Thursday 18 February 2021

The Dextrols Touch - Part Two - A Memoir in which Barrie Pattison remembers the glory days of random alternates in Sydney cinema going. - Cinema all' Italiana

Interior of the Loco Cinestar a
Melbourne venue which in the 60s
screened un-subtitled Italian-language films

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a memoir by Sydney supercinephile Barrie Pattison in which he records the days when screenings of vast numbers of  Italian film took place in out of the way venues across the nation. Part One which records memories of among others tracking down Greek and Indian cinema can be found 
if you click here


The contemporary Italian circuit was more interesting from a movie enthusiast point of view. It grew to the point of importing forty films a year for screening round the country. Some titles would run for seven weeks in a two thousand seat theatre in Melbourne, playing near capacity.


The big successes were however major Hollywood hits dubbed into Italian - The Ten Commandments, Rocky, The Sound of Music, The Godfather and Gone with the Wind.

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Mt Lawley, Perth

Revealingly a genuinely Italian production did match these figures, Luigi Zampa’s 1971 Bello, onesto, emigrato Australia sposerebbe compaesana illibata/A Girl in Australia, a nice comedy in which Italian migrant Alberto Sordi tries to bring a mail order bride with old country virtue to Australia and gets fugitive whore Claudia Cardinale.

Alberto Sordi, Claudia Cardinale,
Bello, onesto, emigrato Australia sposerebbe
compaesana illibata/A girl in Australia


The Italian material covers a surprising time scale because there was an on-going demand for each wave of Australian Italians to see the films which they remember from before they left the old country. You could still see Guido Brignone’s 1941 Mamma/Mother with opera singing Beniamino Gigli’s white haired mum Emma Gramatica sorting out his flighty spouse, when not praying to the Madonna. Ferzetti in ill-fitting suits romances leading ladies with Marcel waves. Brignone’s ponderous (1944) Maria Malibran/The Genius and the Nightingale featuring a young Rossano Brazzi had a script by Thea (Metropolis) von Harbou or we got Armando Fizzarotti’s 1947 Malaspina offering divided lovers headed for jail and the nunnery or Giuseppe De Santis’1950 Non c'è pace tra gli ulivi / No Peace Among the Olive Trees. These were succeeded by the seemingly endless cycle of Raffaello Matarazzo’s weepies with Yvonne Sanson and Amadeo Nazzari in bilious Ferraniacolor  - Tormento, Malonconico, Che e’senza peccato.

Folco Lulli (r) Non c'è pace tra gli ulivi / No Peace 
Among the Olive Trees,
(Giuseppe De Santis)


Toto in black and white gives way to the knockabout of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. It was only when one of these turned up with sub-titles that I realised the pair really were funny. Asked by an employer for their qualifications Franco explains that in Sicily Ciccio and his brother were known as “bread & work.” The boss is impressed at having someone so industrious only to find that Ciccio ate the bread while his brother Franco did all the work. This pair’s unique status is examined in Daniele Ciprì and Franco Maresco’s 2004 documentary Come inguaiammo il cinema italiano - La vera storia di Franco e Ciccio/How We Ruined the Italian Movie Business.


In a perverse way, they get to be the ultimate expression of Ethnic circuit movies.

Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia

We also had a cross section of fifties adventures - Amedeo Nazzari as Corsican Brothers, Ricardo Montalban as a Shiek in CinemaScope. Throw in Mafia thrillers like (nephew of Luchino) Eriprando Visconti’s  superior 1972 Carlo Ponti production Il caso Pisciotta  with Tony Musante. From there it’s an odd step to balding, paunchy, singing Godfather Pino Mauri in films like Tiziano Longo’s 1977 Onore e guapparia  and Nello Rossati’s 1978 I figli non si toccano!/Don't Touch the Children!


The westerns a were more interesting thread. Leone’s Dollars trilogy turned up in copies that were more complete, sharper and had a fuller range of colours than the ones we were used to. Giuliano Carnimeo’s 1972 Il West ti va stretto, amico... è arrivato Alleluja is similarly more impressive than it’s dubbed counterpart re-birthed as The West Is Tough, Amigo... Alleluja's Here/Return of Halleluja credited to an Anthony Ascot. The scene where George Hilton (Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara) spikes the drinks of  Maximilian’s troopers and then snaps his Zorro whip along their exposed members as they urinate against the wall is cringe inducing startling. 

