Adam Chaplin

Adam Chaplin

Adam Chaplin

Produced by Giulio De Santi
Director: Emanuele De Santi
Writer: Emanuele De Santi
Stars: Emanuele De Santi, Giulio De Santi, Alessandro Gramanti

Many years ago, some time back in the early 1990s, I spent a little time at a charming London institution called The Anarchist Bookshop. I believe I went there expecting it to be a charming place full of leather bound volumes and interesting people wanting to debate the relative merits of the ideas of Bakunin and Blake (William, not me). Instead it was a grimy room full of amusingly photocopied leaflets – the anarchist grasp of desk top publishing obviously having not advanced beyond Christ the Album and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables – and dreadlocked people wearing near identical clothing (generally of a pseudo military bent), smoking dope and mumbling into their dreadlocks. What this bought home to me, I think, is that the more people try to be different, to be radical, the more they end up being the same, falling into a kind of conformity of alternative ideas and lifestyles. The truly radical don’t need to push their radicality.

Anyway, the reason this all came back to me was that I was watching Adam Chaplin, a sci fi / horror movie made in Italy in 2011. It tries so hard to be extreme, to be different that it ends up being tedious. I have to confess: I fell asleep after about an hour and a quarter. And that sad thing is that it’s when it tries to bludgeon you with it’s non-mainstream-ness – its silly graphic violence, its crude plot, its panto style performances – that it’s at its most boring.

Our hero... Adam Chaplin

Our hero… Adam Chaplin

The plot… well, set in a fictional, totalitarian country called Heaven Valley, it seems to be about a kind of zombie called Adam Chaplin who has a weird goblin on his shoulder (actually, this is quite well done and a bit creepy) urging him to take bloody vengeance on the local criminal and state bigwigs who caused his wife to be burnt to death. Adam is blessed with superhuman strength which he uses to beat his victims to a literal pulp, but his main adversary, a faceless maniac called Denny Richards, has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

This is a confusing mess that makes no effort to create any kind of characters: people are introduced, violently killed, sometimes reanimated, then violently killed again. The main narrative is never developed and the repetitive nature of the story – which has basically been constructed to allow for a gore scene every five minutes – is alienating.

the villain from Adam Chaplin

Not the nicest chap, the villainous Denny from Adam Chaplin

And it’s a shame, because from a stylistic point of view it’s not all bad. It has a very distinctive look, full of dull greys and with an overexposed tinge that’s quite effective. All the characters have strange looks, slightly or more obviously ‘mutated’ (imagine Dick Tracy on a budget), and for some reason it reminded me of 80s favourite Street Trash. Some sequences – a search in some underground sewers, most notably – build up a bit of tension. But, but, but… these are overwhelmed by the general naffness of it all. Sometimes, subtlety can be more effective than shouting. I’d love to be able to recommend any new horror film made in Italy, but I can’t really do that in this case. A lot of the people involved in this have made a kind follow up called Taeter City (as in ‘tater and gravy’?).

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Mario Monicelli interview

Mario Monicelli on the set of Camera D'Albergo

Mario Monicelli on the set of Camera D’Albergo

An interview with the late maestro of Commedia all’Italian, Mario Monicelli, which I found on the web and have translated into English.

Q: You don’t feel that the Commedia all’Italiano continues to receive much recognition?

I don’t think so. I’ve had much recognition, fortunately. The very fact that you want to interview me is recognition. I am known, my films are widely released and every now and then I’m invited to some city or other. This helps me discover the world and meet new people, which is I feel an educational experience.

Q: This mixture of elements which you have spoken of regarding the Commedia all’Italiana, is that the case also for the technical elements? So Gianni Di Vinanzo’s photography [on I soliti ignoti] is reminiscent both of that from the noir style or poetic realism, but it’s very different from neorealism. Was that intentional or accidental?

