Lei Ilima

As a postscript to my look at the career of Jean Pierre Faye, here’s a brief mention of Lei Ilima.  Ms Ilima appeared in just two films. In Jungle Girl and the Slaver (57) she played the girlfriend of Tanga, the Jungle Girl protagonist Marion Michael’s native sidekick (played by Faye). Tanga actually gets unceremoniously bumped off halfway through this film, allowing her to step up and take a more prominent part, but unfortunately the film wasn’t particularly successful and the series was bought to a premature close. In 1958 she also had a small part in Romarei, das Madchen mit den grunen Augen, a moderately enjoyable adventure film from the same production stable (and, like Jungle Girl and the Slaver also made with some Italian investment).

Biographical information about Lei Ilima is scarce. According to the IMDB she was born on the 19th August 1928 in Hawai, but beyond that little information is available.  Unfortunately the only print I have of Jungle Girl and the Slaver is so poor that I’m not even able to publish a screengrab of her.


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Italian westerns in the forests of the Sila, an interview with Sergio Grieco

Il sentiero dell odio

Il sentiero dell odio

Here’s an interview with Sergio Grieco translated from an old copy of Unita.  I don’t believe there’s any other interview with Grieco anywhere.  I’d love to be proved wrong because he was a decent director who has been rather forgotten and was never really appreciated as much as he deserved. Note, La vita riprendera was eventually released as Il sentiero dell’odio in 1950.

Certain regions of Italy have a destiny, that we’ll never know whether to define them as gloomy or incomprehensible; those forgotten places.  Sometimes the work of a person of genius, a person of culture, a storyteller, is able to express to break through these provincial barriers, reaching a national and even international notoriety.  So we can talk of Verga’s Sicily, of Grazia Deledda’s Sardinia and of Sveno’s Trieste.  But apart from that it’s a careful voyager who tries to open their eyes to the reality of these places and describe it, as we have said about Lawrence and Sardinia, or of Stendahl and an unknown Parma, traced even up to the pedantic notations of a Montaigne.

But today we are seeing these forgotten regions of Italy come to light for their strengths, for their life, for the problems they face.  It’s the limited case with Calabria, which is still dominated by the same culture that has existed for centuries and which has become tragically bought to the attention of the world thanks to the bloody reality of recent years, because of the poignancy of its social conflict.  We speak of Calabria in the papers and the magazines thanks to it’s corruption and bad governance; it has also been reignited by the re-edition of one of its stories, Il mirasi, and also – although it’s not much talked about – it’s representation today in the cinema. Certainly, the Calabria which has become the focus of the cinema isn’t the Calabria that has seen the journalistic or parliamentary investigations, nor is it the Calabria of discussions about the law in the Sila.

Cinema is reflexively attracted to the beauty of a land, to the quality of its people, by stories rich in ideas.  So two films that are currently being shot in Calabria have what could be called a historical setting.  They are both costume dramas and are set some fifty years ago.  The first is Il brigante Musolino with Amedeo Nazzari and Silvana Mangano.  The second is La vita riprendera by Sergio Grieco. Grieco’s crew have now left Calabria after having shot a good part of the film there.  We found them encamped inside and outside a huge shed in a studio in Palatino, where they were shooting some scenes.  The architect Egidi had reconstructed in this studio the facade of a Calabresian house, authentic enough for them to shoot the remaining scenes of the film.

Carla Del Poggio in Il sentiero dell odio

Carla Del Poggio in Il sentiero dell odio

During a break between shooting one scene and another, we talk to Sergio Grieco, the young director.  As such it’s his debut, his first full length film.  But Grieco certainly isn’t new to cinema, which he has been fascinated with for years.  His direct contact with a movie camera goes way back to 1932, a time when, in Moscow, he was assistant to the director Nicola Ekk for his film Verso la vita, which was shown at the first Venice festival.  More recently, having collaborated with De Santis on Caccia tragica, he worked alongside the French director Rene Clement on La mura di Malapaga.

Now Grieco is telling us about his new film.  He has a definition to give us, that it’s an Italian western. And in fact this Italian film has many echoes  of the westerns which are such a major part of cinema across the ocean.  Firstly in its creation and description of a landscape, that of the Sila.  Both the interiors and exteriors were shot in the area around the village of Silvana Mansio, at some 1400 metres height, as well as near to Camigliatello, San Giovanni in Fiore,  Savelli and Campana.

