The Thieves, aka I ladri

i ladri

i ladri

87 minutes
Produced by Roberto Capitani and Luigi Mondello for ICM (Rome) and Fenix Film (Madrid)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Story & screenplay: Giacomo Furia, Ottavio Jemma, Lucio Fulci
Cinematography: Manuel Berenguer
Music: Carlo Innocenzi
Art direction: Guido Pericoli
Cast: Armando Calvo (Joe Castagnola), Totò (Commissioner di Savio), Giacomo Furia (Vincenzo Scognamiglio), Enzo Turco (Brig. Nocella), Giovanna Ralli (Maddalena, Scognamiglio’s wife), Juanjo Menéndez (Salvatore, Vincenzo’s brother), Rafael Luis Calvo (don Antonio Ciardella), Félix Fernández (Doctor Ascione), Leopoldo Valentini (a policeman), Maria Luisa Rolando (Concetta Improta), Renato De Simone (Alberto, Vincenzo’s uncle), Fred Buscaglione (himself)

The Thieves is a 1959 vehicle for the hugely popular Italian comic Totò, which plays on the tenets of the American gangster genre in a very Italianesque fashion.  A Spanish co-production, it was produced by Luigi Mondello and Roberto Capitani, who were better known for their work in the peplum genre but who also had a hand in assorted polizieschi, from The Barrier of the Law (54) to The Paid with Bullets (69).  And it’s also of some historical interest for being the debut of Lucio Fulci, who would go on to have a long and fruitful career directing horror films (and other genre fare).

When the notorious Italo-American gangster Joe Castagnato (Armando Calvo) turns up in Naples – on the run from the States after committing a series of daring robberies – it doesn’t do anything to lower the blood-pressure of excitable local Commissioner Di Savio (Totò), who’s quite rightly convinced that his declarations of having retired from criminal life are little more than a ruse.  He’s also certain that Castagnato has smuggled the proceeds of his illicit activities into the country, a stash worth many millions of lira, although nobody seems to know quite where he’s hidden it.

Félix Fernández, Enzo Turco and Totò in I ladri

Félix Fernández, Enzo Turco and Totò in I ladri

Nobody, that is, except the hapless Vincenzo Scognamiglio (Giacomo Furia), a layabout who steals a jar of jam from a packing case by the harbour and discovers it to be full of English pound coins.  After consulting with his savvy wife, Maddalena (Giovanni Ralli), his sleepy brother (Juanjo Menéndez) and his kleptomaniac Uncle (Roberto De Simone), they figure he must have stumbled across the gangster’s elusive loot and decide to sell the information of its whereabouts to him.  Castagnato agrees to give them a percentage, but only if they help him further by breaking into the secure warehouse where the cases are now locked up and nabbing them (again).  In the meantime, he also has another plan afoot: breaking into the safe of the very same fence to who they’re planning to sell the purloined pounds and stealing the substantial wad of ready cash he has stored there.  Inevitably, things go wrong.

Obviously much influenced by Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street, this is an entertaining comedy that’s rather old fashioned but nonetheless rather good fun.  With its black and cinematography, reliance on studio settings and rather theatrical feel, it’s a film that really makes clear just how much Italian cinema changed over the course of the early 1960s.  The way in which these kinds of low budget films were made – according to a workshop methodology with a group of experienced artisans and established crews, tight deadlines and modest means – didn’t change, but the style and look developed enormously.

That said, Fulci’s direction is pretty decent, especially for a debutant, and it feels far more cinematic than many similar productions of the time.  There are a couple of sequences which have a truly cinematic feel – the raid on the warehouse, a really quite cool Fred Buscaglione song and dance routine (complete with zoot-suited gangsters and a stripping moll) – and it’s put together with some vim, managing to be both playful and effective.  It’s a b-movie, for sure, shot with an eye on the profit margin, but it’s a good b-movie, and it’s not difficult to see that Fulci had the ability to go further.

Armando Calvo and Totò in I ladri

Armando Calvo and Totò in I ladri

Those looking for some kind of subtext might be interested in the way that, as with many of these gangster movie parodies made in Italy, it pits a sophisticated American hoodlum against a range of Italian idiots who somehow – and quite accidentally – manage to finally put him behind bars, something which the high-powered, super organised FBI have been notably unable to do.  So is it a celebration of the slapdash European way if doing things?  Well, perhaps.  Or perhaps it’s just an easy way of getting a laugh, and any film which features a lengthy hula-hoop scene can’t be bad.