It was something we planned. In Commedia all’Italiana you laugh at the dramas and make a farce out of them. The style of the cinematography must follow this approach, this dramatic aspect that is unique to the genre. Some foreign critics are amazed that we can laugh in this way at drama, in other places it is a tradition that seems very foreign whereas for us it comes naturally.

Q: Thinking of the huge success that you had in the States with I soliti ignoti, what was it that you think made this film so exportable?

It wasn’t only my film, all the Commedia all’Italiana were able to find humour in the least dramatic and tragic of themes.

Q: And this bitterness is the universal element?

Yes, because in fact they’re funny. Not only in Italy,the French laugh at them as well, the Americans, the Chinese. The latter love the Commedia all’Italiano, the dubbing even. You should hear Totò talking in Chinese! They’re universal because the sentiments are the same all over, they don’t change, not from century to century or from land to land.

Q: That links you and the other protagonists of the genre? Risi, Comencini, Germi, Lattuada… Were you aware of being part of a movement or was it something that came spontaneously?

Alberto Sordi in La grande guerra

Alberto Sordi in La grande guerra

It was absolutely spontaneous. Unfortunately so, as far as I’m concerned. The first film I directed was in the years after the war, in an Italy that had been torn apart by the war and by a criminal and stupid dictator. It was called Toto cerca casa. At that time the home was a very serious theme, and as you can imagine for other reasons apart from humour. This film, though it was crude, it was funny and a big success. We hadn’t studied long and we didn’t know at all if this was the right approach. Another film of the type was Come persi la guerra by Borghesio, a farce on a thorny and sad theme but which managed to be very funny. It even angered Andreotti, who said: “You should wash your dirty linen in your own house, not use it in a film which denigrates Italy, like this one does.” When I decided to do La grande guerra and I was able to shoot it, it was written by Age and Scarpelli and starred Gassman and Sordi, there was a commotion among the Italian press. They said that we wanted to mock the great war and the 600,000 who died in it. But then it was a huge success and it broke this stupid taboo of a false victory and a million soldiers sent to die without food, equipment or arms.

Q: How important do you think the quality of your crew was?

Very, above all in the period immediately after the war. Not only for those of us who made comedies, but for all Italian cinema: Visconti, Fellini, De Sanctis, De Sica… We were always working in a group, in particular during the phase of drawing up the story and screenplay. We were all together, all friends. In the Italian cinema field there were about forty of us, screenwriters, directors and some actors. We saw each other a lot, we went out to eat together, we started the weekend together to have fun, walk and talk. We weren’t jealous of each other, there wasn’t competition between us. Our generation lived in a good way, friendly and profitable. We exchanged ideas, stories, lines, but always without envy.

Q: Perhaps it’s this that’s missing today…

That’s true. I hope that this spirit is reborn, it’s indispensable for make projects that successfully represent reality.

The hapless thieves in I soliti ignoti

The hapless thieves in I soliti ignoti

Q: So what do you think of the new breed of Commedia italiana?

I think that there is a good recovery. The young filmmakers of today have rediscovered this way of working together, without pretending to do everything by themselves as it was for the two preceding generations: they’d write the screenplay, direct it and sometimes also act in it as well. Now I think that these young people are of their own generation, of the reality that surrounds them, of the problems that they face, their illusions and delusions. Not like the preceding generation, who tried to make imitations of Antonioni, Fellini or Visconti. These filmmakers don’t make imitations, they make their own films and this attracts the Italian public, who finally see themselves represented authentically. I have a lot of faith in this new generation.

Q: Among others, Virzi cites you as a maestro…

I’m not a maestro of anything and I wasn’t a student of anyone. Everything came in itself.

Q: Regarding Amici miei, can you tell us anything about why Germi chose you and when did you take over?

