Saturday, November 2, 2013

Il sorpasso (1962)

Il Sorpasso (aka The Easy Life) is a highly regarded 1962 Italian road movie/comedy/drama directed by Dino Risi and filmed in beautiful black and white.  Vittorio Gassman plays the part of Bruno Cortona, a rather obnoxious salesman-type businessman, and Jean-Louis Trintignant is Roberto Mariani, a shy and inhibited law student.  On a day in which the streets of Rome are quiet and deserted, Bruno is on his way to meet a date but is late and trying to find a telephone to call her.  By chance, he meets Roberto, who allows him to come upstairs and use the phone in his room.  Bruno insists that Roberto join him for lunch, which turns into a two-day journey across Italy in Bruno's convertible sports car.  After watching this film, you will never forget the sound of the horn on Bruno's car!

Over the course of their journey, we see that Bruno is obnoxious and insensitive, yet he has a certain charisma and understanding of human nature that attracts people to him, at least temporarily.  In the end, in one way or another, Bruno always seems to hurt the people with whom he comes into contact.  Roberto is no different, as he eventually begins to overcome his inhibitions and warms to Bruno's wild ways.

I generally believe that comedy is the film genre that is most difficult to translate between different languages and cultures, so it is worth noting that I find several scenes in this film to be quite funny 50+ years later.  I suspect that Italian film-goers of the era found it to be very funny.  Not surprisingly, as with many Italian films of the era, there are serious issues mixed with the comedy, and there is no neat, happy ending.

This is very much a Gassman/Trintignant film.  Catherine's role is a supporting one as Bruno's daughter, Lily, whom we first meet at around the 74 minute mark of this 105 minute film.  As is typical of Catherine's great roles during this period of her career, she is a teenager having a relationship with an older man.  In this case, the man is old enough to be her grandfather!  She makes no secret that she is after the financial security that he can provide.

Catherine looks marvelous in the film, sporting what I think of as the classic "Spaak look."  About half of her screen time is spent in a beach setting that includes lots of bikini's that would have probably been considered fairly daring at the time.  Catherine, however, primarily wears an old-fashioned looking black-and-white-striped bathing suit that exposes only her knees, which is quite a change compared to her other roles during this period.  Nevertheless, with her tall, slender frame, in the words of Rod Stewart, she "wears it well."

From the perspective of film critics, Il Sorpasso is probably one of the most well-received films of Catherine's career, and overall, it is one of my favorites.  As for her work in a relatively small supporting role, she does her typical good job.  Her acting is good and she looks good, but the role does not push her abilities.  As usual, her screen presence is strong and draws your attention to every scene in which she appears.  Here is a sampling of quotes from critics in the U.S.:
  • A marvelous comedy!  Not an inch of Risi's film or a second of our time goes to waste.  It makes a statement about la dolce vita that comes far closer to being true art than the vivid but oddly assorted grab bag of "La Dolce Vita." - New Yorker Magazine.
  • Brilliant! A "Tom Jones" with jetaway!  Gassman is superbly absurd as a sex bomb and Director Dino Risi faultlessly paces and spaces the fun and games.  "The Easy Life" is one of the funniest pictures ever made...- Time Magazine.
  • The sleeper of the season!...comedy that races at a soaring pace...gathering momentum to a climax of literally stunning power...brilliant comment on what separates the winners from the losers...- New York Herald Tribune.
  • One of the year's ten best! (Director) Risi and Vittorio Gassman are certainly winners, as anyone who goes to see "The Easy Life" must be. - Newsweek.
  • Never has the charm, corruption, delight and danger of the reckless life been more brilliantly portrayed!  Gassman's performance is spectacular, Trintingnant is equally good.  An unforgettable ending. - New York Post.
  • upper middle class "La Dolce Vita."  Dino Risi's fast-paced direction and, more important, the truths he underlines, gives his uncluttered film meaning and poignancy.  Vittorio Gassman makes a superbly brash, coarse, hail-fellow well-met. - New York Times.
As for Catherine, the New York Times noted:  "Catherine Spaak is both cute and wise as Mr. Gassman's teen-age daughter."

Vittorio Gassman was named Best Actor for his role by The Italian Film Journalists Society, and Dino Risi was named Best Director at the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina.  Publicity in the U.S. declared that Il Sorpasso was the highest grossing film in Italy in 1963.

Il sorpasso premiered in Italy on December 5, 1962 and in France on June 27, 1963.  It was brought to the U.S. by Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures in a subtitled version under the title The Easy Life and premiered in New York City at the Festival Theatre (57th Street west of 5th Avenue) on December 22, 1963.  IMDB says that it also was shown at the Chicago International Film Festival in October 1984 and at the New York Film Forum on December 8, 2012.

