Friday, January 27, 2023

11. Giancarlo Colombaioni was Romeo


Romeo is the youngest and the smallest of the Reanoto orphans.  He and two others appear at the very start of the movie, utilizing their acrobatic skills to distract the German soldiers as their comrades recover the unconscious Captain Turner.  He is the topmost in this three-man formation, balancing on Arturo’s shoulders then pitching forward skillfully to land, roll and right himself in a couple of seconds. In this way the trio set the tone of toughness and precocity, at least when it comes to the boys.

He is the lookout seen in the background, cautiously making his way down a tree, as Turner emerges from the cave, blinking in the daylight, the morning after the rescue. In the truck scene, he’s on the right side of the vehicle, directly behind the cab (closest to the camera) and appears to be having a really good time with his weapon. He’s one of the six boys who distract the German soldiers atop the dam as the demolition team dispatch two guards sitting in a bunker of sandbags. 

Romeo doesn't speak. He can often be seen in close-up, his angelic features at odds with his tough, impassive expression. In one scene in the cave, he and Carlo (Mauro Gravina) are shown cradling submachine guns, embodying the film’s selling point of war-blighted innocence. In the group shots, he often stands next to his two cousins, but on occasion he is positioned next to Rock Hudson, and has a tendency to look wonderingly up at him, the film playing up the difference between his diminutive, albeit sturdy, form and that of the 6’6” Hollywood star.


In the Avallone novelization of the screenplay, Romeo was supposed to be 8 years old.


Giancarlo Colombaioni was 11 when the movie was filmed. He is cousins with Valerio and Ronald Colombaioni, the two other boys in the acrobat formation. They belong to a noted and very large circus family (the surname is unusual and apparently is not associated with anyone outside the clan) that counts the clowns Carlo and Alberto Colombaioni as well as Arnaldo (Nani) Colombaioni and the juggler Willy Colombaioni among its members. It is likely that Giancarlo was already performing professionally at his young age, perhaps as a clown or an acrobat. In a 1985 movie, Robinson Crusoe mercante di York, he has a role as a juggler. It appears he has performed in circuses all his life.


Text copyright 2023 by Lakambini Sitoy

Screenshots from Hornet's Nest, 1970, United Artists

Putting the baby in "Baby Brigade"


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

10. Action boys and English boys


THE THREE young actors Daniel Keller, Daniel Dempsey and Joseph Cassuto -- plus a fourth, the slender boy in a white shirt – form a group I think of as the “English boys”.  They are native English or bilingual Italian-English speakers who, from the anonymity of the “chorus”, help to drive the plot and to supply important information (such as the presence of enemy trucks or the location of the transmitter in Capt. Von Hecht’s office), which would be pointless to dramatize.  They “tell” rather than “show” – the opposite, incidentally, of the prose writer’s mandate. They support the main characters by questioning or reacting to them.  Tekko, Giorgio and Franco were prominent in the novelization and early drafts of the screenplay, and Keller, Dempsey and Cassuto were included in the list of main cast members accompanying the New York Times review of the film.  The four “English boys” don’t speak more than a handful of lines collectively, but the story would progress very differently without their parts in the dialogue. 

They do not speak with the shrill voices of childhood nor with the rumble of adolescence.  They are in between.  In the scenes where the boys chatter excitedly in English, it’s interesting that it’s higher voices rather than lower ones that are heard -- in keeping with the intention of the original script that the orphans would be ages 8 to 12.  

Indeed it seems that there are really only two or three voices blurring together to represent the rest.  There’s no real dialogue to this chatter but just single lines (“He’s gonna blow up the dam!”) excited cries and laughter and, once, tantalizingly, a few words spoken in an Italian intonation but too faint to make out.  The sound they make reminds me of the hubbub of crowd scenes – brusio, Dan Keller said they were called.  He added his voice to a few of them in his time as a child dubber in Rome.  I wonder, actually, if that isn’t just young Dan in the recording studio, being layered and layered over himself. 

Despite Hornet’s Nest being a movie set in Italy with actors that sound and look Italian (even the German soldiers), there is no Italian dialogue.  A stray “Bellissima!” does not count. The actual Italians among the boys are silent.  Two of the older ones do get to speak in English, though they still sound as if they’re speaking Italian, which to me is quite charming.  