Because we were good friends. We’d known each other since the end of the forties, when I was his assistant on Il testimone, his first film. After that we saw each other often and became friends. Germi was a person who was difficult to handle, he had a cantankerous character, self-contained, but we could spend a lot of time together. We’d chat, we’d argue. We held each other in esteem. And so when he wasn’t able to shoot Amici miei because he was unwell, he had terrible cirrhosis, he thought of me. Also because it was a story with Tuscan characters, the scriptwriter was Tuscan and I knew him because we had already worked together. It was a subject with which I would be comfortable, because I’m also Tuscan and I know all these stories that are told in Florence. Germi wanted to set it in Bologna and when he called me to get involved I proposed moving it to Tuscany, seeing as how I was born there. He agreed and that’s what we did.

Q: What kind of relationship did you have with the censor? Toto e Carolina had particular difficulties?

Totò in Totò e Carolina

Totò in Totò e Carolina

Not only Toto e Carolina, I also had to make lots of cuts to Guardia e ladri, change some lines and many other things. Fortunately the whole of Italian cinema was anti-censorship and so we helped one another… We went to the appeal courts and battled against the commission. And by don’t of fighting this institution we dismantled it and now it practically doesn’t exist any more. A true censor would be against the exultation of warfare and sex. Young people watch and they learn to kill as if it’s nothing, they have a bad view of sex. The television teaches us things that we didn’t see when I was a boy and I don’t want to see today.

Q: Your career is often intertwined with that of other great figures from our cinema. In particular, do you recall any anecdotes regarding Sordi?

(Laughs). There are only a certain amount of anecdotes that I can tell and each time I’m interviewed I’m asked to tell an anecdote. I’m not a collector of anecdotes! Thousands of things have happened in my career but I don’t remember them all and so I can’t speak about them. And I’m happy not to speak of them, you’ll have to find something you can write about me instead.

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects?

There is one, I hope it takes off because it has been a long time in preparation. It’s a film called L’uomo nero after a card game played by children which I believe is now forgotten. You discard all the doubles and in the end there’s one card remaining, called L’uomo nero, and you have to do a penance.

Q: One final question, what films have you been struck by recently?

In recent years, among the Italian films, I have been most taken with Un uomo in piu by Sorrentino. Then there are other directors, for example Marra, Crialese, Ozpatek, Muccino, Soldini, Infascelli, Piccioni, Giordana. The cinema is firstly an industry and then an art form. If the films have the backing of the public then you are able to take more risks economically because this kind of production has an audience, so you can do things, otherwise you can’t. Now there are films that are attracting the public whereas for twenty years there wasn’t anyone going to the cinema.

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Last Chance, The (aka Scacco internazionale)

The Last Chance, aka Scacco internazionale

The Last Chance, aka Scacco internazionale

Aka Scacco Internazionale
Producer: Giuseppe Rosati for Cin. Ca Italiana
Director: Niny Rosati [Giuseppe Rosati]
Script and screenplay: Niny Rosati [Giuseppe Rosati]
Cinematography: Gabor Pogany
Music: Carlo Rustichelli, conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Editor: Romeo Ciatti
Cast: Tab Hunter (Patrick Harris), Daniela Bianchi (Helen Harris), Liz Barrett [Luisa Barratto] (Stefanie MacConnell), Edward G Ross [Luciano Rossi] (Besive, the Killer), Michael Rennie (George MacConnell), Bill Vanders (Clark), Franco Ressel (Inspector), Umberto Raho (Carlo), Leonardo Bruno, Carlo Delle Piane, Bill Cross, Claudio Guarino, Vladimiro Tuicovich, Mirella Panphili

When an Albanian freighter blows up off the coast of Rome there are only two survivors. One of them is badly injured, and before he can recover is killed – apparently by the other: the ship’s commander and the man who had earlier set the explosive device. When asked for an explanation as to what has happened, he declares that he will speak only to an American diplomat, MacConnell (Michael Rennie). It soon transpires that he was involved in gun running for the Russian secret services, and that he is now seeking asylum. In return for the promise of $500,000 and a new life he is willing to reveal the identity of all the Soviet agents working in Europe. Before he can name anyone, however, he is assassinated – leaving only an encrypted list for the CIA to try and decipher.