“If I’d been able to,” says Grieco, “I would have shot it in the hills hundreds and hundreds of metres higher.  Not only for the landscape, which is multiform and fascinating, but also because of the other things we saw, the traditional feasts, for example, which are so rich in emotion that they’d affect any director.” Another point of contact with the American western is the story, which is about Mascaro and the barons of Pietramala.  Grieco and his scriptwriters Majorana, Pescatore and Veo based the story on old reports from newspapers from forty years ago.  La vita riprendera in fact begins in 1910.

Grieco is keen to return to his work.  The actors are being prepared for a new shot.  They’re all young actors, as is suitable for their roles, but already known to the public.  There’s Carla del Poggio, Marina Berti, Andrea Cecchi, Vittorio Duse, Ermanno Randi and Piero Lulli.  It’s a happy crew, which supports each other with enthusiasm through the difficulties of the long stay in Calabria and with which the director Grieco is more than satisfied. And, as is apparent, the actors and the rest of the crew are more than happy with the director, quote to the contrary of the cliche of the distant, incomprehensible director.

Grieco isn’t the only one making his debut in this film. He’s entrusted the score to Mario Zanfred, who is working in film for the first time.  Zanfred has just started work on the score, which is pleasing him hugely.  He previously had great success at the Music Festival in Venice with his Quarta sinfonia in onore della resistenza. “But I,” Grieco smilingly tells us, “entrusted him with doing the music for my film before his success in Venice.”

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Surprise Attack

Here’s another review from the archives, which first appeared in The Cheeseplant #5 (back in 1999)

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

Aka Golpe de Mano
Director: Jose Antonio De La Loma
Script: Jose Antonio De La Loma
Producer: Jose Maria Carcasona, Juan Cristobal Jimenez-Quesada
Music: Gianni Marchetti
Cinematography: Hans Burman, Antonio Millan, Mario Pacheco
Editor: Bruno Mattei
Sets: Juan Alberto Soler
Cast: Simon Andreu (Andres Novales), Danny [Daniel] Martin (Captain Andujar), Patty Shepard (Teresa Pernas), Rafael Hernandez, Frank Brana (Paco), Oscar Pellicer, Charley Vasall [Carlos Vassallo], Valentino [Carlos Alberto Valentino], Nacho Pidal, Anthony Amor [Jose Antonio Amor], Stefano Charelli, Pepe [Jose] Calvo (Father of Andres), Antonio casas (The Colonel), Fernando Sancho (Pernas)

Suprise Attack is unusual in that it is a film set during the Spanish Civil War, a period which – despite it’s obvious melodramatic potential – has never really been examined in any depth in the cinema. There are a small number of Spanish films (Vicente Aranda’s Libertarias (98), Pedro Lazaga’s La fiel infanteria (59) and Posicion avazada (65), Antonio Isasi’s Tierra de todos (61)) that deal with it in some depth. The only example which has had that much in the way of international distribution that springs to mind is Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom, which that can be ignored without any further consideration because, well, it’s a Ken Loach film.

1938, on the Battle front at the River Ebro. Fascist troops led by Captain Andujar (Daniel Martin) are attempting to liberate a village that has been caught up in the anarchist revolution. It is of immense strategic importance because of its vicinity to a bridge that could be an integral part of either an offensive or a retreat. However, this is proving a difficult task, firstly because it is guarded by a hill that is riddled with machine gun nests and secondly because none of the villagers appear to want to be ‘liberated’.

Lt Novales (Simon Andreu) arrives at the front after requesting a transfer from the fighting near Madrid. He not only has inside knowledge of the village (he grew up there) but also the motivation to defeat its ‘oppressors’: as a young man he had watched his father, a wealthy landowner, murdered by the peasant leader Pernas (Fernando Sancho). Still haunted by guilt at his inaction, he is determined to have revenge and kill his father’s murderer.

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

He has soon dreamt up a cunning plan whereby – with only a small squadron of twenty men – he plans to take out the seemingly impregnable nests on the hillside as well as to capture the bridge. Unfortunately, just after they set of on their mission, Andujar receives orders that his men, who had been planning to back up the patrols, must stick to their positions in case of an imminent Fascist offensive. It would seem as though Novales and his men have been sent to their certain death.

