The 1960s Italian production-line comedy I maniaci stands as a pretty weird choice for a US DVD release, but then again MYA have proved to have a consistently inconsistent eye for titles in their short life to date, so it’s not that surprising. I guess the main selling point here is the fact that it was directed by Lucio Fulci who, of course, went on to find fame for his thrillers and horror films in the 70s and 80s. I maniaci, however, was very much a product of his earlier career, when he was a jobbing director, more commonly associated with this kind of lightweight fluff than gore, zombies and psychopathic killers.
What people tend to forget about Fulci, though, was during this period that he was actually enjoying his greatest period of domestic success within Italy. Working with stars like Walter Chiari, Franco & Ciccio and Raimondo Vianello, all of whom appear in this, his comedy films were almost always guaranteed to have the punters queuing up at the cinemas. He may not have had the critical acclaim of, say, a Comencini or a Monicelli, but – along with the likes of Steno and Mario Girolami – he was enjoying a decidedly good run, and although his films were never expensive, he seemed to have mastered the art of getting the best out of his money, using experienced crews and personable stars to churn out decent little productions of the type that people wanted to see. And it was a talent which would prove equally valid for his later work in other genres.
In fact, I maniaci is a slightly strange work in its own right. As well as being a comedy, it also belongs to the trend for anthology films that was just kicking off in the early 60s, films like Amori pericolosi (64) and Thrilling (65). Whereas the anthologies, though, tended to be made up of five of six short stories linked by a common theme, this is composed of numerous vignettes of anything between a couple of seconds to a quarter of an hour in length. There’s absolutely no kind of unifying sense behind them all, and although there are common themes – sex, marriage, work, cars and football – these seem to be there more by chance than intent. The lack of focus, plus the fact that several stars reappear in different skits, makes this stand as an interesting bridge between a kind of filmed vaudeville and the then more modern approach to cinematic comedy (although it could also be seen as a precursor to sketch shows such as The Fast Show and Monty Python).
Unfortunately, this also has the side effect of making it a rather unsatisfying viewing experience. It’s entertaining enough, but this type of thing is very much the sum of its parts, and unfortunately many of its parts aren’t particularly great. A lot of the sketches are somewhat unfocused, and the lack of time they’re given to develop means that a lot of them end up being half-baked. You can’t escape the feeling that Fulci and his co-writers – an estimable bunch including Tonino Guerra, Franco Castellano and Giuseppe Moccia, all of whom had a considerable reputation at the time – simply dug out a bunch of routines they hadn’t been able to work into their other films, bunging them all together just to do get them out the way.
Some, though, are more effective than others. La parolaccia follows an aspiring writer, Baietti (Umberto D’Orsi), who calls on a former colleague who has now become a great literary success, Castelli (Enrico Maria Salerno), in order to get some advice. Add some more swearing, advises the cynical Castelli, and some sex and violence as well. As a result of which Baietti turns in a novel full of gay Nazis and transsexual paratroopers, a pot-boiler of which Castelli proves to be one of the more outraged critics. L’autostop finds a well-meaning businessman (D’Orsi again), who gives a lift to a Southern hitchhiker (Walter Chiari), heading North in search of work. After a cordial start to their journey, the two men become increasingly caught up in their own prejudices, with each of them eventually persuading themselves that the other is a killer. Both of these work pretty well as satire, with La parolaccia playing with the snobbishness of the critical establishment and L’autostop neatly summarising the internal emigration that had taken place in Italy in the post-war period and was still a cause of some concern. Il weekend, on the other hand, is a full-on slapstick affair (and probably the funniest in the whole film), in which a couple of hapless burglars (Franco & Ciccio) are interrupted in their thieving when the owner of the apartment they’ve broken into returns for a spot of hanky panky with his new mistress.
Technically, everything is fine. Fulci had already made a number of films and directs in a simple, straightforward manner, which was very much the manner of the time, and he’s well supported by some perfectly acceptable cinematography and music. The performers are entertaining enough: Chiari was probably the biggest name, and he’s amusing, although Salerno is the standout performer as the frankly hideous Castelli. Even those who appear in more than one sketch can’t have needed to spend that much time on set, which possibly explains how he was able to assemble so many star names on such a limited budget. And the babes! Barbara Steele, Gaia Germani, Ingrid Schoeller, Rada Rassimov, Margaret Lee, Lisa Gastoni – if for nothing else it’s worth watching just to see the collection of sixties starlets on display. The response was good enough, with most critics proving reasonably accommodation: “A series of short sketches that are amusing enough based around the manias, not least the sexual manias, of some representative figures of Italian society“, according to Intermezzo, while the critic for Segnalazioni cinematografiche pointed judged it “…occasionally funny, not least because of the performances”
The MYA disc is fine enough. It’s in anamorphic widescreen and thankfully has English subs rather than audio. The black and white print looks sharp, and considering that it’s an unexpected release of a film which was previously unavailable on DVD or VHS in English, it’s hard to complain about the lack of extras.
 Anonimo, “Intermezzo, 7/8, agosto 1965
 Segnalazioni cinematografiche, vol. 55, 1964