Luisa Baratto in The Last Chance

Luisa Baratto in The Last Chance

When MacConnell is also murdered, flippant journalist Patrick Harris (Tab Hunter) unwittingly becomes a suspect. He also becomes a target for the real killer (Luciano Rossi), who sees the opportunity to use him as a scapegoat. After luckily managing to escape from a locked car marooned on a level crossing, he finds himself on the run from both the authorities and his lethal pursuer. His only allies would seem to be the aristocratic Carlo (Umberto Raho), his wife Helen (Daniela Bianchi) and the deeply suspicious (and newly widowed) Stefanie MacConnell (Liz Barrett). However, not all of them are exactly what they seem.

Ostensibly a spy film, this in fact bears more of a resemblance to the brace of late-sixties crime films (The Insatiables, The Falling Man, Date for a Murder etc.) that were being produced at the time. Neither as lightweight as the early secret agent movies nor as down to earth as the seventies poliziotti, they occupy a strange cross-generic territory that’s very difficult to classify (and that generally includes a healthy dollop of giallo-ish ingredients). In this case there’s a familiar fatalistic ambiance, an unexpected sting in the tail and a priority given to ‘existential’ trappings (driving around, talking on the phone, people looking at the action through rifle sights). What there isn’t, and this is strange considering that it was the prime motivation for the genres that both anticipated and succeeded it, is action. These films were more intent upon creating a jazzed-out, dope fueled ‘feel’ rather than an adrenaline rush.

Luciano Rossi in The Last Cance

Luciano Rossi in The Last Cance

Anyone who’s had the (mis)fortune to read the The WildEye before will probably have gathered that I’m a sucker for this type of thing. You’ll probably also have gathered that I’m a sucker for anything that features Luciano Rossi – and here he has one of his largest (and comparatively ‘straightest’) roles. Having said this, however, The Last Chance didn’t really manage to engage me that much. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t veer quite far enough away from it’s Bond-ish origins – it seems to be unwilling to take the final step of forsaking straight narrative in favour of style, and as such has a tendency to drag. The last half-hour improves markedly, with a series of double-crossings and mind games being played that bring the plot enjoyable close to the realm of the totally incomprehensible.

There’s an interesting cast, including stalwarts Umberto Raho and Franco Ressel, as well as two top class italo-babes in Bianchi (From Russia with LoveDirty Heroes) and Liz Barrett (Bloody Pit of Horror (65), Killer Kid (67)). Popular American star Tab Hunter was no stranger to euro-productions, also having worked on Antonio Margheriti’s The Golden Arrow (62) and the Spanish shot Fickle Finger of Fate (67), directed by Richard Rush. Unfortunately, he’s not overly effective, lacking the gravitas that necessary to carry the role.

This was director Giuseppe Rosati’s first film. He went on to make an enjoyably wacky Gianni Garko western (Charge, 72) and a trio of rather good crime films (The Left Hand of the Law (75), Silence the Witness (74) and Fear in the City (76), with James Mason). As such, I guess that the failings of this film could be put down to inexperience rather than incompetence.

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The Lookout (aka Le guetteur)

The Lookout, aka Le guetteur

The Lookout

Anyone hankering after a slice of 1970s style Eurocrime could do a lot worse than check out Michele Placido’s The Lookout (aka Le guetteur), a slick, well made Italo-French production which got variable reviews when it had a customarily tiny release last year. The film – which flickers back and forth in time as it the modern way – starts off with hardboiled cop Daniel Auteuil interviewing Mathieu Kassovitz, an ex-Army sniper who has become the head of a successful gang of bank robbers. Needless to say, he manages to escape, and the rest of the running time looks set to reveal (a) what happened in the aftermath of their latest escapade (b) who it was who informed on him and (c) whether the police can recapture him.

