Tuesday, November 19, 2013

La parmigiana (1963)

Italian Poster

La parmigiana, directed and co-written by Antonio Pietrangeli, is a black and white Italian film based on a novel by Bruna Piatti.  Pietrangeli, who died in 1968 at age 49, went on to direct the well-regarded films La visita (starring Sandra Milo) and Il magnifico cornuto (starring Claudia Cardinale and Ugo Tognazzi) in 1964, as well as Io la conoscevo bene (starring Stefania Sandrelli) in 1965.

Catherine plays Dora, an orphaned teen who lives with her priest uncle.  As the film opens, Dora arrives in the city of Parma to visit a friend of her deceased mother.  As the film progresses, we see through flashback scenes the events that led to Dora's arrival in Parma. 

First, we see that Dora lost her virginity on a riverbank to a teenaged boy who is about to enter the seminary.  Dora does not seem overly concerned about their act, but the boy suffers from angst that he has violated his faith.  The young couple decides to elope, which leads to a whirlwind of changes in Dora's life.  While staying in a hotel, the young boy decides to abandon Dora and enter the seminary as originally planned.  Left alone, without enough money to cover her hotel bill, Dora is forced to use her feminine charms to survive as she is pursued by men at every turn.

Eventually, she meets Nino, played by Nino Manfredi.  Nino is an advertising agent/photographer/small-time con-man, who is constantly down on his luck and struggling to get a break.  Dora becomes his model/lover as they try to make it somewhere together.  Unfortunately, Nino is arrested and sent to prison for fraud as a result of a past money-making scheme.  Dora, once again left to fend for herself, decides to go to Parma to visit her mother's friend.

While staying with her mother's friend, Dora is pursued by an amorous policeman, played by Lando Buzzanca.  Dora has no interest in the policemen, but he is very persistent in wanting to marry her, and her mother's friend tries to push her into the marriage.  Eventually, she resorts to seducing him in order to shatter his illusion that she is his virginal dream-bride, even telling him how many men she has slept with.  Although shocked at this turn of events, the policemen is obsessed with Dora and continues his pursuit.

Finally, spurning the policeman, Dora goes in search of Nino in hopes of reuniting with him.  Unfortunately, she finds that Nino sought the comfort of a middle-aged female shop-owner in order to have security in his life after prison.  After shedding a few tears and adjusting her makeup, Dora appears ready to embark once again on the challenges of life, using her youth and beauty to her advantage.

Curiously, the film does not appear to have ever been released on DVD, but it was apparently released on VHS video in Italy at some point.   

Although Manfredi received top billing, La parmigiana is very much a Catherine Spaak movie.  Manfredi does not appear on-screen until the midway point of the film, and Catherine has more screen time than in any of her previous films, with the possible exception of I dolci inganni.  The film is well-made, well-acted, and interesting.  Catherine is as lovely as ever.  This is the type of role for which she was perfect at that stage of her career.  The role required someone who could convey both a girlish immaturity and a womanly strength and attractiveness at the same time.  Catherine handled the role with aplomb.  La parmigiana is amongst the best work of Catherine's career and deserves wider availability for her fans.   

In addition to her typical hair style of the era, Catherine also spends part of the film in a short, brunette wig and part of it in a short, blonde wig.  The brunette wig look is similar to that later used for her in 1969's A Rather Complicated Girl.

IMDB lists the film as a comedy.  It has some good comedic moments, but like a number of Italian films in that era, it is probably better described as a Comedy/Drama.  Certainly, Dora's plight involves more drama than comedy.  One of the most humorous scenes occurs when Dora is at a dance and is watching the people on the dance floor.  A teenaged boy is dancing with a young woman who is showing a lot of cleavage.  The more they dance the farther he leans in toward her cleavage, which has entranced him.  Dora's friend points out that Dora should not worry about her low-cut dress, because it is modest compared to the ladies on the dance floor.  Dora retorts, "It looks as if she is breastfeeding him." 

Typically, Catherine's character (for the most part) is romantically involved with older men and has some "nude" scenes that do not involve any actual on-screen nudity, but probably raised eyebrows at the time.   In one particularly "scandalous" scene, a stranger offers to buy Dora a bikini, if she will let him watch her put it on, which she does.  I continue to point out these scenes in Catherine's early career, in part because I believe we will eventually see that her films cultivated a certain image that may not have served her well down the road in regard to custody battles involving her daughter, Sabrina, in Catholic-dominated Italy.

