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The basic premise and plot elements of TOTÒ NELLA LUNA are promising, and certainly could have been developed into a very amusing, if decidedly lowbrow, science fiction/ romance /espionage/ comedy romp. Unfortunately, that is not the film that got made.
The plot in a nutshell: America wants to send a rocket to the moon. A group of advanced extraterrestrials, represented on screen by a pair of animated Mr. Peepers eyes, do not want primitive humans poking around in space and keep sabotaging their rockets. The Americans, of course, aren't willing to give up. Somehow they have determined that only monkeys can survive going into space because only ape blood contains glumonium. However when they learn that there is one man, Achille Paoloni, who has glumonium in his blood, two FBI agents, David Campbell and George Connor are immediately dispatched to Italy to offer him $100,000 if he will agree to be the first man in space.
Not surprisingly, the good hearted, none too bright Achille isn't exactly prime astronaut material. What he is, is a lowly messenger for Pasquale Belafronte, owner publisher of the Soubrette, a weekly tabloid. What he wants is to become a successful science fiction writer, so he can marry Pasquale's daughter, the beautiful Lidia. Lidia wants to marry him regardless, but Achille believes he must become a success in order to provide for her and their future family. Convinced that he could achieve this if only people could read his stories, he substitutes his newest story, "The Rocket in Space" for the magazine's usual titillation and tease content before it is sent to be printed. When Pasquale discovers what has happened, he beats and fires Achille.
Just when all is looking very dark for our hero, Campbell and Connor arrive and make their offer. Predictably, the two Americans don't speak Italian, and Achille doesn't speak English. Achille believes that Campbell and Connor are offering to pay him an advance of $100,000 to publish his story in America - an offer he eagerly accepts. The scheming Pasquale, of course, gets wind of this, and immediately plans to steal the publishing rights and force the Americans to pay him more money to print the story abroad. Meanwhile, lurking in the background are the Professor and Tatiana, two "agents of a foreign power" who don't know what Campbell and Connor are after in Italy, but intend to find out and grab it first. Oh, yes, and the Aliens: they're still around, still watching and still determined that any rocket that goes into space, is never going to make it back to Earth in one piece.
Sadly, despite the promising ingredients, there is really very little to recommend in this film. Ugo Tognazzi is undoubtedly the best thing about the movie, managing to find subtle charm in a broad character and wily humour in grotesque sight gags. Without exception the female cast is gorgeous, but only Sylva Koscina and Sandra Milo are even given characters to play, and even those are stereotypical window dressing. But the greatest disappointment by far is Totò himself. Sometimes described as "the greatest Italian comedian of the last century", there is absolutely nothing in this film that would give any credence to such an accolade. There is nothing remotely endearing or amusing about his unsympathetic performance of a thoroughly despicable character. Pasquale's greed, selfishness, cruelty and arrogance are only barely mitigated by his stupidity. His final fate at the end of the film is a far kinder one than he deserves.
TOTÒ NELLA LUNA is at best silly and at worst embarrassing.
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