Although ostensibly a vehicle for Totò, it’s actually an ensemble piece, and Furia and Ralli – who make for an astonishingly unlikely married couple – have just as much of the screen time.  In fact, despite his tendency to gabble, Totò’s character is a wily old bird, far from the imbeciles usually played by Franco and Ciccio or the self-deluded dreamers of Alberto Sordi.  Apparently, Totò agreed to appear as a favour to Fulci, who was a friend of his.  The most charismatic performer, though, is Armando Calvo, who has a peach of a role and pulls it off nicely; he’d go on to have a busy career in Italo-Spanish co-productions throughout the sixties, often playing similarly smooth villains.

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Latest news on Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen

OK, I’m pleased to announce that all the design, layout and proofing work for our first WildEye book, Fantastikal, Diabolikal, Supermen, has been finished!  This means that all we now have to do is send the final documents off to the printer, sit back and wait for it all to be delivered…  So, hopefully it should be available in about a month, just in time for the Christmas rush (achem).

A few details: it’s 98 pages long, 8 of them on glorious full colour, printed on 130gsm coated paper and with a glossy colour cover.  The retail price will be £12.99 and it will (eventualy) be available through Ebay, Amazon etc etc.  I’ll also be selling it here – expect a shop to appear very shortly – for a knockdown price of c£9.99 + postage.

Here’s the back cover blurb for your delectation:

During the early 1960s, Italy was gripped by a new craze: adult comic books, known as fumetti neri, which pushed out the boat in terms of sex and violence. Characters such as Diabolik, Kriminal and Sadik became household names, not least because of repeated concerns voiced about their dubious morality in the conservative press. And film producers, never slow to spot a trend, quickly leapt on the bandwagon.

Fantastikal, Diabolikal Supermen is the first ever English language book to cover the curious genre that resulted. As well as including detailed reviews of over 30 films, from better known titles like Diabolik to obscurities such as The Devil’s Man and Three Supermen of the West, it also examines them in the light of the wider Italian film industry at the time, detailing how the cine-fumetti related to other trends such as Eurospy films and Spaghetti Westerns.

Featuring relevant excerpts from interviews with the actors and directors concerned and lavishly illustrated with numerous lobby cards, photos and posters, this is an invaluable reference guide to an otherwise ignored and forgotten cinematic phenomenon.

And I can now also give you a sneak preview of how it’s going to look, check out the images below…

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen front cover

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen front cover


Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen example page spread

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen example page spread

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen example page spread

Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen example colour spread

Don’t hesitate to post a comment or email if you’ve any questions!

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Italian film locations: Il Castello di Balsorano

Il Castello di Balsorano

Il Castello di Balsorano

Anyone who’s watched more than a handful of Italian genre films will be familiar with Il Castello di Balsorano.  An imposing structure, situated midway between Marsica and Valle Roveto in Abruzzo, it was built in 1470 on the remains of a previous fortification in the centre of a substantial park area.

From the early 1960s onwards, it became a popular film location.  It was a staple in gothic horror films, from early examples such as The Bloody Pit of Horror and Crypt of the Vampire to later genre outings such as The Reincarnation of Isabel and The Devils Wedding Night…  what you might notice from these examples is that it was particularly favoured by films at the lower end of the production scale with directors like Renato Polselli, Massimo Pupillo, Luigi Batzella and Angelo Dorigo (who shot both of his obscure early giallos, A come assassino and Assassino senza volto there)).

Il Castello di Balsorano

It later became a fixture in decameroticons, featuing in the likes of Continuavano a mettere lo diavolo ne lo inferno, Metti lo diavolo tuo ne lo mio inferno and Tales of Canterbury.

The most popular films it appeared in  – in Italy, at any rate – were comedies such as Bollenti spiriti (in which it – as well as a sex mad ghost that lives within it – are inherited by Johnny Dorelli) and the Franco and Ciccio vhicle Farfallon.  Although these are of possibly less interest to cult film afficionados than the likes of Sister Emanuelle and Malabimba, which were also filmed there.

According to Carla Mancina, it was also a hotel at the time most of these films were made, which meant that crews would also stay there while filming, and there was some talk of it being haunted (she recalls one occassion in which an unnamed actress claimed to have been raped by the ghost during the night!)

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Giorgio Simonelli

Due mafiosi contro goldginger

Due mafiosi contro goldginger

Just finished watching two silly but moderately entertaining films with Franco & Ciccio: I due mafiosi (63) and I due mafiosi contro Al Capone (65).  As always with Franco & Ciccio films, they’re a take them or leave them affair, but once again I was struck by the skill with which they were made on a small budget (you can only really appreciate this when watching decent prints of their films).  Franco & Ciccio actually made a series of films as ‘I due mafiosi’, also including I due mafiosi contro Goldginger (65) and I due mafiosi nel far west (64) – although in all honesty they’re really playing Franco & Ciccio as always, and the ‘Due mafiosi’ title might as well have been Franco & Ciccio contro Al Capone (etc etc).  Anyway, all these films were directed by Giorgio Simonelli, a filmmaker who had an interesting career but whose films are little known outside of Italy.