The Festival Theatre was a new 493-seat theater, having just opened on June 23, 1963 as an art house theater, after being converted by Embassy Theatres from a store.  It closed during the late 1980's and is now used for retail space.  Here is a picture (Fellini's "8 1/2" was the first film shown at the new theater.):

In the March 30, 1964 issue of Boxoffice Magazine, The Easy Life was reported as a "hit" for the winter quarter, with a score of 179 percent.  Pictures with a score of 120 or higher were considered "hits."  Tom Jones and Dr. Strangelove were the biggest hits, with scores of 289 and 279, respectively.

In various issues discussing world cinema in 1963 and 1964, Variety consistently referred to Il sorpasso as being a "sleeper," a "hit," or having made "big money."

In reviewing the material below, particularly note three things.  First, the lobby cards bear a 1965 film number.  I have not yet found any solid explanation for that.  Second, the U.S. stills show a 1964 date.  Apparently, the promotional material was not printed until after the film had already premiered at the end of 1963. Third, some of the stills have an additional logo on the front specifying "Top Time Feature Films." This indicates that The Easy Life was part of a package of films sold to TV by Embassy Pictures in 1965, so those stills were part of the promotion for the film on US television.  I will update this post with additional information as it becomes available to me.

UPDATE:  The Criterion Collection has recently issued a Blu-Ray/DVD special edition combo of Il sorpasso in the U.S.  If you have not already ordered it, do it NOW.  It is absolutely fantastic.  The restored picture on the Blu-Ray is better than I ever hoped to see for this film.  I can't imagine that it looked any better on the night of its Italian premiere.  Here is TCC's description of the features of the set:
  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New introduction by filmmaker Alexander Payne
  • New interviews with screenwriter Ettore Scola and film scholar RĂ©mi Fournier Lanzoni
  • Interview from 2004 with director Dino Risi, conducted by film critic Jean A. Gili
  • Introduction by actor Jean-Louis Trintignant from a 1983 French television broadcast of the film
  • A Beautiful Vacation, a 2006 documentary on Risi featuring interviews with the director and his collaborators and friends
  • Excerpts from a 2012 documentary that returns to Castiglioncello, the location for the film’s beach scenes
  • Speaking with Gassman, a 2005 documentary on the relationship between actor Vittorio Gassman and Risi, directed by Risi’s son Marco
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Phillip Lopate, an essay by critic Antonio Monda (dual-format only), as well as excerpts from Risi’s writings, with an introduction by film critic Valerio Caprara (dual-format only)
My only disappointment is that we didn't get much Catherine in the extras.  The extras are wonderful, but Catherine only appears very briefly in one of the documentaries on Risi's career.  Generally, she just says that she was shy and nervous when she arrived on the set, but that Risi made an effort to make her feel comfortable.  In another of the documentaries, there is some on-set color home-movie-type footage that briefly shows Catherine.  Here are a few notes on items that stuck out to me from the extras:
  • Jacques Perrin was to play the Trintignant role, but was held up, so they had to move on without him after the first day of shooting.  Trintignant arrived on set for the second day of shooting.
  • The producer was mortified that it was going to be a flop, especially because of the ending.  In addition, Gassman had just flopped in his previous film, Anima nera.  Few people attended the premiere, but due to word of mouth, within days the film was a huge hit.
  • The U.S. film Sideways was inspired by Il sorpasso, as was Easy Rider.
Now, let's look at various promotional material.  Here is the Italian trailer for the film (notice that Catherine's name is spelled with a "K" although the Italian posters use a "C"):

Here is the U.S. half sheet poster, along with 4 lobby cards (The pressbook says that the lobby cards were available in a set of 8, but these are the only 4 that I have ever seen.  A 40x60 poster was also available, but I have never seen it.):

The U.S. pressbook cover:
Here are stills promoting the U.S. release:

The above stills that have the "TOP TIME FEATURE FILMS" logo means that they were stills used in conjunction with a package of films sold to TV by Embassy Films.  Here is one such still that is particularly interesting, because it also includes a picture of Catherine from a different film, Crazy Desire.

A U.S. advertisement:

 Italian posters:

Foreign stills:

Spanish posters:

German posters and German programs:

A French poster, plus a 1982 French re-issue poster:
A Yugoslavian poster:
A Romanian poster:

A program from Iceland:

Mexican lobby cards:

An Italian 45 rpm record:

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