If you expecting to find at least one of those Doris Day comedies to pop up on this list, well sorry but Ms. Day, with or without Rock Hudson, will be found nowhere on site. I am not an admirer, or fan. Day does have a nice comedic touch and some of her comedies are pleasant (Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back), but her virginal, sugary, spunky self, I just find annoying. Like Mary Tyler Moore’s Lou Grant once said, “I hate spunk.” I don’t mean to turn this into a tirade against Ms. Day, but in the 1960’s, the times, they were a changin.’ and films like With Six You Get Eggroll did not cut it. Anyway, here is my list for the decade that helped defined me.
It took more than thirty years for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma, to arrive on American shores. Made in 1962, the film finally had its day in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, our patron saint of forgotten cinema. The film made the art house circuit beginning at the Film Forum in New York and then made its way around the country. Why did it take so long? Well, it began when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where the local police declared the film obscene. The film made its way around Europe, but met with the scissors from local censors snipping at what they considered objectionable material. Even after the critical and financial success of his third film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, both here and in Europe, there were no takers to bring his earlier work to these shores. Continue reading
Maddelina Cecconi (Anna Magnani) is trapped with an abusive husband from a working class background. A nurse who provides injections for diabetics, she and her husband are saving their money in hopes of someday getting a home of their own. She wants better for her young plain looking daughter, Maria (Tina Apicella). She loves the movies (we see her watching Howard Hawks “Red River” on the local outdoor screen). When she hears about a movie director’s, Alessandro Blassetti portraying himself, open call for 6-8 year girls for his next film, Maddelina, like hundreds of other hopeful mothers, heads to Italy’s famed Cinicitta film studio with Maria for the auditions. During the process she spends the family’s small savings on ballet lessons, clothes for the young girl and paying off a hanger on who ensures her Tina will get the role. Maddelina becomes blinded by the possibilities of fame and fortune, a way out toward a better life for her daughter. By the end of the film, after hearing the film crews cruel assessment of Maria’s screen test, Maddelina realizes the superficiality of the film industry and that the cruelty of rejection is all too often the end results. Maddaline comes to finally realize family is more important that fame and fortune. Continue reading
Like her character, Karin in “Stromboli,” Ingrid Bergman found herself ostracized in real life from Hollywood and America after making this film with her director/lover Roberto Rossellini. Their affair and out of wed-lock child caused a scandal that found Bergman unable to find work in the United States for six years. In the film, Bergman is a Lithuanian refugee, released from an internment camp when she marries Antonio (Mario Vitali), an Italian and former prisoner of war. They go to live in his home in Stromboli, an almost deserted village located on a small volcanic island off the coast of southern Italy. Marriage and life in the poor village is far from what Karin envisioned for herself. Most locals who were born there have left. The ones who remain are a stoic group unwelcoming to strangers. Her attempts to brighten up their home by decorating are met with indifference from Antonio. Continue reading
“The Organizer” is a tough film to describe. Is it a tale of exploited textile workers fighting for better working conditions? A dark comedy? A human drama of class warfare? Well, the answer is yes to all. Set in very early years of the twentieth century in Turin the story focuses on the laborers in the town’s textile factory where the working conditions are harsh and the hours long. They arrive at 6 AM and leave at eight that night with only a half hour for lunch. The machines are dangerous, and there are certainly no health benefits in case of an injury. The workers slave for fourteen hours a day for a minimum wage. When one of the workers is injured in an accident the co-workers collect money to help out the family though they hardly have enough for themselves. Frustrated, the men and women stage a walkout but fail miserably when they neglect to support Pautasso (Folco Lulli), one of the leaders, who is suspended for two weeks. The others are penalized for the time taken off during the strike; they will now have to work on the job with no pay. Continue reading
In 1961, Ermanno Olmi was thirty years old when he made his first feature film though he had been working as a documentary filmmaker since 1953. “Il Posto” is an autobiographical coming of age story about a young man seeking his first job at a large corporation in Milan (we never find out exactly what this company does). The film is a sometimes sad and sometimes touchingly humorous look at young Domenico Cantoni (Sandro Panseri) who comes from a lower working class background having to give up going to school to get a job while his younger brother continued his education. Young Domenico travels from his small town on the outskirts of Milan to the big city to seek employment. He along with other applicants, including a young attractive girl (Loredana Detto) goes through some bizarre pre-employment testing before he is accepted for a position as a messenger.
Young Domenico is introverted but more so he is an observer of the behavior of others, he constantly studies his co-workers manners and the dehumanizing affect pedestrian jobs and bureaucratic bosses have had on their lives. As the film progresses you sense a horror coming over the young man as he comes to realize that staying in this corporate environment his whole life (both his parents and co-workers talk about how fortunate it is to work for the corporation where you have a job for life), there is nothing else to look forward too. They work all day, eat lunch in the company cafeteria and even party together on New Year’s Eve at a company bash where the bandleader announces that the company gives married couples and lovers permission to kiss on the lips come midnight!
The final shot in the film of young Domenico who had to start his career as a messenger because there were no openings in the department he was assigned to has now finally obtained his own desk and a clerical position after the apparent death of a co-worker. As he sits in the back of the office at his newly assigned desk, he looks up; he looks down, and mostly he looks scared! Scared that, my God here is where I will spend the rest of my life working for mindless robotic bureaucrats (shades of Metropolis and The Crowd) if I don’t get out.