Born in 1906 in Rome, after acheiving his diploma (in business), Simonelli became a journalist and began writing film criticism in journals like Gente nostra and Avvenimento while still a young man.  In 1928, at the age of 22, he collaborated with Nicola Fausto Neroni in directing Maratona, and two years later he was among the writers of the first Italian film made with sound, La canzone dell’amore, directed by G. Righelli. After serving as an assitant to both Righelli and Guido Brignone, by 1934 he was occupied mainly as an editor, working on films for directors like Pasinetti, Alessandrini, Mastrocinque, Gallone and others.  In the same period he was appointed by Emilio Cecchi (the director of Cines) to produce the official film magazine of the company, which covered topical events of the previous year.  In the 1940s he moved into directing, while still continuing his other activities, specialising in comedies and acheiving some success with films starring the likes of Toto, the De Filippo brothers, Taranto, Rascek, Chiari, Tognazzi, Macario, Sordi and Fabrizi.  He concluded his career with a series of films starring Franco & Ciccio.

He died in 1966, having made over 60 films, many of which were box office successes, and being an important figure in the establishment of the Italian film industry.  He was survived by his son Giovanni (who became an extremely prolific screenwriter).  Curiously, he also received a credit some 10 years after his death, as co-director of Amici più di prima, a film made up of archive Franco & Ciccio footage.

If any else has any information or opinions about Giorgio Simonelli, please comment below!

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Interview with Carole André

Here’s an italian language piece on the actress Carole André that appeared in La Stampa on the 16th October, primarily about her role in Sergio Sollima’s Sandokan:

Era una fanciulla di 16 o 17 anni, dalla taglia piccola, ma snella ed elegante, dalle forme superbamente modellate, dalla cintura così stretta che una sola mano sarebbe bastata per circondarla, dalla pelle rosea e fresca come un fiore appena sbocciato. Aveva una testolina ammirabile con due occhi azzurri come l’acqua del mare, una fronte d’incomparabile precisione, sotto la quale spiccavano due sopracciglia leggiadramente arcuate e che quasi si toccavano. Una capigliatura bionda le scendeva in pittoresco disordine, come una pioggia d’oro, sul bianco busticino che le copriva il seno».

Così, negli Anni 80 dell’800, Emilio Salgari vide Marianna Guillonk, la perla più preziosa dell’isola di Labuan, ed esattamente così la vedemmo, quasi cent’anni dopo, tutti noi, la sera del 6 gennaio 1976, quando sul primo canale Rai andò in onda la prima puntata dello sceneggiato tv tratto dai racconti di Salgari. Carole André aveva poco più di vent’anni, ed era perfetta. Era la Perla di Labuan: «Sergio Sollima, il regista, aveva scritto la sceneggiatura con me in mente.

Ci conoscevamo bene, nel 1967 a 14 anni avevo girato il mio primo film con lui, Faccia a faccia, un western con Gian Maria Volonté e Tomas Milian, e per convincermi a fare Sandokan disse che senza di me avrebbe rinunciato a dirigerlo. Io non volevo farlo, avevo perso mia madre da poco, mio padre viveva negli Stati Uniti, non avevo alcuna intenzione di andare sei mesi in Asia a fare un film di sei ore. Ma Sollima insistette, e mi permise di tornare a casa quando la troupe si spostò dalla Malesia all’India. Lui diceva che io e Kabir Bedi, che si era pagato il biglietto aereo per venire a fare i provini a Roma, eravamo assolutamente necessari, insostituibili. E così accettai».

E fu subito successo. Un successo immediato e travolgente. «Avevo lavorato con Fellini, Visconti, Brusati, Risi, Ferreri, ero considerata un’attrice seria, drammatica, una ragazza promettente adatta a ruoli pesanti, difficili, intensi, facevo un cinema che non ti dava quel genere di popolarità. Invece, dalla sera in cui fu trasmessa la prima puntata di Sandokan non potevo più uscire di casa, i paparazzi mi seguivano ovunque, la gente impazziva. All’improvviso ero diventata come Madonna, come… Chi c’è di così famoso oggi? Ecco, la mia vita è cambiata da un giorno all’altro e in negativo. In fondo non avevo trovato la cura per il cancro, no? Avevo poco più di vent’anni, quel successo non era un riconoscimento per aver fatto qualcosa di grande. Era uscito in tv uno sceneggiato che avevo girato un anno e mezzo prima, tutto qui».