However, unbeknownst to all, the Anarchists are also planning to fall back from the village, as it is becoming increasingly clear that they are losing the war. Their leader, Paco (Frank Brana), is left with one last task before he can retreat – to blow up the fateful bridge and thus destroy it’s potential as a floodgate for the Fascist army.

This is a rather unusual, and rather intriguing, film. Although obviously falling into the ‘war’ genre that was popular in Europe during the late 60’s (see also Spaniard Leon Klimovsky’s epics Operation Rommel (68) and Hell in Normandy (67)) it feels in many ways much more like a Spaghetti Western. This is partly due to Gianni Marchetti’s soundtrack, which is literally choc-a-block with flamenco guitars and choral voices. It is also because the demarcation between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ is a lot less solidly drawn. Although many 2nd World War films feature ‘good’ Germans on an individual basis (thereby showing that there’s humanity everywhere), the Germans en-masse are unquestionably seen as the ‘enemy’. With Surprise Attack, in which both the Fascists and the Anarchists are viewed as morally equal, the personal motivations – rather than the political – are pushed to the fore.

Ostensibly the hero, Novales is a vengeance-driven individual whose single-mindedness borders on mania. By the end of the film our sympathies lie more with other characters such as the catholic Sergeant and the noble Andujar. Even the apparent villains, Paco and Pernas, are more ‘heroic’ in that they are less willing to sacrifice other people to their own personal demons. I also liked the way in which the villagers have no desire to be freed – why would they want to return to feudal system that had been dominant prior to their revolution?

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

Surprise Attack, aka Golpe de Mano

All this ambiguity is nicely helped along by some low-key acting from the protagonists. Particularly notable are Frank Brana (this is another great role for him – OK, so he dies three quarters of the way through, but he actually gets to snog the pretty girl for once) and Simon Andreu, an underrated Spanish actor who appeared in many Euro-productions. Daniel Martin and Patty Shepard, who is particularly babesome here, also do well with their rather less interesting roles.

Director Jose Antonio De La Loma is one of the most infuriating filmmakers around. Often described as a Spanish Antonio Margheriti – with some justification – his work can veer from the appalling to the extraordinarily good (sometimes in the same film, see Boldest Job in the West (67)). This is one of his best films, apart from some lackluster pacing in parts, and is well worth looking out for if you’re in the mood for something different.

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20,000 dollari sul 7

20000 Dollars on the 7

20000 Dollars on the 7

This is the least known and undoubtedly least effective of the six spaghetti westerns directed by Alberto Cardone. Cardone is a little known figure outside of fan circles, but as a former assistant director of some distinction (he worked on Ben Hur (59) and Morgan the Pirate (60) among other big budget productions) he carved something of a niche out for himself in the genre, proving himself to be something of a low budget auteur with his distinctively Gothic, operatic films which generally highlighted family trauma and the inescapability of fate (concerns which were also of key importance to the melodrama genre which was so popular in Italy in the 1950s).

Unfortunately, 20,000 dollari sul 7 offers only glimpses of his vision. It seems to have been made on the cheap, as is witnessed by the presence Roberto Miali, who featured as a supporting character in the director’s earlier Seven Dollars on the Red (66) and Blood at Sundown (66), in the lead role. The plot – which Miali also co-wrote – sees Jerry (Miali) arrive in town with a couple of semi-comic henchmen (Teodoro Corra and Hector Boilleaux) in tow, set on having his revenge upon the man who killed his brother during a raid on their ranch fifteen years earlier. Trouble is, he doesn’t know who the killer is, just that he’s somewhere in town. Not to worry, as just about the only plausible suspect is saloon owner Adriano Micantoni, who also demonstrates a suspicious ability to shoot while holding his gun behind his back (exactly like the man who killed Jerry’s brother, natch).

Jerry Wilson in 20000 Dollars on the 7

Jerry Wilson in 20000 Dollars on the 7

It’s a flimsy plot, with little in the way of plot development or distinction. It seems to have been dreamed up on the fly, with many aspects totally unexplained – Jerry’s background is never fleshed out, his possible misconceptions about his brother’s death never clarified – or taken for granted. It’s almost like you’ve been plunged into the middle of a story which has happened off screen, without ever knowing quite what’s happened outside of the fragments you’re seeing.

