Casanova 70

Mario Monicelli’s 1965 comedy Casanova 70 sneaked out onto DVD in the UK last year, and I hadn’t had the chance to check it out until now. The DVD itself is pretty rudimentary – there isn’t anything in the way of way of extras – but at least the print is sharp and you can choose to watch it with Italian audio and English subs. And as all of these 60s and 70s not-quite-exploitation-not-quite-arthouse Italian films have been so damned hard to find in recent years, it’s a welcome release.

The script – written by the heavyweight combination of Monicelli, Age & Scarpelli, Tonino Guerra and Suso Cecchi d’Amico – is pure fluff. It follows Andrea (Marcello Mastroianni), a Major in the Italian army who has serious women problems, mainly because of a destructive streak that causes him to ruin his relationships as soon as they approach consummation. A visit to a bizarre psychiatrist (Enrico Maria Salerno) reveals the root of his problems: he’s addicted to having sex in hazardous situations, and without a frisson of risk he simply can’t get interested. He’s advised that unless he abstains from all kinds of physical relationships, he will end up causing harm to both others and himself.

Despite giving it his best shot, this proves easier said than done, and he’s soon getting involved in affairs with a number of dangerous women. He steals a kiss from a lion tamer (Liana Orfei) in the middle of her routine, sleeps with his commanding officer’s slutty wife (Margaret Lee) and even allows himself to be seduced by a Sicilian nymphomaniac (Jolanda Modio) with a gang of dangerously over-protective relatives. Things come to a head when he becomes involved with an opera singer (Marisa Mell) who is married to a jealous, murderous Count (Marco Ferreri, of all people).

Marcello Mastroianni in Casanova 70
Marcello Mastroianni in Casanova 70

As you’d expect from a Mario Monicelli film, this is all put together with a lot of skill and a great deal of charm.  It looks perfect, a colourful slice of sixties technicolor, and it has very good production values, including exterior shoots in numerous exotic locations.  Some of it is very funny – there’s a hilarious sequence in which Andrea tries to eat a lunch at an extremely chaotic restaurant, ending up being pursued by a posse of angry dwarves after seducing the owners daughter – and even in its more subdued stretches it’s still a pleasure to look at.  Visually, it feels very like What’s New Pussycat, and there are certain plot similarities as well… the crazy psychiatrist could easily have been played by Peter Sellers, for instance.

But good as it is – and I would highly recommend this film to any fan of Italian and / or sixties cinema – I still find it slightly hard to believe that this was nominated for a ‘best screenplay’ Oscar.  Essentially, it’s a classy sex comedy (a link that’s hardly played down during a nightclub striptease act that could easily have been part of a Jesus Franco film), and there’s almost nothing in the way of social comment or depth.  Monicelli’s previous Oscar nominated film, Big Deal on Madonna Street, had been similarly light-hearted, but it had also harked back to a more acceptable neo-realist tradition.  Considering the establishments love of big, broad themes, often in dull-as-ditchwater films, it seems hard to believe that this found so much favour.  Maybe everybody had been hitting the electric kool aid that year.

And what a cast!  Marcello Mastroianni was in his pomp at this time, and turns in a hugely appealing performance.  It’s hard to account for how Marco Ferreri ended up in this, and to be fair he doesn’t really act, but his performance is surprisingly effective.  And then there are the girls; just about every actress in Rome in the sxties is in this.  Apart from those already mentioned, there are also: Virna Lisi (Andrea’s long suffering fiancee), Michele Mercier (another long-suffering girlfriend), Seyna Seyn (time obsessed air hostess), Rosemary Dexter (hotel chambermaid), Moira Orfei (an unlucky prostitute) and so on and so on.

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