Catherine began smoking cigarettes at a young age and was apparently quite a smoker for a long time.  She has several scenes in La parmigiana in which she is smoking (and smoking on-screen was not uncommon in films of that era).  In fact, in one scene, Dora studies her smoking and exhaling in a mirror.  There is a clip of that scene on youtube:


Sabrina was born on April 16, 1963, so Catherine would have probably been a few months pregnant when filming La parmigiana, although you would never have guessed it based on her appearance.  Considering the pregnancy and smoking while watching the film, I was thinking "My how times have changed." 

Finally, as we have seen in other films reviewed so far, there are several scenes where people are doing the twist.  The twist sure was popular in Italy!  Interestingly, the film features a catchy English language song not listed in the credits, but I believe that it is Perry Como singing a song called "Caterina."

The film was likely shot in late 1962, because it premiered in Italy on February 15, 1963.  Known as La chica de Parma, it premiered in Spain on April 11, 1971 (in Barcelona).  IMDB notes a world-wide English title of The Girl from Parma, but I have yet to find any evidence of the film having actually been released in an English-speaking country.

Here is an Italian-language interview with Pietrangeli about the film in 1963:
Now, for promotional material, starting with some Italian posters.

Notice that the last poster above must have been from some later re-release, because the picture of Catherine at the top-right appears to be from 1969's Diary of a Telephone Operator.  The one on the left probably is too. 

Here is an Italian program for the film:

Some Italian Fotobustas:
Foreign stills/set photos:

Some Serbian/Yugoslavian stills, a poster, and a program:

A Spanish advertisement:

A German program:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

L'amore difficile (1962)

U.S. One Sheet Poster
Note:  This post contains spoilers.

L'amore difficile is a black and white Italian film comprised of four unrelated short stories, which was fairly common in Italian films of the era.  Generally, the stories deal with the love lives of single, 40-ish men, although one story involves a married man.

The first story, Le donne, features Enrico Maria Salerno as a 40-ish professor named Antonio, who is seeking female companionship on a lazy Sunday.  He first calls Valeria, played by Catherine, who declines his invitation to come over, because someone else is taking her to the beach.  After that failure, he calls another former date, Bruna, played by Claudia Mori (who went on to have a long career in Italy as both an actress and a singer). Bruna is willing to come over.  With love-making on his mind, Antonio is disappointed to learn on Bruna's arrival that she just got married three days ago.  He is surprised by this turn of events, but Bruna reminds him that he hasn't called her in several months.  She appears to be young and likely a current or former student of his, and she appears to be only interested in writing with him.  However, much to Antonio's surprise, Bruna eventually summons him to his bedroom, where she has undressed to her undergarments and invites him to bed.

Meanwhile, Valeria had called Antonio back, saying that her date backed out on her, but Antonio responded that he had already made a date with someone else.  After making love with Bruna, however, Antonio ends up going to the beach with Valeria after all, when she picks him up in a nice convertible. Valeria appears to be liberated, amoral, and somewhat sophisticated, while at the same time appearing to probably be one of Antonio's students.  He is still musing over why a woman only married three days ago would make love to him, and he even discusses the situation with Valeria, who is well aware that he had another date earlier in the day.  Still, Valeria eventually invites him to bed. Antonio accepts the invitation to make love, only to be upset afterwords that Valeria did not tell him that she was a virgin. Valeria seems unconcerned by the situation and goes out to the beach for an afternoon of sunbathing.  As Valeria walks away in a one-piece bathing suit, she looks younger and a lot less mature than she had earlier, and I think that this is detrimental to the story.  It just seems odd.

Catherine's role in some ways is typical for her in that era.  She plays a teenager who is romantically involved with a much older man.  Also, there is "scandalous" nudity involved in her sunbathing, although no real nudity is ever shown on-screen, merely bare legs and a bare back here and there.  What I find different in this film, however, is that the role is a waste of Catherine's time and talent.  She does not appear until the 13-minute mark in this 24 minute storyline, and the whole story seems rather pointless.  There is nothing wrong with Catherine's performance per se, it's just that the material is weak and she doesn't have much to do.  Finally, as I pointed out earlier, Catherine is made to look a little older and more sophisticated when she first appears on-screen, but in the final scene, after having made love off-camera to an older man, she then appears to look younger and less mature.  This makes an already flat story seem weird.  I was left with the conclusion that Catherine was miscast in this part, a downer in what was an otherwise break-out year for her career.

Finally, on a side-note, Salerno pokes a little fun at legendary Italian actor Alberto Sordi during the segment.  When Bruna comes over to his house, she proceeds to show him pictures of her traffic-cop husband and asks "Doesn't he look like Cary Grant?"  Salerno responds that he looks more like Alberto Sordi than Cary Grant.