Cardone also does a lacklustre job. He does try to give it an interesting look, with cinematographer Gino Santini using numerous idiosyncratic camera angles, but it lacks the visual and narrative crescendos of, for instance, Seven Dollars on the Red and Blood at Sundown. Perhaps realising the mediocrity of it all there are some attempts to divert the attention by including unconvincing comic elements, but this is a slapdash affair that doesn’t stand up to the director’s other work.

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Rattler Kid

I’m digging out some of the old reviews I did way back when I used to publish a little fanzine called The Cheeseplant back in the 1990s, when I was an optimistic and youthful fellow.  Well, a bit optimistic and youthful at any rate.  I’ve moderated my views about some of these films over time…  but in the case of Rattler Kid I haven’t seen it since and can’t claim to have any great urge to rush out and view it again.  Anyway, here goes…

Rattler Kid, aka Un hombre vino a matar

Rattler Kid, aka Un hombre vino a matar

Aka L’Uomo Venuto Per Uccidere (Italy), Un Hombre Vino A Matar (Spain), L’Homme Qui Venait Pour Tuer (France)
Produced by Luigi Mondello for Nike Cin.ca (Rome), Copercines (Madrid)
Director: Leon Klimovsky
Story: Eduardo Maria Brochero
Screenplay: Odoardo Fiory
Cinematography: Julio Ortas {Eastmancolor}
Music: Francesco De Masi
Editor: Gian Maria Messeri
Art Direction: Jaime Perez Cubero
Cast: Richard Wyler (Tony Garnett/The Rattler Kid), William Spolt [Guglielmo Spoletini] (Riff), Femi Benussi, Conny Caracciolo, Jesus Puente (Alex Turner), Lucio De Santis, Luis Induni (Vic, member of Riff’s gang), Miguel del Castillo, Rafael Albaicin (Jim, member of Riff’s gang), Jose Maria Caffarel (Martin Anderson, the bank manager), Frank Brana (Tom), Santiago Rivero, Simon Arriaga, Aurora De Alba and Brad Harris (Bill Manners)

A group of thieves break into Fort Jackson and steal the payroll, killing two men (one of whom is the Commandant) in the process. Tony Garnett (Richard Wyler), a young and honourable Sergeant, is framed for the crime and sentenced to death at a court martial. He manages to escape by switching clothes with a pastor who believes in his innocence. However, the experience has left him embittered and he takes to robbing banks as a way of life – thus earning a new nickname, ‘The Rattler Kid’, as well as a price on his head. However, he is still determined to track down the men responsible for his situation, and has soon managed to execute them all apart from the mysterious boss, who had appeared masked at all times.

Richard Wyler in Rattler Kid

Richard Wyler in Rattler Kid

Meanwhile, another bunch of banditos are planning to hold up the bank in Icheda. Their plan meets a hitch when they discover that the new Sheriff of the town is the notorious Bill Manners (Brad Harris), who is not only devoted to the law but also one of the best shots in the West. Their leader, Riff (William Bogart), comes up with a plan; to enlist the help of someone who is an even faster gunman – someone who just happens to be The Rattler Kid, his cousin.

Whilst scouting the town, Garnett bumps into his old teacher, Alex Turner (Jesus Puente), and after they have some conversations he begins to have doubts about his new life as an outlaw. This doesn’t prevent the heist going ahead, and it inevitably ends in a bloodbath, with Turner being badly wounded in the fracas. This makes Garnett very angry, and his temper doesn’t improve when he discovers that it was Riff who was, all those years ago, the masked man who set him up.

That's a funny kind of toupee...

That’s a funny kind of toupee…

This resolutely mediocre film wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, seeing that it’s another effort from the unceasingly tedious Leon Klimovsky. It’s no better than average, to be sure, and the director’s trademark lack of ability to keep things moving or generate much in the way of excitement is much in evidence.

Where Rattler Kid really falters is in the fact that there is simply far too much exposition. The middle third is truly execrable, bogged down with scenes in which secondary characters go about their boring lives and the rest of the plot is allowed to be entirely forgotten. It has to be said that most of these dull passages correspond with Brad Harris’s appearance on screen. Now I’m a big fan of Harris in spy films and peplums, where he seems able to display a self-effacing charm. He was unfortunately never really able to really translate this into his Western roles, in which he often appears far too earnest and stolid to fit comfortably into the cynical proceedings.