However, the plot then takes a thoroughly leftfield curve which is both welcome and thoroughly outrageous (although the kind of thing that people seem to accept without question in Scandinavian thrillers). Auteuil, Kassovitz and Olivier Gourmet (a Dardenne brothers regular) are all excellent, and Placido – who started off in 70s Eurocrime films and directed Romanzo Criminale – keeps his foot on the fourth gear. It’s not as epic as Placido’s excellent Romanzo criminale, but well worth checking out.

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Bitter Rice

Bitter Rice, aka Riso amaro

Bitter Rice, aka Riso amaro

The image of Silvana Mangano, clad in tight shorts and black stockings, picking rice and looking to the camera. It’s one of the iconic images of Italian cinema, and Bitter Rice, the film it comes from, is one of the much-too-ignored classics of the postwar period. It’s a fusion of neo-realism and noir, with Mangano as an agricultural worker who befriends Doris Dowling, a thief on the run with a valuable stolen necklace and the cops on her trail. Dowling begins to bond with the women rice pickers, but then her cold-hearted boyfriend Vittorio Gassman appears and things go to pot.

With a script by talented future Italian directors Carlo Lizzani, Gianni Puccini and Mario Monicelli, this is a very good film, mixing a documentary examination of Italian agricultural life in the 1940s, part pacey thriller (including a climactic gun fight in a meat locker), part meditation on the intrusion of mass media, creeping Americanisation and dilution of traditional Italian culture. This has dated a lot better than many Italian films of the time. Note: Doris and her sister Constance Dowling had fascinating lives and caused quite a scandal in Italy; Constance was involved with the poet Cesare Pavese who committed suicide after their relationship broke down (one of his last poems, allegedly about her, was called ‘Death will come and she’ll have your eyes’)

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Slap the Monster on the Front Page

Slap the Monster on the Front Page

Slap the Monster on the Front Page

A couple of years after playing a corrupt, evangelically right wing, borderline sociopathic cop in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Gian Maria Volonte played a corrupt, evangelically right wing, borderline sociopathic newspaper editor in Slap the Monster on the Front Page. He’s Bizanti, the top dog at Milanese paper Il Giornale, who’s always on the lookout for new ways of justifying the publication of anti-communist, anti-youth, anti-working class rhetoric. And he sees a great opportunity for more of this nonsense when a young anarchist is named as the likeliest suspect in the murder of his attractive and thoroughly middle-class ex-girlfriend. So he works with the police to ensure this poor sap’s conviction, plastering accusations on the front page and blaming it all on the increasingly liberal modern society… even though he knows full well that he isn’t the real killer.

It’s a surprisingly short film, which is good because it ensures that the pace is maintained even though it’s dialogue heavy and regularly veers into then-trendy political diatribe. The photography is wonderful and Marco Bellochio’s direction is efficient. Volonte contributes a powerhouse performance, but even so it’s not as memorable or impressive a film as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (which it seems to have been partially inspired by).

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The Master Touch

The Master Touch, with Kirk Douglas

The Master Touch, with Kirk Douglas

The Master Touch was a high profile heist film from the reliable Michele Lupo. Its big coup was in managing to get Kirk Douglas, a top American star who had previously had little involvement with Italian cinema, to play the protagonist, Steve Wallace, a gentleman robber back on the streets after a short spell in jail. Tempted out of retirement by the prospect of breaking into an apparently impregnable vault stocked up with millions of dollars – natch – he hooks up with a young trapeze artist, Marco (Giuliano Gemma). Their plan is to set Wallace up as the prime suspect for another robbery while he’s actually breaking into the aforementioned vault. Things, however, don’t work out as planned.

This is a really enjoyable film, much more serious and gloomy than you’d expect from the normally lightweight Lupo. It’s got some great cinematography and a low-key but effective Morricone score; the central heist is well handled and there’s an excellent car chase through the streets of Hamburg. Kirk Douglas looks very dapper and doesn’t seem as embarrassed as some American imports did – he’d return to Italy for Holocaust 2000 – and there’s good support from Gemma and Florinda Bolkan.

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