Woody’s Benediction

His name was Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode and he was a football star, a professional wrestler, a WWII veteran and a famous Hollywood character actor who should have become a star. But the closest Woody Strode ever got to playing the leading role in an American film was Sergeant Rutledge (1960), in which he portrayed the title character but was fourth billed after Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Tower and Billie Burke. In an ironic twist that makes sense in a Pre-Civil Rights Hollywood, Strode had to travel to Italy to finally receive top billing and the only genuine leading role of his career in Black Jesus (1968) aka Seated at his Right (the Italian title is Seduto alla sua Destra). It is probably one of his least known films but easily his biggest role and possibly his best performance.      

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Voyeur Villa

Sometimes a film poster doesn’t offer enough information to let you know what kind of movie to expect. Take, for example, Eyes Behind the Wall (Italian title: L’occhio dietro la parete, 1977). The Italian poster suggests it might be an erotic drama with its image of an older man touching the exposed thigh of a younger woman. The background paraphernalia and laboratory setting could also indicate a sci-fi or horror premise. The American poster for the film displays a demented face, an oversize bloody knife and a topless female victim in the style of a trashy giallo. The simple truth is that Eyes Behind the Wall is hard to classify and doesn’t easily fit into any specific genre although you could file it under Eurotrash. While the film is problematic in many regards, it still manages to be consistently intriguing and unpredictable.

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Toxic Love

Giuliano Gemma and Stefania Sandrelli play factory workers in Milan who become lovers in the tragic love story, Delitto D’amore (aka Crime of Love, 1974), directed by Luigi Comencini.

Milan, Italy is world famous as a mecca for high fashion, design and the AC Milan football club but the statistics also reveal that it is still one of Europe’s most polluted cities due to smoke spewing factories and auto emissions. Against this gray, industrial backdrop, Luigi Comencini has set his rarely seen but moving 1974 drama, Delitto D’amore (aka Crime of Love).    Continue reading

The Prince and the Peasant

Will there be a happy ending for Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) and Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren) in More Than a Miracle (1967), directed by Francesco Rosi.

Imagine, if you can, a rustic Neapolitan fairy tale directed by Francesco Rosi in the docudrama style of his post-neorealism films of the early sixties like The Moment of Truth (1965), shoot it in Technicolor and Techniscope, add a lush musical score by Piero Piccioni and you get More Than a Miracle (1967), a zesty Southern Italian fantasy-romance that was more appropriately titled Cinderella, Italian Style in Europe.   Continue reading

Stranger in a Stranger Land

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in or were completely out of sync with everyone in your immediate world? That is the existential dilemma that drives the narrative of Smog, a 1962 film from little known Italian director Franco Rossi that depicts a European traveler’s first impressions of Los Angeles.  The man in question is Vittorio Ciocchetti (Enrico Maria Salerno), a lawyer from Rome who arrives at LAX airport en route to Mexico on business, and the title of the film, of course, refers to the toxic mixture of fog and car exhaust that has characterized Los Angeles weather since the 1940s when cars began to clog the streets and freeways of the city.   Continue reading

Strange Brew

The sword and scandal genre rarely got much respect in the U.S. during its heyday and it was easy to see why. Aimed largely at indiscriminate male viewers, these action-adventure sagas were usually imported from Italy, poorly dubbed in English and featured some of the world’s most famous bodybuilders of that era (none of whom were known for their acting prowess) along with exotic female sex sirens. The plots were usually dumbed-down bastardizations of Greek and Roman myths or history and the production values were variable, mixing picturesque Italian locations with laughable special effects or papier-mache props. Due to their derivative nature and lowbrow appeal, few of these faux epics ever achieved classic movie status but occasionally one would stand out for its sheer weirdness alone like The Giant of Metropolis (1961), which is set in the year 20,000 A.C. and often looks like a Flash Gordon-inspired sci-fi adventure. Continue reading

Vittorio De Seta’s L’Invitata

Road movies might seem like a home grown American film genre with such famous examples as Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) but there have also been plenty of influential representatives from abroad such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) and Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1976). The latter film, in particular, takes a much more introspective and observational approach to character and narrative and such is the case with Vittorio De Seta’s little seen and almost forgotten 1969 feature, L’Invitata (aka The Uninvited).  Continue reading

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….

This one sentence synopsis should sound familiar. A group of travelers are stranded during a severe storm at a creepy mansion where the hosts are the most unsettling part of the experience. It’s an audience-pleasing premise has served countless mystery thrillers and horror-comedies from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) to Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987). But The Unnaturals (1969), directed by Antonio Margheriti, is one of the few dark and stormy night movies that stands out from the pack by virtue of its genre resistant narrative which begins as a decadent character study, slowly morphs into a supernatural thriller and signs off as an apocalyptic morality tale. Continue reading

Elio Petri’s Portrait of the Artist as Mental Patient

Italian director Elio Petri is probably best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (by Petri and Ugo Pirro) in 1972. Yet, most of his other work, with the possible exception of the cult sci-fi satire The 10th Victim (1965), remains overlooked or forgotten when film historians write about the great Italian directors of the sixties and seventies. And 1968’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna) is easily one of his most intriguing and visually compelling films.

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A Tale from the Slums of Rome

In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style.  Continue reading