Mia nonna poliziotto

Director: Steno [Stefano Vanzina]
Certification number / date: 27685 del 05.09.58
First release date: 10/09/58
Production companies: Jonia Film
Story: Vittorio Metz, Roberto Gianviti
Screenplay: Vittorio Metz, Roberto Gianviti, Steno
Cinematography: Sergio Pesce
Music: Carlo Innocenzi
Editor: Otello Colangeli
Art direction: Ivo Battelli
Cast: Tina Pica (Tina De Cupis), Mario Riva (Mario Secchioni), Lila Rocco (Ileana), Alberto Lionello (Alberto), Diana Dei (Ileana’s sister), Loris Gizzi (Head of the clinic), Dante Maggio (Ileana’s father), Paolo Panelli (Ernesto), Luigi Pavese (the commissioner), Alberto Talegalli (Marshall Speranza), Bice Valori (Francesca), Riccardo Billi (Belletti), Ugo Tognazzi (Lucio), Raimondo Vianello (Riccardo), Silvio Bagolini (Gustavo Peretti, a busdriver), Adolfo Belletti, Anna Campori (head of the house), Gianna Cobelli, Clely Fiamma (Chiromante), Enzo Garinei (Gattinelli, the writer), Luisa Mattioli, Mario Meniconi (Il vetturino), Giuseppe Pica

Tina Pica and friend in Mia nonna poliziotta
Tina Pica and friend in Mia nonna poliziotta

Mia nonna poliziotto is a diverting comedy directed by Stefano Vanzina, aka Steno, who also co-wrote it with Vittorio Metz and Roberto Gianviti. Both Steno and Metz were highly respected in their field during this period, and stood as rare examples of genre filmmakers who had as much sway as the comics appearing on the screen. According to Tino Scotti: “… in films at that time the scriptwriters would hardly ever write the comic sketches. I am able to recall some writers who did manage to contribute something to these films, but it was only people like Marchesi, Metz, Steno or Monicelli, because they had their roots in avanspettacolo and knew the comic canon.” In other words, while the likes of Marino Girolami and Giorgio Simonelli were there primarily to film the comics doing their routines, Steno and Metz were more actively involved in that which was seen on screen; a model which would become much more widespread over the following years.

When Alberto (Alberto Lionello) announces that he’s planning to marry the beautiful Ileana (Lila Rocco), his grandmother, Tina (Tina Pica), is adamant that she has to attend the wedding, despite it taking place in the city, some way from her country retreat. Tina, you see, is the widow of a rich former soldier, and has been bankrolling her favourite grandson for several years, so she feels she has a vested interest in his marital plans. Not to mention the fact that she’s an interfering old battleaxe who causes chaos wherever she goes.

Unsurprisingly, dear old granny soon throws a spanner into Alberto’s plans; a medallion she owns and that’s of huge sentimental value is stolen, and she refuses to allow the marriage to take place until it is recovered. When the police prove to be of no help whatsoever, she decides to find out just who it was that stole it for herself, and begins by snooping on all the other guests at the hotel she’s staying in. This, however, only succeeds in getting her into even more trouble.

Eventually, however, she becomes convinced that it’s actually been pilfered by a gang of ruthless criminals, and sets off with Alberto to confront them in their lair. When it becomes clear that, in reality, her ‘gangsters’ are a pair of rather hopeless would-be playboys, the authorities are left with no option but to lock her up in a mental hospital. Fearing that her wedding may never actually take place, Ileana, decides that the only thing to do is clear up the whole mess herself, and starts doing some investigating.

While the plot isn’t particularly novel, mothers-in-law from hell being a staple comic ingredient, this has a nice script, with the humour coming mainly from the dialogue and comic interplay. There are some farcical situations, such as Pica’s intervention in the hapless playboys’ activities, but it thankfully never resorts to the kind of pratfalls and basic physical humour that became more and more prevalent over the following decades. There’s also a certain leftfield sensibility visible in some of the throwaway gags – a search of a magician’s room, for example, causes a mechanical Frankenstein’s monster to run amok – and that gives it an additional degree of charm.

While Steno’s direction isn’t exactly virtuoso, he was a capable filmmaker who obviously knew exactly what he was doing. Even though it occasionally has the feel of a filmed play, which wasn’t unusual for the time, it looks pretty good, with nice, crisp, black and white cinematography and good use of exteriors. There’s one great scene in which two characters have a lengthy discussion in a busy train station, which must have been very complex to set up and displays an interesting use of contrast between the action in the foreground and background.

This one of several films to come from Felice Felicioni’s Jonia Film, a lesser production company who made about 20 films between 1954 and 1965. Most of their projects were smaller scale releases, with the possible exception of the 1962 peplum Constantine and the Cross, although this looks to have had at least some budget behind it. They were obviously trying to make a star out of Tina Pica at the time, as they were also behind Roberto Montero’s La zia d’America va a sciare and Giorgio Simonelli’s Napoli, sole mio, both of which were vehicles for her made in the same year as Mia nonna poliziotto. On the face of it, Pica makes for an unlikely figure to carry a movie, but she’d spent several years perfecting her interfering Aunt / Granny / old bat persona, and seized the opportunity with both hands. She even became popular enough to even have her own name appear in the title of the 1959 film La pica sul pacifico (59).

Also in the cast are two comedians who’d go on to make their name the following decade, Ugo Tognazzi and Raimondo Vianello, who play the preposterous playboys (Tognazzi’s technique is to pretend he’s Marlon Brando, for some reason). Although their parts are minor, they manage to just about steal the whole film, and it’s not hard to see why they’d go on to greater success elsewehere. Tognazzi and Pica were actually frequent collaborators, making a good half dozen films in 1958 and 1959.

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