Obituary: Robert Rietti
Actor known as 'The Man of a Thousand Voices' whose fruity tones dubbed the dialogue of scores of stars
Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30
Robert Rietti, who has died aged 92, was an actor known as "The Man of a Thousand Voices" and "King of the Dubs".
There was a time when his deep and fruity tones could be heard at the cinema almost every time an actor playing a character with a foreign name appeared on screen, whether he was a James Bond villain, Napoleon Bonaparte or an Italian gangster. When the shark-loving Emilio Largo (played by Adolfo Celi) in Thunderball (1965) utters the words "Every man has his passion - mine is fishing. What is yours, Mr Bond?", it is Rietti's voice that is heard.
His work was mostly uncredited, but in Waterloo (1970) he provided the voices of a total of 98 different people, while in the Agatha Christie film And Then There Were None (1974) he ended up having conversations with himself. He worked on a total of eight Bond films, also directing the post-production synching (adding the dubbed soundtrack to the film), and dubbed Jack Hawkins in his last 10 films after the actor had his entire larynx removed following throat cancer. For his work as sound editor on the gangster movie Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Rietti was nominated for a Golden Reel Award.
He was born Lucio Herbert Rietti into a Jewish family in Paddington, west London, on February 8, 1923. His father, Vittorio Rietti, was a distinguished actor and director who had moved to Britain from Ferrara in Italy, where members of the family had lived since the 13th century. One of his ancestors was physician to a pope and is said to have carried out the first known blood transfusion on the pontiff.
From an early age young Lucio wanted to follow his father on to the stage. As a child he created a theatre in the family garage where he put on entertainments for friends. In 1932, at the age of nine, he joined his father's theatre company under the name Bobby Rietti and impressed the critics as Poor Joe in an adaptation of Dickens's Bleak House on the London stage.
He made his screen debut as the page boy Fattorino in the Monty Banks comedy Heads We Go (1933) and appeared in several more films during the 1930s.
Both he and his father encountered prejudice, however, due to their foreign origins, and in the late 1930s the pair decided to try their luck in Italy, where Robert was offered a scholarship to the Italian Academy. With fascism in full swing, however, the award was withdrawn when it became known that he was Jewish, and father and son were forced to retire from one show after the audience began hurling anti-Semitic insults.
Returning to Britain, at the outbreak of the Second World War Robert, his brother and father were interned as enemy aliens. Robert was interned for five months in a Liverpool prison, where he was set upon by fellow internees, members of the British Union of Fascists, and was saved from serious injury by the intervention of members of an Italian razor gang.
His career as a child performer led to postwar work as a screen actor, and he made credited appearances, mostly in character roles, in a number of films, among them The Italian Job (1969); Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971); The Omen (1976) and Hannibal (2001). He also made guest appearances on television series such as The Avengers. But it was as a dubbing and radio performer that he became best known. He worked with Orson Welles on his US Forces Radio series The Third Man (1951) and The Black Museum (1952), the first two of many collaborations with the actor, whose voice he would also dub (as Long John Silver) in the film Treasure Island (1972). In 1979 he re-recorded all Robert Shaw's dialogue in Avalanche Express after the star's death, when the original recording turned out to be unusable.
Rietti was a prominent member of the Orthodox Jewish community in London. Rietti translated and adapted Italian plays into English, and was awarded a knighthood by the Italian government. In 2000 he was nominated for a Bafta special award for outstanding work.
Rietti's wife Tina predeceased him. He is survived by their two sons, one of whom is an Orthodox rabbi, and two daughters.