Was it unfair that most of the Italian cast were seen but not heard?  I don’t think so. They get to act with their bodies, and Hornet’s Nest would not be the adventure fantasy that it is without them.  I think of them as the “action boys.” They get to scramble up trees and handle plastique and fire guns from rooftops, spent casings flying about their ears. Several were from Naples and could swim and had movie-making experience. Three were professional circus performers.☺

A mixed bag. 

Text © 2023 by Lakambini Sitoy

Screenshot from Hornet's Nest (1970), United Artists featuring characters Arturo, Luigi and Paolo.

B&W photo by Claudio Patriarca. Thanks to Dan Keller.

Earlier: Why Hornet's Nest? Why only now?

Soon: Valerio Colombaioni

Sunday, January 15, 2023

9. Joseph Cassuto was Franco


Franco is the first boy you see in the trailer, clad in a grimy white shirt and red shorts, dashing to the mouth of the cave to let Dino know that Aldo has arrived with the dottore. In the scene where the boys rescue Turner, he is the one who suggests to Aldo that the American may not want to help them in their revenge. (“Maybe he’ll say no, Aldo. Maybe he won’t want to.”) In the scene in the cave where the boys reveal the stash of weapons they keep in the niche, he’s the one on the right, picking up and passing the Schmeissers to the others. 

Dino names him as one of the boys whose father built the dam. He’s on the driver’s side of the truck as it barrels through Reanoto, by the tailgate.  He’s among the six who distract the German guards atop the dam by yelling and making provocative gestures, and appears to be the one who does a somersault in the water. He's a bit on the hyperactive side, leaping across the screen to help pin down Bianca and punching Aldo vigorously (and vertically). He resembles Carlo at first glance, but is bigger.

In the scenes where the group of boys mingle seemingly randomly, Franco can often be found next to Giorgio, Tekko and/or Tonio.

In the based-on-the-screenplay book by Michael Avallone, Franco is one of five demolition-team swimmers.

Cassuto, called Joseph in the New York Times review of the film but Giuseppe in the credits, was  likely the boy from Israel referred to in a 1969 article in The Forum, the student newspaper of Notre Dame International School in Rome. He lives in Israel today. 


To come: The "action boys"

Friday, January 13, 2023

8. Daniel Dempsey was Giorgio


Giorgio, played by Daniel Dempsey, is the tallish, thin boy, about 14, in the ripped russet-striped shirt and long trousers. He gets a closeup as a lookout, letting out one of the gang's long bird-call warning whistles. He's one of the gunners in the back of the truck as it barrels through Reanoto, on the driver's side next to Dino. He's one of the four boys atop the Della Norte dam and is the one who informs Turner of the fate of their comrade. He also has the thankless job of being made to pee in front of a sentry (although he doesn't have to!) a moment that drew a roar of laughter from the entire movie theater.

In many scenes, Giorgio can be seen just behind Dino, and to his left. Certainly with their thin faces and light hair there's a resemblance: perhaps they were intended to be brothers (or maybe he was just a loyal follower). Like John Fordyce, Dempsey was American. There's Irish in his eyes and the shape of his nose. He's often seen in close-up and gets several important lines, including: "We wouldn't have gone through with it," which serves to redeem the gang for their savage behavior in the cave a few hours before. 

Always close to Dino

 "Giorgio" was originally conceived to be a small boy. In the Michael Avallone based-on-the-screenplay book, he is the child who flags down the German truck, Bianca tied up by his side. This scene went to Carlo in the film. Avallone describes him in the cave: Little Giorgio was pitiful with a submachine gun cradled in his thin arms. It is he, and not Carlo, who begs to come along because he knows all the whistle signals.  "We wouldn't have gone through with it," was originally Tekko's line. 


1980: As a sixth-grader, I was obsessed with Giorgio -- but not in the expected way. I had a crush, and that was Tekko; Giorgio was my anti-crush. I drew him in the margins of my school notebooks and turned him into a monster of sorts. I guess his ranginess, his obvious mid-adolescence and the mock-peeing made me uneasy. 

2023: Daniel Dempsey is the only one of the 15 boys I haven't managed to find on-line. I have no idea how he came to be in Hornet's Nest and what he did afterwards.


Text © 2023 by Lakambini Sitoy

Screenshots from Hornet's Nest, United Artists, 1970.

NEXT: Franco.

TO COME: The action boys, "Painted faces and long hair"

Saturday, January 7, 2023

7. Daniel Keller was Tekko

THE two young boys stroll up the road towards the armed German sentries, their faces relaxed and guileless. As they reach the men, the boy in stripes says, "Hey, capitano, give us a sigaretta." The audience erupts in laughter. It's an experience that was universal for boys throughout the 60s and 70s -- cadging a smoke off mock-severe adults.