Femi Benussi in Rattler Kid

Femi Benussi in Rattler Kid

There is, however, a nice soundtrack from Francesco De Masi and the script has a few peculiarities – most notably the lack of a final gundown between the two central characters (unless you include a cactus fight, that is!) Tony Garnett is a relatively interesting, and not at all badly drawn, character, and his plight maintains the interest more than might be expected. Richard Wyler does quite well here, although he’s hardly blessed with much in the way of charisma.

Frank Brana has a typically minor part as Tom, a member of Riff’s gang, but his silent presence is eye-catching and his scenes with his equally grubby (and recognisable) partners are about the most enjoyable parts of the film. Guglielmo Spoletini later somehow turned up as a Taxi Driver in The Omen (76)!

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R.I.P. Luciano Martino

Luciano Martino, with Olga Bisero

Luciano Martino, with Olga Bisero

Very sad news, R.I.P. Luciano Martino.  one of the key producers working in Italian cinema in the 1960s and 70s and, among other things, was instrumental in the evolution of the giallo genre: he was a long time advocate of the genre for some years even before he had his first major success with the format in The Sweet Body of Deborah.

Here’s a translation of the obituary from Repubblica.

ROME – Today in Kenya the film producer and director Luciano Martino was reported to have died. Born in Rome, he would have been 80 in December. His name is primarily associated with a substantial filmography in the sixties and seventies that went from the peplum to thrillers to sexy comedies, during the course of which he launched actors like Lino Banfi, sexy icons such as Barbara Bouchet and Gloria Guida and can be said to have ‘invented’ the phenomenon that was Edwige Fenech, the actress who was also his partner for many years.

“Luciano”, said his brother Sergio, “he loved being in Malindi, even though he was afflicted by a bad illness. Yesterday evening he was fine, except for a low-grade fever, he had dinner with some friends. Tonight he was hit by a lung seizure and died during the flight to Nairobi. Maybe he has gone the way he wanted. ”

Luciano Martino’s career in film began as a writer in the mid-fifties. His vivid imagination enabled him to write scripts and screenplays for films that had as protagonists spies, cowboys, adventurers of all sorts and classical heroes, from Maciste in Buffalo Bill.

As a director he signed his first film in 1965 (Le spie uccidono a Beirut) and made among others, La vergine, il toro e il capricorno in 1977 with Alberto Lionello and Edwige Fenech, sexy star of comedies at the time.

Much wider was his activity as a producer and writer. Alongside his brother Sergio he was among the ‘founders’ of the so-called B movie, having great success with sexy comedies, in particular a series of titles such as Quel gran pezzo dell’Ubalda tutta nuda e tutta calda, Giovannona coscialunga disonorata con onore, the series of L’insegnante, Cornetti alla crema, but also Occhio, malocchio prezzemolo e finocchio, L’abbuffata and the sequel to L’allenatore nel pallone.

In the eighties, when the film industry began to decline, Martino moved towards producing TV drama series such as Turbo, as well as the TV movie Segreto di stato by Giuseppe Ferrara. In 1987 he was responsible, among other things for the début of the then unknown Nicole Kidman, who Martino chose for the TV movie Un’australiana a Roma.

Edwige Fenech said: “I’m so sad, it is a life of respect that is gone today. We were united, as it has been part of my life. I’m So saddened that I can hardly speak of him now.”

Lino Banfi remembers him fondly: “I owe him so much: we have travelled a long road together, we made over 40 films which he produced and which were largely directed by his brother Sergio.”

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Archive reviews – The Pirates of the Coast

Pirates of the Coast, aka I pirati della costa

Pirates of the Coast, aka I pirati della costa

This is a film derived from Salgari and tells of the deeds of a Spanish naval officer who, because of an injustice suffered, takes refuge in the cosey arms of the pirates.  Being a soldier without fear or stain, he remains immaculate up until the day when the military authorities, having received conclusive evidence of his dedication, allow him back into the ranks.

The film doesn’t stand out for it’s originality, but on the other hand it doesn’t aspire to much.  However, it should at least allow for some suggestive staging.  As is well known, though, Italian filmmakers in the adventure film field ignore all the secrets of their craft.  Lex Barker, Estella Blain, Liana Orfei and Livio Lorenzon are the principle actors.  Domenico Paolella directs.

