Primitive Love

Belgian poster for Primitive Love
Belgian poster for Primitive Love

Aka L’amore primitivo, L’amour primitif, Primitive Liebe
Original running length: 80 mins
Produced by Pietro Paolo Giordini and Fulvio Lucisano for G.L.M., Italian International Film
Director: Luigi Scattini
Cast: Jayne Mansfield (Dr Jane), Mickey Hargitay (the hotel manager), Ciccio Ingrassia (Ciccio), Franco Franchi (Franco), Alfonso Sarlo, Lucia Modugno (the maid), Carlo Kechler, Eugenio Galadini
Story: Luigi Scattini, Massimo Pupillo
Screenplay: Amedeo Sollazzo
Cinematography: Claudio Racca
Music: Coriolano Gori, the song “Bella come te” by Gori & Scattini & sung by Pippo Caruso
Editor: Otello Colangeli
Art director: Gastone Carsetti
First released in Italy on the 17/07/64

Primitive Love is a bizarre combination of slapstick comedy and mondo movie, made in 1964 by the late Luigi Scattini.  Scattini had previously built up a reputation as an accomplished documentary filmmaker, with award winning titles like La via del carbone (62), and La Vergine di Caacupé e Puerto Sastre (63) under his belt, and the vogue for mondos must have been incredibly tempting to him.  With backing from producer Fulvio Lucisano – who was making pots of money out of b-grade productions like this at the time – he went round the world, accompanied only by cameraman Claudio Racca, shooting footage about sexual mores and customs.

When they returned, though, and viewed the material they’d gathered: “…we realised that it wasn’t actually all that interesting.  After the screening I got up and said we ought to throw the film in the rubbish bin, as nobody would ever go to the cinema to see it.”  Lucisano, though, wasn’t going to let it go to waste: he came up with the notion of framing the footage with a story which would make it appealing to contemporary audiences.  And how would they do that?  “We needed a comedian.  Only one?  Why not get two, Franco and Ciccio, the most famous double act on screen at the moment.  What about a diva?  How about Jayne Mansfied, that incendiary sex bomb!  And, finally, how about a story with all the necessary trappings.  Sorted!”

The eventual film they created goes something like this: Franco (Franco Franchi) and Ciccio (Ciccio Ingrassia) are a pair of hapless bellboys who become even more incompetent when they discover that the incredibly beautiful Dr. Jane (Jane Mansfield) has come to stay there for a short while.  After discovering that she’s in possession of a selection of saucy photographs and some risqué film footage, they become convinced that she’s some kind of nymphomaniac, and try their best to wrangle their way into her bed.  In fact, she’s an anthropologist, and all of the supposedly salacious material is part of a recent survey she’s conducted into ‘love among the primitives’, which she’s intending to display to a cynical colleague of hers.

Franco, Ciccio and Jayne Mansfield
Franco, Ciccio and Jayne Mansfield

At this point we get to the documentary material, intercut with the occasional sequence of Franco and Ciccio trying to take a peek or Dr. Jayne talking to the elderly professor.  Much of it has very little to do with the supposed subject of her dissertation whatsoever (unless harvesting rice is the kind of activity that floats your boat). We get to see a Chinese wedding ceremony, a pig getting disembowelled, some cock fighting, Senegalese wrestling, native dancing in South Africa, funeral services in the South Pacific, prostitution in Hong Kong and (most amusingly) detection of an adulterous wife by prophetic python in Indonesia.  When things start getting a bit dull, there’s even a protracted display of Hula dancing which looks to have been filmed in a Roman night club.

Even after all of this, though, Jayne’s colleague remains unconvinced by her argument that ‘in the sphere of love, man has remained a primitive!’.  So she performs a striptease, which instantly turns Franco and Ciccio into gurning jelly and causes the Professor to turn into a weird kind of sex-crazed caveman, thereby proving… well, something or other.

That this film even got made at all is an achievement.  That it went on to become a huge success is testament to Fulvio Lucisano’s powers of improvisation, as well as a demonstration of the unsophisticated nature of the market at the time.  Because, in all honesty, it’s pretty terrible stuff.  Despite Scattini’s disparaging view of his documentary footage, it actually looks like it has better production values than the ‘framing’ sequences, which is quite an achievement.  According to Scattini: “It seems incredible, but the two of us shot the entire film: the whole crew consisted of Claudio Racca and me… It all cost about 40 million and grossed nearly a billion.”  Unfortunately, this low budget nature is painfully apparent, with most of the new material being shot in a hotel room (at the Hilton, where Mansfield was staying) and looking like it cost exactly as much to shoot as it did.

Franco and Ciccio are always a lot less funny when dubbed into English, but even so this isn’t one of their greatest moments.  They could be very funny, but a lot of the slapstick here seems forced, and they’re left with little to do beyond continually pull faces.  I guess if you were going to look at it from an academic perspective you could argue that their characters – the kind of goons who find leafing through a National Geographic an almost unbearable challenge to their libido – are a not too inaccurate representation of the audiences who flocked to watch this kind of rubbish.  Whatever the case, things just get weird when Franco starts dreaming he’s an African bongo drummer enticing Ms. Mansfield into a frenzied, erotic dance with his powerful rhythms, only to be thwarted by a spear (erm, mop) wielding Ciccio.

The striptease sequence from Primitive Love
The striptease sequence from Primitive Love

Certainly, Scattini’s penchant for exotica shows through in the way in which he seems to have much more interest in the staged documentary footage than the comic exposition.  Some of the narration isn’t actually too bad, certainly no dumber than most of the stuff you find on Channel 4 nowadays, and apart from the animal sequences – which I have to admit don’t bother me a huge amount personally – it’s all pretty inoffensive.  Quite how much of this documentary footage may be authentic is arguable: much of it seems to have been shot with tongue firmly in cheek, and some of the ‘natives’ appear to be winking at the camera while they stage their ceremonies and rituals.  In fact, the sequence that the filmmakers were most worried about was Mansfield’s striptease at the finale: “The final scene, for example… lasted much longer than the version that ended up in the film.  It was perhaps a bit too ‘racy’ for the time, with Jayne going topless, so we cut it out before anyone complained.”

Undoubtedly, Primitive Love is a pretty dismal film.  But, and it’s a big but, it’s all so poor, so relentlessly cheesy, that it’s actually rather entertaining.  This is the kind of wrong-headed nonsense that could only have been made in its time, and it’s certainly more enjoyable than most of the more serious Mondo movies.

(all quotes taken from Luigi Scattini’s website and translated by me)


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