George Hilton (Jorge Hill Acosta y Lara)
The West Is Tough, Amigo... Alleluja's Here/
Return of Halleluja 

Western specialist Duccio Tessari is represented by the handsome 1971 Viva la muerte... tua!/Long Live ... Your Death with Franco Nero and Eli Wallach trading in gags, barbed wire nooses and hanged men against skeleton back cloths. 


Parallel with these run the musicals, amiable, unremarkable and played against pretty scenery. In the tradition of Gigli and Tajoli come Gianni Morandi, Little Tony and the duo of Al Bano and Romina (daughter of Tyrone) Power. The stars would tour Australia giving live concerts.

Romina Power, Al Bano

In this unlikely body of work there are welcome surprises. Ettore Maria Fizzarotti, the director who specialised in these, had Morricone doing some of his first scores and once fielded a youthful, barbered Giancarlo Giannini twisting with Lola Falana in the cheery 1967 Stasera me butto. Singer Mino Reitano is the dramatic lead in Amasi Damiani’s intriguing 1971 Tara Pokì,  a curious, modest production from the Calabrian film industry. The film is full of folklorico detail - Mino proposes in the traditional way by carving his intended’s name on a tree stump and leaving it on Aliza Adar’s family porch. The finale is set in an American Wild West totally unlike the efforts of the spaghetti western producers. 

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Five Dock, Sydney


The biggest star on the Italian circuit was another singer become actor, burly Adriano Celentano. He can be glimpsed leading the first pop group to perform in La Dolce vita. The biggest star in Italy in the seventies and eighties, he is virtually unknown outside Europe because he refused to travel by plane or boat. His later TV show Realpolitic is credited with swaying the Italian election against Berlusconi. 

Adriano Celentano,
Er più: storia d'amore e di coltello


Celentano’s films are unexpected and accomplished. He is the lead in Pietro Germi’s excellent 1968 Serafino, co-stars with Sophia Loren in Alberto Lattuada’s 1972 remake of The White Sister and is the star of the curious historical-political 1971 Le cinque giornate,  the one Dario Agento film not to get wide English language distribution. Celentano often appears with his wife Claudia Mori and has directed TV series and features including  1975 Yuppi du with Charlotte Rampling, along with Mori and their daughter Rosita.


Celentano is the lead of a couple of Pasquale Festa Campanile’s elegant costume melodramas, the 1975 Rugantino and 1973’s L'emigrante/Little Funny Guy. He got along well with co-star Anthony Quinn on the 1976 Bluff storia di truffe e di imbroglioni/The Con Artists and was in the 1983 episode film Sing Sing  both of these directed by Sergio Corbucci.


However the most remarkable Celentano-Corbucci collaboration is the 1971 Er più: storia d'amore e di coltello  about a turn of the century feud between Roman fishmongers and butchers, complete with a ritual knife duel, a fight with flounders and a variation on the Truth Game which they say is still played in Melbourne.  


This is not an area where directors dominate but if you have to pick out a leading ethnic movie maker, Sergio Corbucci is the man. He even did 1967’s Bersaglio mobile/Death On the Run in Greece where we recognise faces from the Finos movies Mentioned in Part One and he handled a series of burlesques of famous movies. From the 1961 Totò, Peppino e... la dolce vita  re-creating Fellini’s nocturnal street lighting intriguingly, through  Franco and Ciccio in his 1965 I figli del leopardo, taking  on the Visconti heavyweight, with characteristic split screen footage where Ciccio plays both the Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale characters in the same shot and their 1963 Il giorno più corto/The Shortest Day, doing the Fox film from a distance their lawyers approve and backing the duo with every nameplayer in Italy prepared to walk through the shot - Stewart Granger, Steve Reeves, Buster Keaton.  Add I due marescialli/The Two Marshals (1961) a reworking of La Traversée de Paris with Toto & Vittorio de Sica and the 1975 Il bianco, il giallo, il nero/The White, the Yellow and the Black which took off Red Sun with Giuliano Gemma, Eli Wallach and Thomas Milian in the Toshiro Mifune role. An uneven director, Corbucci’s best work has an impudence and vigour that many famous film makers could only envy.