[Note: I haven't seen this one.  Paolella is normally a decent director of these kinds of low budget adventure films and it has a good cast.  Was there a peplum that Livio Lorenzon didn't feature in?]

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Gianni Medici

Gianni Medici, aka John Hamilton

Gianni Medici, aka John Hamilton

Gianni Medici was one of the numerous Italian actors who had a brief flirtation with stardom during the late 1960s and early 1970s without ever really hitting the big time.  Although he only appeared in a half dozen films, they were spread over almost fifteen years and outside of his film career he was also a popular performer for the lucrative (and well paid, from an actor’s perspective) fotoromanzi.  Internationally he’s virtually unknown, but in Italy his face was familiar to the many people who devoured publications like Lancio and Grand Hotel.

Almost all of Medici’s films were low budget affairs which, although often successful, had little in the way of foreign distribution, and his debut came in one of his most obscure productions.  Roberto Mauri’s Un sporca faccenda was an early crime film directed by Roberto Mauri in 1964 about a group of young men who set about defrauding a woman who has won the lottery; naturally it all goes wrong and ends violently.  As well as slightly higher profile performers like Nino Castelnuovo and Gina Rovere, this also featured several of Mauri’s regular actor / director chums, including Luigi Batzella and Alfredo Rizzo.  Unfortunately the film is almost impossible to see today (if anyone knows the whereabouts of a copy, please let me know!)

After a small role in the Ken Clark spy filmFury on the Bosphorus (65), a sequel to the successfulMission Bloody Mary, in which he played a Turkish policeman and used his regular pseudonym John Hamilton for the first time, Medici was reunited with Mauri forLa notti della violenza, a modest (and again obscure) giallo with a decent cast including Lisa Gastoni, Alberto Lupo and Marilu Tolo.  Again, Medici had a small supporting role in what was an interesting if little seen production.  Also in 1966, though, came his first starring role inUn brivido sulla pelle, another little seen affair also featuring an early starring performance from Femi Benussi.  Directed by Amasi Damiani, information about this production isn’t even included in many Italian film guides, which is also true of many of Damiani’s other works, many of which remained unreleased or received spotty distribution at best.

It was back to a supporting role with Giuseppe Vari’s above average spaghetti western Django, the Last Killer, starring George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiore) as a rancher out for revenge against land baron Daniele Vargas and forming an uneasy alliance with the taciturn, untrustworthy Anthony Ghidra.  This wasn’t a big production by any means, but it’s well made, has decent production values and made it beyond the regional Italian cinemas.  Unlike Assassino senza volto, another long-forgotten giallo, this time directed by Angelo Dorigo, which again featured Medici in a supporting role, this time to Laurence Tierney and Luigi Batzella (again).  This is possibly the most mysterious film in Medici’s CV – and there’s some stiff competition – and no reference exists in the C.C.C. volumes, the key resource about Italian film history.

Gianni Medici and Michela Roc

1968 also saw Medici in another starring role, this time alongside American actor and producer John Ireland in the western Revenge for Revenge.  Another spaghetti western, he plays Shalako (any confusion with the titular character from the Sean Connery filmShalako released the same year is purely intentional), a dodgy character who discovers the whereabouts of his lover’s rich husband’s stash of booty and sets about stealing it.  Unfortunately his lover’s rich husband is the vicious Major Bower (John Ireland), who’s determined to have his revenge.   This is a pretty dismal film, a distinctly unimpressive genre entry directed by Mario Colucci, who would also called on Medici again to play a small part in the equally unimpressive horror filmSomething Creeping in the Dark (71).  He’s a hippie butler, seemingly the lone resident of a spooky villa at which a group of dodgy travelers – including Lucia Bose and Stan Cooper – and a fugitive (Farley Granger) stumble upon on a dark and stormy night and get bumped off one by one by a mysterious killer.

One of Medici’s best known performances didn’t actually come in an Italian film but a Spanish one. Fangs of the Living Dead was a Hispanic horror hodge-podge directed by Armando De Ossorio, starring Anita Ekberg as a model who returns to her ancestral castle in the middle of god-knows-where in order to receive an inheritance.  Here she meets a sinister Uncle (Julian Ugarte, who looks younger than Ekberg) and not one but two brunette vampiresses (Adriana Ambesi and Diana Lorys).  Medici plays the heroic doctor who comes to Ekberg’s assistance.