Delle ragioni di quel successo, oggi Carole André si è fatta un’idea: «Il regista è stato bravissimo a usare la tecnica del feuilleton, quella di Salgari stesso. Verso la fine di ciascuna puntata succedeva sempre qualcosa di drammatico che ti spingeva a vedere anche la puntata seguente. Poi è stato il primo Sandokan girato sui luoghi veri: ne avevano già fatti sei o sette, tutti a Cinecittà, con attori romanissimi pitturati di scuro, poco credibili. Nel nostro, c’erano gli elefanti, i leoni, le tigri, le scimmiette… E le facce delle persone. Tutte le comparse erano locali, le spiagge erano quelle. Si sentiva. E infatti per la prima e unica volta uno sceneggiato tv è stato rimontato in due film ed è uscito in sala dopo essere stato visto da milioni di persone, ottenendo successo. È incredibile, no?

Una volta Maurizio Costanzo mi disse che, calcolato con i criteri attuali, il pubblico sarebbe stato pari a quello di una finale dei mondiali di calcio. Ancora oggi non riesco a capire come nessuno, alla Rai, abbia avuto l’idea di dargli un seguito. Gli americani sarebbero andati avanti dieci anni, con Sandokan 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… E io li avrei fatti, perché ormai tutti mi vedevano come Marianna, la fidanzata di Sandokan e trovare altri ruoli, per me, era un problema. Un regista, una volta, me l’ha detto: “Carole, non ti posso prendere nel mio film. Se ti faccio un primo piano, la platea comincia a urlare: “Sandokan! Sandokan!”»”.

Storie di un’altra Italia, in cui tutti andavano regolarmente al cinema, i canali televisivi erano solo due, e la tv a colori era agli albori. Storie di un’Italia più ingenua, forse, in cui gli ammiratori scrivevano a Carole André per sapere se davvero si era innamorata di Sandokan, e se le sarebbe piaciuto vivere «nell’India misteriosa»: «Tenni una rubrica su Stampa Sera. La gente mi scriveva e io, che non parlavo ancora benissimo l’italiano, rispondevo con l’aiuto di una giornalista. Ricordo molte lettere di donne, la mia Marianna piaceva soprattutto a loro, così innamorata ma anche così desiderosa di libertà, indipendenza, così moderna».

Anticonformista, poco presenzialista, sinistrorsa (secondo i giornali di destra): anche così è stata descritta Carole André. Ma una ricerca sull’archivio di gossip più completo che c’è, quello di Internet, non dà risultati significativi: «E meno male – commenta lei -. Oggi faccio l’architetto, mi occupo di giardini, e lavoro un po’ anche a Cinecittà, nelle pubbliche relazioni, più che altro perché soffrirei molto se dovessi abbandonare il mondo del cinema. Ci sono dentro da sempre, mia madre era un’attrice, Gaby André, proprio a causa sua (io non volevo, ero molto timida) giro film da quando avevo 13 anni.

E sono un’attrice, anche se ruoli belli per donne grandi ce ne sono pochissimi e giustamente li danno a chi ha sempre lavorato, la bravissima Sandrelli, Margherita Buy, Catherine Spaak. Io ho sempre avuto paura di invecchiare male, aspettando un nuovo film, di sentirmi brutta, di dovermi rifare il viso per sembrare giovane. Ho sempre pensato che avrei dovuto avere qualcosa di creativo su cui ripiegare, e l’architettura è perfetta. Avrei tanto voluto passare dietro la macchina da presa, come regista o produttore. Ma quando lo dicevo, mi prendevano per matta: “No, no, tu sei un’attrice, lascia perdere”. A quei tempi, non era un lavoro per donne»

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Frank Braña interview

For anyone who understands Spanish, here’s an interview with Frank Braña from thew 2011 Ameria Western Film Festival.

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Brett Halsey: Art or Instinct in the Movies

Brett Halsey, Art or Instinct in the Movies

Brett Halsey, Art or Instinct in the Movies

Just finished reading John B. Murray’s biography of Brett Halsey, Brett Halsey: Art or Instinct in the Movies, and thought I’d scribble down a few quick notes.  Overall it’s a good book, full of fascinating information: about Brett’s assorted marriages, his career in Hollywood and Europe, his long-term stints on daytome soap operas.  Most of it is made up of memories and anecdotes, so it’s very much an official biography, and perhaps its major faults are that (a) it’s light on criticism (an analysis of his films would be very much appreciated) and (b) it’s thematically rather than chronologically arranged, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep track.  As with most Midnight Marquee books (The EuroSpy Guide included) it’s also possibly a bit weak on indexing and annotations.

But these are minor quibbles, and Murray is to be applauded for writing a very readable account of Halsey’s life and, more importantly, going out and interviewing both Halsey and a lot of other people who were involved with his career.  There’s lots of information about directors such as Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Alberto Cardone, and Halsey also has a lot of insight into why the Italian film industry has declined so much (he puts forward the view that the very success of the industry was later the cause of its own downfall: in the sixties Italian genre films filled a gap in the market because they’d been made less economically viable in the US because of TV, but they declined as TV became more widespread in Italy throughout the 70s).

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