With action-packed plots, lowbrow humor, and flying fists, the films of Italian movie-star duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill gained global fame in the ‘70s and ‘80s – yet here in Hungary they are especially revered to this day, as their lighthearted flicks are still frequently broadcast on local TV, and their oeuvre inspires fervent fans to honor them in art and song. What is it about these unserious celebrities that begets so much celebration here, including an upcoming film festival at Budapest’s most historic cinema, and a concert of their soundtracks at Budapest’s biggest arena next month?
When burly and bearded Bud Spencer (born Carlo Pedersoli) passed away in June at the ripe old age of 86, his fans mourned around the world – gone was a true renaissance man of our modern age, who parlayed his success as a professional swimmer and water-polo player into a lucrative acting career (not to mention his stints as an inventor, pilot, lyricist, politician, and cookbook author). Though he first appeared in film as early as 1950, he only earned global renown beginning in the late ‘60s after teaming up with Terence Hill (born Mario Girotti) – a dashing blue-eyed leading man who had worked in the movie business since the age of 12, and went on to become one of Italy’s highest-paid thespians – to create a series of over 20 films set in exotic locations around the planet.
Between 1967 and 1994, Bud Spencer and Terence Hill built up a heavily humorous filmography in genres ranging from Westerns to crime capers to travel adventures, with their stories usually unfolding with a similar formula – the two contrasting characters are united under bizarre circumstances and usually don’t like each other at first, but then they join forces on some sort of quest that ordinarily involves solving a mystery and frequent fisticuffs.
Although the duo usually faces daunting odds and multiple attackers, between Spencer’s brawn and Hill’s guile they stave off all assailants. All the while, the two fearlessly defend the helpless and enjoy the local scene while satisfying their voracious appetites (for women in Hill’s case, and for food – particularly bean dishes – in Spencer’s case) in locations ranging from Miami to Rio to a remote Pacific island and far beyond.
These movies were definitely made for the masses, and were dubbed in numerous languages before being shipped off to theaters around the world – including Hungary, where popular entertainment was thoroughly censored by the country’s Soviet-dominated government during Spencer and Hill’s heyday until the regime change in 1989. However, the Kremlin-backed authorities apparently saw no danger in letting Magyars enjoy these diverting films, and so Bud Spencer and Terence Hill became some of the most popular stars of their era here, despite (or perhaps because of) their plebeian appeal; for the millions of Hungarians who were restricted from traveling internationally during that time, the exotic scenery of the movies’ worldwide settings provided a rare perspective of life in faraway places outside of communist-controlled society.
Even after Hungary gained its independence, the films of Bud Spencer and Terence Hill remained (and still remain) popular, now enhanced with a strong dose of nostalgia – most Magyar families have at least a couple of their movies in their DVD collection, and if you flip channels on Hungarian television at any given time, there’s a fair chance that one of their flicks will be playing on some network or another. What’s more, the Italian duo remains so beloved that soon after Spencer’s passing, a solemn graffiti portrait of him was painted on a wall in Budapest’s Óbuda district, and currently there is an only-somewhat-insincere proposal to create a Bud Spencer Park here.
However, Magyar adoration of Spencer and Hill is not limited to memorials – Budapest’s popular Spencer Hill Magic Band exclusively plays covers of songs from the soundtracks of the duo’s many movies to huge crowds of fans who know all the words, with their next concert happening on Saturday, October 29th at Ellátó Ház (Budapest 1074, Dob u. 19) beginning at 8pm. Then on November 29th, the Magyar metropolis will host an even bigger extravaganza as Guido & Maurizio De Angelis – the Italian brothers who composed and performed many original songs for Spencer-Hill movies – play at the Budapest Sportaréna, which usually serves as the venue for international A-list bands on world tour.
Finally, for anyone who wants to become familiar with the lifework of Bud Spencer and Terence Hill as it was originally meant to be seen on the big screen, the historic Corvin Cinema – hallowed as the last stronghold of Hungary’s freedom fighters during the 1956 Revolution – hosts a film festival of the duo’s movies beginning on October 30th. Unfortunately, the films are only being screened with Hungarian dubbing, but the generally simple action-heavy plots of Spencer-Hill movies make them easy to enjoy even without understanding any of the dialogue, and even present an excellent opportunity for anyone to learn a few basic phrases in the local language – if you repeat a joke from one of the films in the company of most Magyars, they’ll probably recognize the reference immediately.