His next film was undoubtedly his highest profiles work.  Terence Young’sRed Sun (71) was another western starring Charles Bronson and Alain Delon as a pair of bandits who manage to steal a priceless sword from a group of travelling samurais.  Toshiru Mifune is the man sent to get it back and the A-Grade cast also includes Ursula Andress, Capucine and a young Luc Merenda.  Medici has a small but notable role, and it’s all the more surprising that just when his career appeared to be taking off it simply… stopped.  Probably this was down to troubles in the Italian film industry: the turn of the decade saw a downturn in profitability and the number of productions, especially low to middle budget productions, dropped off notably.  Many lower-level stars left the industry to work in the more profitable fotoromanzi or on TV (although historical information about Italian TV is so sketchy that the extent to which people worked in the medium is unknown), and this certainly seems to be true of Medici.  It also has to be said that Medici’s southern looks were perfect for playing Mexicans or Spaniards, but slightly less suited for the newly popular poliziotteschi, giallo and sexy comedy genres.

After a five year break he did reappear on screen with two films for director Claudio Giorgio. L’unica legge in cui credo was a poliziotteschi in which Giorgio also starred,La febbre Americana a George Eastman scripted vehicle for Mircha Carven.  Neither of these films received widespread distribution and neither of them are easy to see today.  Medici had prominent roles in both of them, but they were to mark his last brush with the film world.  Little biographical information about the actor is available, even whether he’s still alive.  If anyone knows any more, please help to fill in the blanks!

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Fury of the Pagans – Archive Review

Fury of the Pagans, aka La furia dei barbari

Fury of the Pagans, aka La furia dei barbari

Here’s a review of Guido Malatesta’s Fury of the Pagans, translated from an old copy of La Stampa newspaper.

This film describes the bloody conflict that throws, one against the other, a rogue assassin named Covo and the handsome Torok, who is out for revenge and justice.  It’s a bloody assault, with charges of horsemen and villages in flames projected onto an improbable historical background in which the Longobards are used in the same way that the Sioux in American westerns.

Directed by Guido Malatesta, the film belongs to a type of which it would be absurd to expect too much, apart from some kind of demonstration of intelligence.

[Note: I haven't seen this one so can't comment, but I believe it's not supposed to be one of the better examples of its type]

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A vaccinated cineaste, an interview with Steno

Steno, aka Stefano VanzinaHere’s another interview with Stefano Vanzina, aka Steno [see also here].  Once again, this was translated from an old copy of the Italian newspaper L’Unita.

Seventy one years old and with fifty nine films to his name, Steno has been underestimated, despised, reevaluated, overestimated.  At a point in which ye has to balance his life, stating that he dedicates himself simultaneously to the sublime and the essential, Steno continues to work with as much force as he did in the old days, when he wrote stories or sketches for Marc’Aurelio, or when he co-directed in tandem with Mario Monicelli.

“What can I do, they telephone me continuously,” says Steno, who has in the last twelve months shot Doppio delitto and Piedone l’africano and is currently planning another film with Alberto Sordi.  “And I don’t want to be like the old man who slams the door in the face of new ways.  Nonetheless, I believe that the young need to heed what has gone before, in the sense that through all those years, they are pieces in the puzzle.  I believe also that there’s an objective need to change Italian cinema, because for us working in television or advertising isn’t as good for getting experience as in the United States.  And mental laziness weighs heavy.  Take the producers… they cry with misery, they’re always on the verge of suicide, but they have no interest in looking for new ideas.

Enrico Maria Salerno in La polizia ringrazia

Enrico Maria Salerno in La polizia ringrazia

“But it isn’t just the young or the inexperienced who are rejected by producers,” says Steno.  “Even I, who has been able to work with a certain security for some time, when I tried to get them interested in the script for La polizia ringrazia they wouldn’t take me seriously.  And the film, which didn’t cost much, I ended up practically producing it on my own.  Certainly, it was a risk, and I often asked myself if I’d be able to involve someone like Enrico Maria Salerno, or if people would want to see a poliziesco which I’d devised, and which didn’t feature a cop who goes around slapping people in the face.  As it was, it was more successful than I expected and also gave rise to the ‘poliziotto’ filone.  Always you have the usual industrial crap in Italian cinema before you do a shoot, then you have to queue up in the worst possible way.  It displeases me that things are like that.  And I continue to sustain that it wasn’t a reactionary film.”