Nearly everyone who has seen or written about Hornet's Nest knows this boy as "Paolo". It's what Captain Turner called him:  "Paolo, Carlo, do your stuff".  It's a lovely name and it suits him and it goes perfectly with "Carlo." But this boy wasn't Paolo. He was Tekko.

Tekko is easy to spot throughout the movie. He has long straight brown hair and wears faded brown shorts, sneakers and that grubby striped t-shirt. He speaks his numerous lines in a high clear voice and an accent that is part American and part Italian, breaking in on the knot of boys around Turner to warn them of trucks across the river, and querying Aldo about his adventure with the girl in Venice. He's the kid who stumbles (or is shoved) while carrying a rucksack of dynamite, triggering a confrontation between Turner and Aldo and the erosion of Aldo's authority. In the truck scene, he's on the driver's side, between Giorgio and Franco. He's one of the six boys who strip down to their skivvies (or less) to splash around and taunt the guards atop the dam. He's in two of the movie posters as well.

Tekko enables things to happen, facilitating action or confrontation between main characters. Towards the end of the movie, the need to drive the plot through dialogue is lessened and he merges with the group.

In the first iteration of the screenplay (and the Avallone novelization), he is everywhere: He gets special mention in the would-be rape, redeems the boys the following morning by claiming that they wouldn’t have gone through with it, distracts the guards by swapping strawberries for cigarettes, drives the truck through Reanoto while Turner throws the hand grenades, and is a demolition swimmer. All that and he's twelve.  

1969: Tekko was played by Daniel Keller, a 14-year old American originally from New York. He'd celebrated his bar mitzvah the year before (the venue was the Great Synagogue in Rome) and was a student at the American Overseas School in Rome when he and some schoolmates were interviewed for a role in the film. The production, he told me, was looking for native speakers of American English. He'd had extensive work dubbing Italian movie lines into English for international release, though he says this was not related to his being cast.

Publicity shot of Daniel Keller by Claudio Patriarca, 1969

1980-81: I had a big crush on this boy when I was 11 and 12. I would draw him in my school notebooks and write stories featuring him (who I called "Paolo"). Part of the reason may have been his look -- with the straight hair and long oval face he stood out from the others. And part of it must have been that mischievous quality, that vitality. And the smile. In the close-ups, the gang look sad, or hard-eyed and dead serious, or they are laughing and jeering at the enemy. Tekko is the only boy who gets to smile.

I believed without question that the actor playing Tekko was Italian. My sister and I even gave him an appropriate name in our make-up world: Stefano Sigaretto. (We saw Hornet's Nest in a theater and didn't catch the names of anyone in the cast). Daniel's ancestors, however, can be traced to Ukraine, Poland and Romania. So he expanded the visual definition of "Italian" to my young mind. Nationality after all is not represented by mono-ethnicity, nor a single look.

I found Dan's website in late 2022, and to my great delight have been corresponding with him. Our emails can be found on the Il Vespaio page of his website:

Tekko is "Paolo" in the Spanish dub of the film as well.  Even Dan doesn't know how this happened: 
"(Rock Hudson) was probably reciting lines from a script that was on paper and not up to date. In those days, the word processor was a typewriter." (Email of December 30, D. Keller to L. Sitoy, on )

See also: 

Below is a 1969 article in The Forum, the student newspaper of Notre Dame International School in Rome:

Text © 2023 by Lakambini Sitoy

Screenshots from Hornet's Nest, United Artists, 1970. Publicity headshot and scan of student paper article courtesy of D. Keller.

To come: Poppies, what a call sheet tells you

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

6. Mauro Gravina was Carlo


Mauro Gravina played Carlo. Carlo is one of the smaller boys, but yearns to be part of the action. In the beginning he has to beg Aldo to let him come along to find a doctor to treat Turner's injuries, demonstrating that he knows all the bird calls and whistles the gang uses to alert one another of approaching danger. Silvio shoves him in the chest: "You're too young, Carlo." But come along Carlo does, and as the movie progresses he sees more and more action, memorably pulling pins out of hand grenades and passing them up for Turner to lob at German soldiers.

It's the ones we are to sympathise with who are the most angelic, so with his large wide-set eyes, rosebud lips and soft dark curls, Carlo tugs at our heartstrings as we follow him all the way to the top of the Della Norte dam.  


