Thursday, May 22, 2014

Certo, certissimo, anzi...probabile (1969)

Italian Two Panel Poster

Certo,certissimo, anzi...probabile (known in English as Certain, Very Certain, As a Matter of Fact...Probable), is an Italian comedy directed by Marcello Fondato, who worked more as a screen-writer in Italy than as a director.  Marta (Claudia Cardinale) is a young woman trying to make financial ends meet, first as a model for sexy pictures and then as a telephone operator, so she moves into an apartment with her friend Nanda (Catherine).  The story, and as such, the comedy, revolves around the battle between Marta and Nanda as romantic rivals for various boyfriends.  Marta just wants to find a good man that she can date, but Nanda is after a husband.  Every time that Marta meets a new man, though, Nanda tries to sleep with him (sometimes successfully) and steal him away from her.  In the close confines of their apartment, where they share a bedroom, Marta and Nanda are constantly trying to find time alone with the man of the hour.  John Phillip Law, Robert Hoffman, and Nino Castelnuovo are among the actors appearing as the boyfriends. Eventually, Marta gives in and marries one of her suitors, leaving Nanda behind.  However, one of her new husband's friends arrives after a few months of marriage and becomes furious that Marta's husband married her, instead of going with him on a long-promised sailing adventure around the world.  Marta tries to set Nanda up with her husband's foreign friend, but to no avail.  Marta's husband leaves her to go on the sailing adventure, putting Marta right back where she started.

I have viewed an English-dubbed version of the film with the screen title Diary of a Telephone Operator (that has apparently been sourced by some companies from a 1980's VHS video release), and I have also viewed the Italian-language,  2013 Region 2 DVD release.  The video quality of the DVD is better (as you would expect), but it is not as significantly better as I would have thought.  The color seems to have faded slightly in the print, or at least that is how it seems to me.  The Italian language DVD (at 115 minutes) is about 13 minutes longer than the English-dubbed version.  Much of the difference is in the opening minutes of the film, where the Italian language version shows more of Marta going to different public telephones to record operators in order to practice for the application process and more of her actually applying for the job.  It also has a bit more footage of Marta at work over the course of the film.  In other words, the Italian version shows more of Marta actually working to be and being a telephone operator!  None of the additional footage (which also includes a scene near the beginning where Nanda is styling Marta's hair) seemed overly significant to the plot, nor would it have changed the PG rating that the film received in the U.S.  The only thing remotely risque that was trimmed from the U.S. print, as I recall, was a scene where a boyfriend watches the reflection in a mirror of Nanda putting on a top.  In the Italian print, the scene shows Nanda's bare back as she puts on the top, facing away from the camera.  In the U.S. print, you only see the boyfriend looking at the small mirror with interest.  It doesn't cut to Nanda putting on the top.

The film was shot with the actors (including Catherine and Claudia) mouthing their lines in English.  This is evident in the English-dubbed version.  This seems to be what Clementelli usually had in mind in order to try and sell the films abroad.  It sounds to me like Claudia Cardinale did her own Italian and English dubbing, but Nanda's voice is clearly dubbed by someone other than Catherine for the English print.  It is probably Catherine voicing the Italian language print.  While I would have much-preferred hearing Catherine's own voice in the English print, the voice used is actually better than normal for this type of dubbing.  It seems to fit well with the character of Nanda and is not too hard to understand.  Claudia's English voicing for Marta, in fact, is at times harder to understand than that for Nanda.

Catherine and Claudia both have trendy, 1969-style fashions and hairstyles for the film, so that is cool to see.  Catherine has a short, red-haired style for this movie, which is different than her norm and looks good on her.  In some scenes, you can see freckles showing under her eyes, which goes well with the red hair.  It's not clear to me whether the freckles have been enhanced a bit by the make-up department or are all natural.

As for Catherine's acting performance, I actually believe that it is one of her better efforts, because she plays a comedic character different from those that she typically played.  First, Nanda is a bad girl, although she never comes across as unlikeable.  Also, Nanda is more animated, perky, and perhaps "prissy" than was typical for most of Catherine's roles.  I thought that she did a good job in conveying that with her facial expressions and body language.  Since she didn't do the English voice, the voicing is not really a factor in assessing her performance.

There are a few songs on the soundtrack, which sound like typical late-1960's fare for films like this.  Catherine's performance of Oh! is good and very catchy.  That tune plays at times over the course of the film.  At one point, when Marta and Nanda are dancing outdoors with two dates, Senza di te by Ornella Vanoni is playing.  It's a nice Italian-language song that reminded me of Tom Jones' Never Gonna Fall in Love Again from that same era.
Overall, I have a mixed opinion about this film.  The first half of the film is fairly humorous and entertaining, with plenty to please most Spaak and Cardinale fans.  However, starting around the one-hour mark (when Marta gets married), the film seems to get off track to me.  Nanda takes a back seat in the storyline, and the interplay between Marta and Nanda is largely lost.  Overall, I would say that this is not a bad film (and should certainly be of interest to Catherine fans), but it falls short of what it could have been with Catherine and Claudia leading the way.  I think it could have used some re-writing of the final 50 minutes of the film and a shorter running time, maybe around 95 minutes.  