The second story, L'avaro, stars Vittorio Gassman and Nadja Tiller (Miss Austria in 1949 and 1951).  Gassman is a lawyer who still lives at home with his mother and is approached by a rich man and his wife (Tiller) about helping with an insurance claim.  The lawyer is immediately intrigued by the attractive wife and decides to spend time with the couple to help with the claim (and get to know the wife better).  He learns that the husband is no longer rich, because he plays cards every night and has lost all of his money and friends, to the distress (of course) of his beautiful wife.  She is now in the position of accepting gifts and attention from the other card players, so that they will continue to extend credit to her husband.  The gist of the story is that Gassman begs the wife to run away with him, but when she later actually leaves her husband and wants to run away with him, he becomes scared, changes his mind, and rebuffs the lovely wife.  Their attraction never resulted in physical intimacy.  Again, this segment just seems flat and uninteresting to me.  I am not very familiar with Ms. Tiller's work, but this just struck me as generally being a waste of time of the legendary Gassman's talent.  It was not humorous, and it was not particularly interesting.  The most interesting thing for me was Ms. Tiller's amazing resemblance to Ashley Judd.

The third story, L'avventura di un soldato, stars legendary Italian actor Nino Manfredi as a soldier traveling by train, who is attracted to a young widow (Fulvia Franco).  In a somewhat-interesting premise, Manfredi's character tries to physically touch the young widow with various parts of his body without being noticed by the other travelers in the car.  The young widow acts as if nothing is happening.  Neither Manfredi nor the widow utter a word during the segment, although they eventually end up making love after being left alone in the car.  Upon disembarking from the train, the widow disappears with some other people before Manfredi has a chance to pursue her further.  While I found this segment to be somewhat humorous in spots, it still generally fell flat with me.  I do not think that it is among Manfredi's best work. 

The fourth story, Il serpente, involves Professor Brenner (Bernhard Wicki) and his wife, Hilde (Lilli Palmer), a German couple on vacation in Sicily.  Hilde wants romance, excitement, and attention from her husband, but he does not respond to her desires.  While site-seeing, they become stranded on a deserted, dirt road at night.  Two young farmers come along in a truck and ultimately give Hilde a ride into town to seek help.  Hilde likes the danger and excitement of riding with the strangers in the cab of their truck and is attracted to them, but they show no interest in her.  When they drop her off in town to talk to the police about getting help for her husband, she falsely reports that she was assaulted by the two farmers.  The police chief (Gastone Moschin) is skeptical of the charge and convinces Professor Brenner to drop the matter.  Professor Brenner, realizing that his wife is crying out for attention, returns to her side in their hotel and provides her the attention and romance that she has been craving.  I would not say that this segment is bad, but as with the other segments, it just seems rather flat and not particularly interesting.

Perhaps, L'amore difficile was viewed differently in its time and by its intended audience, but the material does not seem to translate well to me today.  I also may have been disappointed, because I had wanted to view this film for a long time and expected more from it, given its superstar lineup and my fondness for Italian films from that period.  Nevertheless, the film provides an opportunity for Catherine fans to see her on screen for a few minutes during her breakout year of 1962.

I have not found any information on the location filming for the movie, but it premiered in Italy on December 24, 1962.  In the USA, it was known as Of Wayward Love and premiered at the Paris Theatre in New York City on March 23, 1964 (a big year for Catherine in America).  The film was known as Sex Can Be Difficult in the UK (1964) and as Erotica in West Germany (August 6, 1963, Berlin).  

Here are pictures of the outside and inside of the Paris Theatre, which is across the street from the Plaza Hotel, as well as an ad announcing the premiere:

Based on the one sheet poster shown in this post and a review in the New York Times on March 24, 1964, the Pathe Contemporary version was subtitled and did not include the Gassman segment.  In addition, the order of the segments was:  Le donne, Il serpente, and L'avventura di un soldato. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times was no more kind than me in his review, stating:
  •  That Le donne "is virtually a platitude, being merely a passing observation of a roue's experiences with two girls...Salerno finds it all rather cheap-and so do I;"
  •  That Il serpente is a "quaint bit of banality;" and
  • That L'avventura di un soldato "is no more than a conventional exercise in mime for Nino Manfredi, an able actor who also directed it...It is a slight, but chucklesome, skit."
The film received no mention in Boxoffice magazine, so my presumption is that it received a very limited release without making much of a splash in the U.S.  The one sheet poster at the top of this post is the only promotional material that I have ever seen for the U.S. release of the film.

On to more promotional material for the film, starting with Italian posters and fotobustas:

A still/set photo:

An Italian 45 rpm soundtrack record:

Some British material:

German lobby cards, a couple of pages from a German program, and a German poster:

A Czech poster:
A Belgian poster:

An Argentinian still:

Mexican lobby cards: