Swords, Sandals and Serial Killers – Remembering Sylva Koscina (1933 – 1994)

Posted in Remember by - August 01, 2014
Swords, Sandals and Serial Killers – Remembering Sylva Koscina (1933 – 1994)

Sweet looking with a fair degree of talent, Sylva Koscina had a film career I’ve always found interesting. Mixing Hollywood, European and Art-house, for three decades Sylva certainly kept herself busy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in Yugoslavia on August 23rd 1933, Sylva moved to Italy during the Second World War, later studying physics at university. She was spotted in a photo by controversial director Pietro Germi, who cast Koscina in his 1956 feature ‘The Railwayman’. With her career taking off, Sylva’s early films were low-brow Italian comedies and sword & sandal pictures, such as ‘Hercules’ (‘58) and its 1959 sequel ‘Hercules Unchained’, both starring Steve Reeves. A couple of cult features followed, with George Franju’s pulp crime pic ‘Judex’ (’63), playing an acrobat aiding the hero at the movie’s climax, and then as Giulietta Masina’s saucy sister, in Fellini’s colourful fantasy ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ (’65).

Sylva ventured to England at this time to co-star in a couple of spy comedies directed by Ralph Thomas. The first; ‘Hot Enough for June’ (’64) starred Dirk Bogarde as writer travelling to Prague, where he is assigned a beautiful tour guide, played by Koscina. The second was the enjoyable Bulldog Drummond adventure ‘Deadlier than the Male’ (’67), alongside Richard Johnson and Elke Sommer. Flirting with Hollywood, Sylva was paired with Kirk Douglas in the watchable 1968 drama ‘A Lovely Way to Die’, in which she played a widow accused of her wealthy husband’s murder. Also that year she starred in Jack Smight’s enjoyable WWII comedy ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’, playing an Italian countess romanced by Paul Newman’s US soldier. Back in Italy Sylva bared all in the obscure drama ‘He and She’ (’69) with Laurence Harvey, before being cast as Rock Hudson’s love interest in the WWII drama ‘Hornets’ Nest’ (’70). An ok actioner, Hudson plays an injured American commando rescued by a gang of orphans who, along with Koscina’s reluctant German medic, nurse him back to health in order for him to teach the kids how to shoot, so they can defend their village from the Nazi’s. Also that year, Koscina co-starred with Monica Vitti in the Italian comedy ‘Ninì Tirabusciò’, which saw the pair in a brief but memorable topless duelling scene.

A scandal arose in 1967 when Sylva married her long-term partner Raimondo Castelli (who was already married at the time), although they would later divorce bitterly in 1971. Koscina is largely remembered for her appearances in a handful of early Seventies giallo entries. In 1972’s ‘So Sweet, So Dead’, she co-starred with Farley Granger in a sordid serial killer tale, while also that year she made the excellent ‘Crimes of the Black cat’ (’72), a colourful mystery which reveals Sylva as the killer of various fashion models at her photographic studio. Around this time Koscina had the distinction of being the first Italian actress to appear in the American edition of Playboy, which was probably no big deal to Sylva as she hated wearing bra’s in real life, and would only wear them in movies that required her to.

1975 saw Sylva re-team with Elke Sommer for Mario Bava’s controversial and bizarre horror; ‘Lisa and the Devil’, which had Sylva running over her aristocratic husband’s body with her car. A flesh-baring role came in ‘Casanova & Co.’ (’77), a below-par romp with Tony Curtis and euro-babes Marisa Mell, Olivia Pascal and Britt Ekland. Koscina’s last movie of note was the ambitious international comedy ‘Sunday Lovers’ (’80), after which her film career pretty much stalled, with only a few appearances in the odd TV movie in the 1980’s.

Sadly, having been diagnosed with breast cancer some years prior, Sylva died in Rome on Boxing Day 1994, aged 61. With a fascinating and varied career lasting nearly forty years, the beautiful Sylva Koscina was one of Italy’s most famous screen queens. A kind, caring person who always took her work seriously, Sylva remains to this day, a popular cult figure in Italy and around the world.

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5 Comments on "Swords, Sandals and Serial Killers – Remembering Sylva Koscina (1933 – 1994)"

  • David

    I wonder why her career never really took off in Hollywood. To me, she was a very underrated actress and should have been up there with the greatest screen icons.

    • admin

      I agree. Maybe Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her, or maybe she didn’t want to be type-cast in sexpot roles. At least she left behind a large filmography and some winning performances though.

      • David Sew

        Arguably, she said in an interview by an american journalist that “In Hollywood, you have to play the game; I didn’t and I have no regrets”. I wonder if this is true and if so, what she meant by “playing the game”.

        • admin

          ‘Playing the Game’ could mean a number of things in Hollywood, especially back then. Maybe she didn’t want the studio’s moulding her into what they wanted her to be. Still, it’s nice to know that she was strong enough to say ‘no’ and not regret it later.

          • David Sew

            Yep. A hell of a woman! RIP Lady.

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