Steno is happy to talk, and he’s doing well. It’s no coincidence that he started out as an actor.  “In 1930, I lived in a hotel with my family which we owned and which was frequented by actors.  When I was thirteen I very much liked being the centre of attention and started out by reciting futuristic poetry, stuff like ‘bim, bam, bum, crash, splash, patapum.’  Well, one girl took me to do this in the alcove at De Bono, among the black marketeers, and the director Febo Afari cast me in his film of Pinocchio.  I met him in my rooms and all the street boys took me for his pretty boy.  Nonetheless, that’s how I got into Italian cinema, before moving onto Marc’Aurelio with all the others.  Like Fellini, for instance, who came into the office to show us his drawings.”

“During the war, I was in Naples with the Americans. I played the voice of Il Duce in a radio program called Stella bianca.  Then when I returned to Rome I happened into the magazines.    Il suo carello was produced by De Laurentiis and directed by Renato Castellani, that was something out of the ordinary.  We couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t a joke.  After that I did Il gagman for Macario… and then in 49 I co-directed  Al diablo la celebrita with Monicelli.”

How was it working with another director?

“It was like a sexual thing… we laughed at the same stuff, and it never occurred to us to think who was better or best. I was more occupied with the actors, Mario loved being behind the movie camera.  At the time we spent a lot of time together, he was easier to see. Physically, I mean.  Even though he continues to repeat that he’s nothing more than an artisan, Mario continues to remain faithful to his vision.  I, on the other hand, am not a fan of flashy aesthetics.  You could say that I don’t feel the movie cameras, to quote Chaplin.”

Guardia e ladri, with Alberto Sordi

Guardia e ladri, with Alberto Sordi

Of Toto, Steno directed the great Neapolitan actor fourteen times.  “Doing films with Toto was a sufferance.  We always depended on his invention, and everything else had to revolve around him.  He collaborated instinctively, and would only work in the afternoons because he said that the mornings weren’t good for making people laugh, stealing a line from Oliver Hardy.  Toto was an extremely egocentric type.  When we took him the script of Guardie e ladri his response was: “Very nice, but what do I do?”  But he’d tease Aldo Fabrizi.  It made him laugh to make mistakes, with his found improvisations.  He’d say profanities that weren’t submissable on the screen, which made it all difficult.  But he was a marvel.  These ‘mostri’, they always gave their all, which makes it difficult now to settle for some of the anodyne performances of some of the actors in circulation now.  Certainly, they needed reining in, as you’d expect from avavspettacolo performers, or they risked unbalancing the film.  Apart from anything else, even the neo-realists borrowed from avanspettacolo, just think of Fabrizi and Magnani in Rosselini’s Roma citta aperta.

And Alberto Sordi?

Un giorno in pretura, one of Steno's most succesful films

Un giorno in pretura, one of Steno’s most succesful films

Alberto Sordi gifted the best episode of Un giorno in pretura to me.  But it wasn’t easy to convince the producers, because when they read in the script that the actor was nude they said: “Surely you’re mad, Sordi nude?  Put in Walter Chiari instead, Sordi will disgust everyone!”

Nonetheless, they were very productive, these old school producers…

“They were mad.  All of them.  The honourable Barattolo, who always had Francesca Bertini at his side, he had a pedal under his desk which he could ring the telephone with and get rid of pests.  Fortunato Misiano, who couldn’t understand there was another world apart from cinema, one day he said to me: “I found this great story, I was sent it to read, but I didn’t realise this son of a bitch had taken it from a book.”

“But now,” concludes the director, “there isn’t the same spirit and we live without knowing whether things will succeed.  In order to do a film they want it to be some kind of abstruse co-production, or you need to wait years for the actors to become available.  But I continue to say that cinema isn’t in crisis, just the way you make a film for the audience.  In Italy, cinema doesn’t describe the setting, doesn’t talk to people.  Any yet any film is a reflection of the lives and humour of a culture, because the books arrive too late. “

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