Thousand Delights; Blinfold 1966 The Queens; Lost Command; The Professionals 1967 A Rose for Everyone; Don’t Make Waves 1968 La amante estelar; Mafia; The Hell with Heroes; Once Upon a Time in the West 1969 The Conspirators; A Fine Pair; Diary of a Telephone Operator; The Red Tent 1970 The Adventures of Gerard 1971 The Audience; A Girl in Australia; Popsy Pop; The Legend of Frenchie King 1972 Hit Man 1973 Libera, My Love; Days of Fury 1974 Blood Brothers; Conversation Piece 1975 The Immortal Bachelor; Blonde in Black Leather 1976 A Common Sense of Modesty 1977 Goodbye and Amen; Corleone; The Iron Prefect 1978 Sniper; Fire’s Share; Little Girl in Blue Velvet 1979 Escape to Athena 1980 Si salvi chi vuole 1981 The Salamander; The Skin 1982 Fitzcarraldo; Le cadeau 1983 Le ruffian 1984 Claretta; Henry IV 1985 Woman of Wonders; L’été prochain 1987 Un homme amoureux 1988 Electric Blue 1989 La révolution française; Hiver 54, l’abbé Pierre 1990 The Battle of the Three Kings 1991 Act of Contrition; Mother 1992 588 rue Paradis 1993 Son of the Pink Panther 1994 Elles ne pensent qu’à ça… 1997 Sous les pieds des femmes 1998 Riches, belles, etc. 1999 Un café… l’addition; Brigands 2002 And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen 2005 Le démon de midi 2007 Cherche fiancé tous frais payés