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:


  1. Hi, what is the song the background, in the beginning, when Amneris and Dora are in a restaurant?

    Thank you, Dmitry

  2. « 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.»

    Well obviously since it is the very nature of commedia all'italiana, a new brand of comedy entertainment invented in Italy in the late fifties that treats the darkest aspects of human life from a satirical angle. This is the most important aspect of Catherine Spaak's career at the movies : arriving in Rome in 1960 at age 15, in perfect timing to become the teenage icon of these ages of both dark and light mass-entertainment that puritan Hollywood couldn't conceive.

    'La Parmigiana' might be Spaak's most astounding performance on screen, because she is given this main character that conveys both comedy and tragedy : she is the central "monster" of the film, an inextricable mix of maturity and immaturiy that brings her to the customary unhappy end. (No commedia all'italia can end well, it's kind of unwritten rule).