Co-produced by Silvio Clementelli's Clesi Cinematografica and a production company called San Marco, the film was released in Italy on November 6, 1969 (according to IMDB).  It had begun shooting in Rome in late June or early July of 1969 and was completed by early September.
  • The July 9, 1969 Variety reported that Certo, certissimo, anzi...probablile was "a recent starter with Claudia Cardinale and Catherine Spaak directed by Marcello Fondato for Clesi Cinematografica." 
  • The November 5, 1969 Variety included an article discussing Italian censorship with producer Silvio Clementelli.  In regard to Certo, certissimo, anzi...probabile, it noted:  "Instead of candidly disclosing what his projects are all about, his press office has been resorting to the gloss of 'sentimental comedy' for the Claudia Cardinale, Catherine Spaak starrer...,which Marcello Fondato completed a little more than a month ago. ... Fondato's film boils down to an ironic commentary on the difficulty of young women to lead a bachelor life in an age when the femme has not yet attained sexual liberation."
  • The August 27, 1969 Variety reported:  "Marcello Fondato returned to Rome soundstages from coastal exteriors with Claudia Cardinale, Catherine Spaak, John Phillip Law, Nino Castelnuovo and Robert Hoffman for final scenes of the Clesi production 'Switchboard Girls'." 
  • The September 3, 1969 Variety reported that Fondato had completed the picture.
The film was one of the Italian entries at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain, which was held July 5 - July 14, 1970 (and was shown at the festival on the evening of July 10), but it did not win any awards.  Variety reviewed the film's San Sebastian screening (reported running time of 110 minutes) in the July 22, 1970 edition and seems to have generally concurred with my assessment.  It noted:

"Good lightweight fare which multi-national assortment of names should help along to profitable runs especially in its home territory.  Lingual adaptations are, however, important in comedy such as this and could prejudice foreign chances.  Pic is overlong and repetitious and could stand some trimming.
Ending is far-fetched and semi-downbeat tone jars with rest of film.  For this type of pic, it also runs way overlength.  As noted, both Claudia Cardinale and Catherine Spaak are very amusing and winning as the questing gals. ... Pic is technically slick and comes equipped with one of those lush Italo music tracks which fit the generally insouciant mood."

Silvio Clementelli seems to have had a hard time selling many of his post-Hotel Catherine Spaak films in the U.S., but he apparently managed to eventually sell this one.  The May 31, 1972 Variety reported that Diary of a Telephone Operator was one of the films rated PG that week by the Motion Picture Association of America.  It was released in the U.S. under that title in April 1973 (per IMDB) by G.G. Communications, Inc. in an English-dubbed version.  My presumption is that the U.S. release was limited, but I have not yet found any additional information to share in that regard.

Here is an English-language trailer for Diary of a Telephone Operator:

Here are some publicity photos from the set:

Here is a picture of Catherine and director Marcello Fondato at what appears to be some type of press event (exact circumstances unknown at this time; perhaps the San Sebastian Film Festival in July 1970?):

Here are some Italian posters:

Here is the sleeve for Catherine's recording of Oh! from the film (flipside: Qualcosa sta cambiando), along with sheet music:

Here is a U.S. ad sheet for Diary of a Telephone Operator, along with a still from that release.  Besides the overselling of the sexy angle in a PG-rated film (no surprise), note how the ads refer to "John Phillip Law of Love Machine," which was released in the U.S. in August of 1971. Moviegoers attracted by the billing of Law from "Love Machine" were probably quite surprised to see that he plays a stuttering, "good boy" house painter and has only about 15 minutes of screen time.

Here are some non-U.S. stills:

A German poster, program, and lobby cards:

A Yugoslavian poster:

An Argentinian pinup:

Japanese clippings:

Magazine clippings:


  1. This movie is terrific, it's a sort of Sex and The city with Vatican views. Cardinale is at her best and the jokes/ gags about her voice are hilarious.

  2. Good point about Sex and the City. I really had not thought about that, probably since I never watched a full episode of that show. I do think that there are things to like about the movie, it just came up a little short for me. Of course that's the great thing about movies. We all have different tastes, so every film will appeal to someone. Soon, I'm going to put up a post with my ranking of Catherine's 1960's films. We'll see who strongly disagrees with me!