Saturday, April 5, 2014

L'armata brancaleone (1966)

Italian Locandina Poster

L'armata brancaleone, directed by highly regarded Mario Monicelli, is considered to be an Italian comedy classic.  It is the medieval story of a small, rag-tag group of men who steal a scroll granting its bearer all of the property in the land of Aurocastro.  They convince a shaggy knight, Brancaleone of Norcia (Vittorio Gassman), to be their leader as they make their way to Aurocastro to claim the property.  The group makes its way through one misadventure after another before finally reaching Aurocastro, only to find themselves captured and near death.  Ultimately, they save themselves by agreeing to join the crusades.

Although Catherine is credited prominently for the film, she has little screen time (I would estimate about 20 minutes, at the midpoint of the film).  Brancaleone and his men encounter a group of people that has been attacked, leaving one of the men near death.  Brancaleone promises the dying man that he will ensure that his virginal daughter, Matelda (played by Catherine), is delivered safe and sound to the man that she is scheduled to marry.  Matelda doesn't want to marry that man and begs Brancaleone to marry her and take her away.  Because of his promise to her father, Brancaleone spurns her advances, although one of his group secretly sleeps with her.  Upon marrying, Matelda's husband learns that she is no longer a virgin, and Matelda blames Brancaleone, which gets him in hot water. Ultimately, Matelda is shipped off to a convent, and spurns Brancaleone's change of heart about marrying her.

Although I did like this film a little better after a second viewing, it still is one of my least favorite of Catherine's films.  There are two or three scenes that I find genuinely funny, but I suppose that I just don't "get it."  With that said, I do not want to offend any of our Italian friends.  I realize that it is an extremely popular film in Italy, one of the films with which Catherine is most associated in that country.  Variety's review probably best explains why an American like me might feel such a disconnect about this film.

The June 1, 1966 Variety includes a review of "L'Armata Brancaleone (For Love and Gold)" with a "Cannes, May 20" dateline.  The film was the official Italian entry at the festival.  Variety noted that it "provides rousing and riotously ribald screen fare for many of its 130 minutes.  The amusing fillip provided by a specially invented brand of Italianate dialog, which provides added yoks in the original will serve as a challenge to lingual translators.  An adroit effort will be needed to capture the spirit of the original, and much of the pic's future may depend on it.  Humor defies subtitling.  Presumably there is boxoffice lure in ungarbed Catherine Spaak, Maria Grazia Buccella, and Barbara Steele.  In Italy the film is already cleaning up."  The reviewer praised the cinematography, costumes, and soundtrack before concluding "A tighter rein on pic, a greater effort in channeling its thematics and helter-skelter development, a less fractioned unfolding might have made this a truly outstanding film rather than merely a commercial entertainment.  And there is still the risk that much of the film's built-in values may be lost on foreign audiences before - or unless - they are properly put into the spirit of this thing."   

I suppose that most Catherine fans would consider this a film that is important to view, but frankly, if you never watch it, then I don't really feel like you will have missed much.  It is without a doubt a Vittorio Gassman film.  Catherine is just a bit of distraction along the way, and nothing about her performance particularly stands out.  Here are a few final random thoughts about my viewing of the film:
  • As usual, Catherine gets some press attention for the film by doing a "nude" scene, but nothing is really bared on-screen.  Her outdoor bathing scene is shot from a distance with a bush between her and the camera.
  • Cult film icon of the era, Barbara Steele, has a brief appearance that is more risque than that of Catherine.
  • The opening fight sequence strikes me as uncharacteristically gory and graphic for a film of the era, and it's a comedy!
  • I didn't even recognize Enrico Maria Salerno as Monk Zenone.
  • The lovely Maria Grazia Buccella, was woefully underutilized; she fared better in two of her next films, Adulterio all'italiana, with Catherine and Nino Manfredi, and After the Fox, with Peter Sellers.
  • Variety's review notes a running time of 130 minutes, IMDB lists a running time of 120 minutes, and the print that I have viewed runs just under 115 minutes; I have no explanation for those differences at this time.
The film was shot in the fall of 1965:
  • The October 13, 1965 Variety reported "Vittorio Gassman back in Rome from South American stage tour to start 'For Love and Gold.'
  • The October 20, 1965 Variety reported "Vittorio Gassman in Roman countryside for 'Armata Brancaleone' (For Love and Gold)."  
  • The November 10, 1965 Variety reported that Vittorio Gassman was busy with "Armata Brancaleone."
Catherine appears to have had mixed emotions about her work on the project based on some relatively recent interviews that I have read.  She seemed positive about her dealings with Monicelli, and in Rex Reed's 1966 profile of Catherine in the N.Y. Times, she said that she adored him (calling him "way out"). However, she also pointed out that the set was difficult, because the actors were very chauvinistic and relentlessly picked on her. 

I have found no indication that L'armata brancaleone was ever released in any English-speaking country, but it was very successful in Italy, where it premiered on April 7, 1966:
  • Over the course of 1966, Variety reported that the film was performing very well at the box office.
  • The October 11, 1967 Variety reported on top grossing Italian films, and L'armata brancaleone was listed as #3 for the August 1965 through July 1966 period with a gross of $2.15 million.
  • The April 6, 1966 Variety reported that "Special plastic two dimensional posters prepped by Titanus for release of "Armata Brancaleone" target of nighttime collectors, with scores stolen (at nearly $10 per) off streetside placards."
The film was so successful that it spurred a sequel, Brancaleone alle crociate, in 1970 (a project with which Catherine was not involved, though Catherine's exquisite friend, Stefania Sandrelli, was involved).  The original was nominated for and won several awards in Italy, and Monicelli was nominated for an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Here is a trailer for the film:

L'armata brancaleone Trailer

Here are some photos of Catherine associated with the film:

An Italian two-panel poster:

Some Italian fotobustas:

This looks like it might be an Italian fotobusta, but I'm not sure:

A couple of 45 rpm records:

A Spanish poster and lobby cards:

An Argentinian poster:

A Czech poster:

Two German posters (the first from the archives at

I have been under the impression that this is an Austrian poster, but another fan tells me this is a French poster:

A Yugoslavian poster and program:


  1. The Austrian poster is the French one.

  2. I've always been an admiror of Catherine Spaak, but certainly not to the point of analyzing one of the peaks of commedia all'italiana from the sole angle of her role in it. 'L'Armata Brancaleone', a huge blockbuster in Italy at the time, is one of the craziest farces I have ever seen along with 'Young Frankenstein' and 'Airplane'. Spaak is excellent as always in her early years, but she's part of an extraordinary team of actors, from Gassman to Volontè to Carlo Pisacane to Folco Lulli to Barbara Steele as the sadomasochist byzantine princess to Maria Grazia Buccella as the Plague lady. AND Enrico Maria Salerno hilarious in a rare contre-emploi as Zenone the Preacher !