Carlo's role is a major one, but it was not originally so. In the novel by Michael Avallone, clearly based on an earlier draft of the screenplay and published in 1970 to tie in with the film's release, Carlo is 12, one of the "older boys," and apart from some lines when the boys retrieve the unconscious Turner, and the crucial role he plays in the firefight atop the dam, he is a background presence. The job of flagging down the German truck before the attack on Reanoto goes to a small boy called Giorgio. And it is Turner who pulls the grenades out of a bag, arms them and throws them, as Tekko, another 12-year-old, drives the truck. The reader gets the notion that this Carlo is expendable. Carlo does, however, get to cut the phone wires, leaving the Germans in Reanoto unable to call for help, a scene that is not in the movie.


Mauro Gravina, born 1957, was 12 at the time of filming, and Hornet's Nest was his second screen role. He has achieved considerable success in Italy's dubbing industry, where voice actors are stars in their own right.  

Text © 2023 by Lakambini Sitoy

Screenshots from Hornet's Nest 

5. John Fordyce was Dino


DINO is the oldest and the tallest, blond-haired, blue-eyed and with a perpetual set to the jaw. It is as though he has to constantly restrain himself from throwing a punch at Aldo, with whom he frequently shares the screen. He is older brother to Mario and Maria and appears to have a close or familial connection with Giorgio (Daniel Dempsey) who is often (albeit unobtrusively) by his side. 

He is the cool-headed check to the mercurial Aldo. He is disgusted by the attempted rape and tells Aldo so, no doubt distancing himself from the role he played in it. He sabotages Aldo’s tale of the girl in Venice by referring to a fact they both know. The two boys appear to go a long way back; perhaps he is familiar with Aldo’s ticks and knows the leader’s tipping point, as well as his own.

He is not Aldo’s second in command. Their relationship is too complicated for that. Aldo speaks to him harshly (as he does to Luigi, Silvio, Tekko, Carlo and undoubtedly the rest) but never entrusts charge of the group to him. Aldo is annoyed when Dino receives a compliment from Turner for his scouting skills: it’s implied that Turner prefers to do business with the more mature and reliable teenager. Dino is Turner's choice for his second-in-command. 

Perhaps Dino knows Aldo too well to attempt to gain authority over the gang. They have guns, and Aldo has his loyal followers among the bigger boys. Dino, who has family that will need looking after, has a lot to lose should things go wrong. 


Here’s an excerpt of a New York Times article by Alfred Friendly Jr., dated Feb. 1, 1970 (“Mama Mia! Rome Is No Place to Be a Movie Star”):

… John Fordyce, on the other hand, seems to be making it. A 19‐year‐old American with a shag of blond hair, a gleam of even teeth, a lithe, athletic build and a minimal capacity for introspection, John has the advantage of having lived for years in Rome and of knowing the territory. He was “discovered” in 1967 at the chic, free‐form swimming pool of the Parco Dei Principi Hotel and sent off to Yugoslavia for a screen test and then the lead role in director Andrezej Wajda's “Gates of Paradise,” a still unreleased success at film festivals in Berlin and San Francisco.

John's next break came last year, as a result of his friendship with a chauffeur who often drives visiting film people. “I walked into the Colony Restaurant on the Via. Veneto, and my friend introduced me to the director he was driving that day and gave me a big build‐up as an actor.” He soon had a supporting role as the leader of a band of war orphans in a Rock Hudson‐Sylva Koscina movie called “The Hornet's Nest.”

John recently signed with the William Morris Agency and has four lines and fourth billing in a low‐budget Warner Brothers film called “Invasion,” which is being made at Cinecitta. On the set the other day he reflected, “I like fantasy. I always wanted to be Tarzan when I was a little boy. The best part in ‘The Hornet's Nest’ for me is where we kids get hold of machine guns and mow down about a thousand Germans.”

He is serious about being an actor, studies Stanislayski without yet understanding all of it and is a patient watcher of everything that goes on around him. About starting a film career in Italy, he is philosophical. “If they like your character here, you'll do fine, but it's not your talent that counts. That's where I'm lucky, because I was sort of brought up with these people. There are so many great actors here who can't get anywhere and a lot of bad ones doing really well. I haven't really had any experience, but here I am, working when others aren't.”

10. Action boys and English boys

  THE THREE young actors Daniel Keller, Daniel Dempsey and Joseph Cassuto -- plus a fourth, the slender boy in a white shirt – form a gro...