Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Italian peplums 1: spoofs and thrills

TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA - Sort of an Italian CARRY ON CLEO? This Alberto Sordi comedy seems to be a spoof of the sword-and-sandal genre churned out in Italy during the ‘50s and early ‘60s. This one is only of note now because it features the 19 year old Sophia Loren in the dual role of Cleopatra and a slave girl who looks like her. Cleo needs to escape for a night or two and the slave girl Niscia has to impersonate her. Cleo though is in the habit of sleeping with her guards who are then killed the next morning – and Sordi is the latest guard. Alberto though is one of those annoying comedians (like Benny Hill or Frankie Howard or Norman Wisdom or Jerry Lewis – I dare say every country has their own) whom one either likes or dislikes. I am afraid it is the latter for me, but Sophia looks like she is going places here and has that swim in the pool … direction is credited to one Mario Mattoli. Very average but then Italian comedy does not always translate well abroad. It is of course a Ponti-De Laurentiis production.
NERO’S LOST WEEKEND or MY SON NERO – This 1956 one features Sordi again as Nero on holiday at his seaside villa. The cast though is the thing here: Vittorio De Sica as Seneca (one of his take the money and run jobs to finance his gambling no doubt), the pre-Vadim Brigitte Bardot lovely as ever as Poppea – AND Gloria Swanson as Nero’s fearsome mother Agrippina. She makes a fantastic entrance parting the curtains of her carriage as she is all in red with a red veil – quite a contrast to Norma Desmond. She enters into the spirit of all, so it is amusing nonsense. My copy is in Italian though – but with that cast one hardly needs English!. Steno is credited as director but Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci are also involved and it has the usual Titanus production values. Peter Ustinov’s Nero though was a lot funnier in QUO VADIS!

MESSALINA IMPERIAL VENUS – a 1960 routine Italian sword-and-sandal saga I had been meaning to see as it features a fascinating starlet Belinda Lee, who was one of the British Rank Organisation girls and who featured in British moves in the ‘50s before moving to Europe and the popular peplum movies of the era, before being killed in a car accident in 1961 while still in her 20s. Maybe she would have had a better career … Here she is the evil Messalina, wife of Claudius (a minor character here) as she plots to take control using lovers and having people assassinated. There are also some Christians of course, but Messalina the ex-vestal virgin gets her comeuppance eventually. It is a good German issue actually with German and English subtitles and interesting enough, though without a strong male lead. Directed by one Vittorio Cottafavi.

JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHERN – Another interesting biblical, released in 1962 but must have been filmed about 1960 (as star Belinda Lee died in 1961), directed by veteran Irvin Rapper (who lived to be 101!). It has decent production values, and a score by Mario Nascimbene, as it expands on the biblical story of Joseph sold into Egypt and his coat of many colours. Geoffrey Horne from BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (and BONJOUR TRISTESSE and THE TEMPEST, both ’58) is Joseph, biblical veteran Finlay Currie his father and one of the brothers is Terence Hill as Benjamin. Robert Morley has a whale of a time hamming it up as the merchant Potiphar and Belinda Lee, looking sensational in a black wig, is Potiphar’s deceitful wife who puts the make on Joseph. It is all quite watchable as Rapper (a long way from NOW VOYAGER) makes it seem effortless.

and: not a sword-and-sandal but certainly an oddity I finally caught up with:

THE TROJAN WOMEN – Funny how one resists certain movies. Despite my admiration for those leading actresses I just never wanted to see this Michael Cacoyannis 1971 version of the Euripedes Greek tragedy, and despite having the dvd for over a year, I was in no hurry to see it. But as it is a week of exploring female roles I gave it a go, and it certainly lived up (or down) to my expectations. Perhaps Greek tragedies are now unfilmable (though Cacoyannis’ ELECTRA was an exception). Here he is showcasing Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Genevieve Bujold and Irene Papas who all get their moments but they are Acting, Acting, Acting. It just gets tiresome and is in fact rarther risible as they are dressed in rags, scrabbling around in the dust in a barren desert landscape (rather like out-takes from THE LIFE OF BRIAN) – but these are Trojan noblewomen and Troy has just been captured, it would not be reduced to rubble just yet, so one queries the look of the film. Redgrave produces a weird animal-like shriek as she is told her son has to die, and it is fascinating to see the leonine Hepburn, as the queen Hecuba, at this stage of her career after her late ‘60s successes and before her frailties set in. Papas scores best though as the caged Helen, proud and defiant in her nakedness. Brian Blessed and Patrick Magee are the only males of note. It is certainly an interesting oddity, but hardly one to re-see.


No comments:

Post a Comment