Like his protagonist, Ormi worked for ten years at a clerical job and feared the same bleak future until he got a job making documentaries and eventually raising money to make this film. Like DeSica and Visconti, Olmi used no professional actors. Olmi mentions in the accompanying documentary on the Criterion DVD that the young male lead Sandro Paseri, he believes now is working as a manager at a super market and the pretty young girl he had a crush, Loredana Detto, well she is now Mrs. Ermanno Olmi.
“Il Posto” is a simple coming of age story of a young man told with a quiet beauty and small vivid details that are universal in how it unfolds. Olmi’s scenes of Milan are of a major metropolis still rebuilding after the war but anxious to move on into the modern era.
Long before Don Corleone, Don Vincenzo made an offer you could not refuse.
After recording this film off TCM many months ago, I finally got around to watching it, why I waited so long I do not know. Re-released in the United States in 2006 when it was shown at the New York Film Festival, “Mafioso” is a brilliant black comedy, the kind that Italian cinema did so well back in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Divorce, Italian Style, Seduced and Abandon, Big Deal on Madonna Street). In Mafioso, director Alberto Luttuada mixes genres, flipping from a bright almost frothy comedy in the beginning to a dark, horrific nightmarish world. It is also a story of family and class culture shock where modern Milan (Northern Italy) meets its poor dirt cousins of Sicily ruled by age old suspicions of the law, outlaws and the Mafia.
The age old tension between Northern and Southern Italians is at the root of much of the humor in “Mafioso.” While Northern Italy benefited from the Industrialization and the unification of Italy, Southern Italians remained in poverty and under educated, generally looked down upon by the north who assumed a more superior posture. So when Nino Badalamenti (Alberto Sordi), a transplanted Sicilian, becomes a success as supervisor at a Fiat factory in Milan, it was a big deal for his family back home.
At work, Nino is precise, organized and he ensures everything runs like clockwork keeping a close watch on his workers. Nino’s success extends to his family life, he has a modern home, modern conviencences and is married to Marta (Norma Bengell), a sophisticated beautiful blonde with whom he has two adorable blonde haired young girls. Saving his vacation time and money Nino plans a two week trip back to his homeland in Sicily. For his wife and kids this will be the first time they all meet Nino’s family. Just before he is ready to leave the plant for his vacation, Nino’s boss, a Sicilian, via New Jersey, unexpectedly asks him if he knows Don Vincenzo his home town’s capo di tutti capi. Nino replies of course, everyone knows the town’s patriarch, and no he would not mind delivering a gift since he would have to visit and pay his respects to the elderly man. Little does Nino realize at the time that this little favor will change his life.
For Nino coming home is a joyous reunion, he is the successful son that made it. For Marta, the trip from modern bustling Milan to the dirt filled village of Nino’s home is culture shock, a trip back to a more primitive time. She tells him, “Italy is fading away” as they ride a ferry leaving the mainland. His family’s small home is filled with relatives, all dressed in black, a sister with a thick moustache and parents who are suspicious of a blonde daughter-in-law who they see as a snobbish intruder. His wife feels unwelcome and wants to go home. Connecting his two worlds Nino discovers is not an easy task.
The family dinners are filled with large festival meals of fried swordfish and black pasta (it seems everywhere they go they are showered with food). Nino visits old friends half who seem to be unemployed while the other half seem to be working for the local Don. Nino must pay his respects to Don Vincenzo, who he swore allegiance to as a young boy. He delivers the package from his boss that contains a jewel heart shaped ornament with the names of deceased “friends” inscribed on it. Later when Nino tries to help his father settle a land acquisition, the seller believing now there is water on the land raises the price, Don Vincenzo “helps” settle the dispute, and in return the crime boss ask a favor. When the Don and his associates discover Nino is an expert shot with a gun his fate is even further sealed sending Nino’s world into a dark unforeseen direction.
Lattuada seems very much a visual artist, his camera embraces the landscape as well as the structural design of the film’s three locations, whether it is northern Italy, Sicily or New York. In each his camera soaks in the beauty and style of each location, so much that they literary become a character in the film. He and his writers have also put together some interesting vignettes on life in the backward Sicilian village; the first meal with Nino’s family loaded with food, food and more food, the women always dressed in black (as Italian-American comedian Pat Cooper said in one of his comedy albums that way “if somebody dies, they’re ready!”), Nino’s conversation with his beach bum friends who ogle his wife when she appears later in this sequence in a skimpy bikini, and when Nino and his family first arrive in Sicily, they pass a “party” for a recently deceased person. Later as they walk along the street on their way to pay respects to Don Vincenzo, they pass home after home with small signs at each doorway that are in memory of a deceased family member. Death seems to be a constant companion to the culture.
As Nino, Alberto Sordi swings from the light heartedness of the early part of the film to the dark Godfather like finale with supreme ease. He has a innate style for moving back and forth between comedy and drama.
Freeing himself from his past Nino discovers will take more than moving to a city up North, marrying a beautiful upscale blonde and working at a great job. Though more than forty years have passed with audiences being subjected to funny and some not so funny Mafia’s films like “Analyze This” and “Mickey Blue Eyes”, “Mafioso” is a classic and has lost none of its bite.