Celentano was somehow exiled from the Commedia all'italiana, the mother lode in the Italian cinema of the era, dominated by four actors - Alberto Sordi, Nino Manfredi, Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman.Their work was known abroad and, unlike Celentano, they worked with celebrity directors.


Only Sordi’s films disappoint on closer examination than we got from those odd festival showings and dubbed TV. Not much joy is to be had with him in Steno’s 1954 Un giorno in pretura/A Day in Court or Antonio Petrucci’s 1970 faded Ferraniacolor Il matrimonio but the colour and the films get better, like Luigi Filippo D'Amico’s 1970  Il presidente

del Borgorosso Football Club, a departure from the Sordi formula where we enjoy seeing his obnoxious character get his comeuppance. Here he inherits a soccer team that provides escape from his dominating, priest-ridden mother into a world of good food and popularity.

Nino Manfredi, Delia Boccardo, Per grazia ricevuta

Nino Manfredi comes into his own in the 1971 anti-clerical Per grazia ricevuta which he directed himself, with a broken time structure, great parts for himself and Lionel Stander and a wide anti-Catholic streak characteristic of the Italian comedy. Best scene has Stander pacing outside the church he refuses to enter, psyching Manfredi out of marrying Stander’s daughter Delia Bocardo. Manfredi also figured in items like the ubiquitous Dino Risi’s glossy Operazione San Gennaro and is the put upon father in the 1970 Contestazione generale/Let's Have a Riot again directed by Luigi Zampa, who we all

thought was dead, none of his later work having surfaced since his 1947 neo-realist hit Vivere in pace.

Ugo Tognazzi, Nicolette Machiavelli,
Questione d’onore

Zampa also handled Tognazzi’s 1965 Questione d’onore possibly the best movie in the Italian catalogues. Ugo is a simple salt miner who seasons his mother’s soup by brushing his hair into it. He becomes involved in the local (Sardinian for a change) blood feud. Bernard Blier has had the good life as head of his family business while his aged father was locked away for a feud killing. Released, the old man takes his place at the head of the table, leaps into the saddle and sets out to kill off one of the rival family. They take him down, which means that, after his years of soft living, Bernard is supposed to grab a shot gun and avenge him, ensuring his own death or imprisonment. What he needs is for someone outside the reciprocating family murder structure to take the blame - Ugo. Beautifully played and filmed this one comes with a bitter twist. It belongs in international repertory.


Tognazzi became a less prestigious performer but his work is full of surprising, smart material. Franco Giraldi’s bitter La supertestimone 1971 has pimp Ugo sent to jail by prim Monica Vitti’s eye witness testimony. There he courts and marries her and, when released, he puts her on the streets, which she is delighted about. This proved a bit raw for international showing. Lattuada’s amusing 1970 Venga a prendere il caffè... da noi has accountant Ugo seducing the imposing sister trio of  Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Angela Goodwin and Milena Vukotic and he steals René Clément’s riotous 1961 Che gioia vivere which played here in its Italian version. 


Vittorio Gassman,Senza famiglia, nullatenenti
cercano affetto/Without Family

The stand out however is Vittorio Gassman, whose range and capability will astound English language viewers who think of him as a failed Hollywood Latin lover. See him do the white faced Scarpia of Luigi Magni’s sumptuous colour 1973 Tosca with Monica Vitti and an original Armando Trovajoli score. They cut Gassman out of  the local copy of Zampa’s Contestazione Generale but he stars in a string of Dino Risi comedies. He fronts his own surreal 1972 Senza famiglia, nullatenenti cercano affetto/Without Family  which offers a public hospital where they have two patients in every bed, Maoists led by priest staging a housing demo and a city dump with a mountain of multi-coloured plastic bottles. I recommend it as Fellini without the tedium and remain curious about the other five movies Gassman directed.

Vittorio Gassman, Che c'entriamo noi con la rivoluzione?/
What am I doing in the middle of a revolution
(Sergio Corbucci, 1972)

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