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La cieca di Sorrento (1934)
Finely-polished period piece.
(Some spoilers) Lately I've become more and more interested in Italian films of the fascist period. This little known masterpiece, directed by Nunzio Malasomma, the man best known, perhaps, for directing the classic spectacle "Revolt of the Slaves," confirms my opinion that many of the most memorable themes of Italian film were best put to use before the highly-touted (albeit, for good reason) 1957-1965 period, when the great cogs and wheels of the classic Italian cinema worked their last magic, before at last capitulating to the cultural trends of the U.S. The film is set in 1844. Dria Paola plays Beatrice, a blind woman, who as a child witnessed the brutal murder of her mother, by a bandit with political persuasions. Ten years previously, the wrong man was executed for the crime, and the convicted man's son, who has become a famous doctor, agrees to perform an operation on Beatrice which could restore her vision. At an elaborate country villa, Beatrice resides with her father, a professor, who encourages the doctor to perform the operation. The doctor soon falls in love with Beatrice, but at the same time the real murderer, fearing that she'll receive her sight and be able to recognize him as the killer, comes to the estate masquerading as a doctor, and tries to put the kabosh on things. The operation is performed, and the girl recovers her sight. However, the bandit still has his eyes on her, and although she doesn't recognize him as first, his piercing eyes, which were the only things she saw on that dark gloomy night ten years ago, will at last betray him in a compromising moment. This film is shot with care, the sets tastefully decorated, and the acting very nicely done. Director Malasomma earns his title as "artistic director" which in Italian films was almost the literal job of director, who often had to rely upon his own resources to make a film come out well. Malasomma directed some other costume adventures of note, which I'm trying to locate, so if anyone knows their whereabouts, I hope they would contact me for a trade.
Casa d'appuntamento (1972)
Mid-grade Italian giallo..
Here's an interesting film to watch on those late nights when you can't find anything else, and you're in the mood for that old misogynistic sleaze that used to mark Italian films of the early 70's. The plot is a bit convoluted, but here goes.
When Francine (Bouchet), a prostitute, is knocked off, the main suspect, a guy named Gavalles, is sought by the police. He was one of the regular clients of the whorehouse where Francine worked, but he seeks refuge from the law, as he claims he didn't commit the crime. However, during a chase, he is decapited as his motor-bike collides into the back of a tractor-trailer.
The police think that's the end of the murderer, but soon another prostitute is killed. Inspector Fontaine is put on the case, and as he begins probing around, he finds several suspicious individuals who knew the deceased women. One of these suspects is a journalist; another is a famous doctor named Waldemar; another is a criminal magistrate who was intent on convicting Gavalles for the first murder. And finally, there is Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg), the proprietor of aforesaid whorehouse. Now comes the task of figuring out the identity of the killer. And as Fontaine gets deeper into the case, the killer strikes again and again.
Here's a modest giallo outing, obviously made to "cash in" on the then prolific market of horror thrillers. The general mood is seedy and low-key, and the cheap sets decorated with phony Rennaisance art are a lame attempt at adding sophistication to a hastily made film. Howard Vernon here steals the show as Waldemar, who investigates the eyeballs taken from Gavalles' corpse, mashing them to a pulp with his scalpel, as if he were to looking for peals. Nevertheless, it's good fun.
Professional Humphrey Bogart look-alike Robert Sacchi plays the detective. He gives a decent performance, but doesn't live up to his mentor's standards. Actually, the film gives him very little opportunity to act, as the number of characters and constant plot twists keep him at a deadpan level. We never even get a close shot of his face. The murders are violent, but there is little bloodshed. The sound effects are rather odd; when one of the girls is murdered, it sounds as if someone is clashing cymbals. The main show here comes at the end, when we think the killer's identity has at last been discovered. However, we're in for a few surprises; and that's what makes this film worth watching, apart from seeing Barbara Bouchet and Anita Ekberg.
Director Merighi was none too prolific, and he remains a minor figure in the pantheon of Italian cult cinema. He made his debut in 1957 with the melodramatic crime film "The Sun Will Return" (Il Sole Tornera'), which starred future director Roberto Mauri. He is also known for directing the 1972 spaghetti western, "They Called Him Trinity."
Capitan Tempesta (1942)
Monumental Italian adventure epic...
In 1570, the Turks lay siege to the Mediterranean city of Famagusta. In order to procure military help and supplies, Marcello Corner (Adriano Rimoldi), a young soldier, is sent on a secret mission to Venice. While he is gone, his fiancée (Carla Candiani) fights a joust with Moulai El Kader, the "Lion of Damascus" (Carlo Ninchi) and wins, sparing his life. When, due to an act of treachery, Corner is taken prisoner by the Turks, she finds that she must appeal to Kader for his freedom. However, the traitor Lachinsky has other plans for them. This film is important, in that it represents what Italy was doing in the adventure genre during the period of Mussolini's supremacy. It retains traces of the great silent epics, and was quite a success when first released. The miniature models were designed by Domenico Gaido, the same man responsible for directing the 1914 version of "Salambo." Once in a while, this still shows up on Italian TV.
La bravata (1977)
Trademark exploitation from Italy..
While on a joy-ride, a group of kids hijack a car belonging to the mob. Little do they know it, but the trunk contains thousands of dollars of dirty money. The mob boss soon sends out his top thug (played by Venantino Venantini) to locate the missing cash and punish the kids who ripped him off. This is a really fast-paced crime drama, which contains moments of attempted humor, as the two main characters try frantically to get their money back and thus prevent being punished by the "big boss." It is also worth viewing if you're a fan of Ajita Wilson, as she plays a prominent role throughout.
Agguato sul mare (1955)
Colorful Italian melodrama..
In this Italian drama, a poor fisherman (played by Ettore Manni) is forced to work for a smuggling operation. Separated from his wife for many years, he at last returns home, and must battle an old nemesis who has taken a fondness towards her. Nice maritime photography and colorful seaside settings highlight this film, which is very typical of the melodramatic romances Italy churned out during the 1950's. It is also a nice role for actor Ettore Manni.
A reasonably accurate historical film..
Frank Latimore is cast as Balboa, the heroic Spanish explorer who discovers the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, he must pacify the wrath of his enemies and battle his way through a forest inhabited by savage natives. This one features some really nice battles, stunning ocean photography, and tolerable reconstruction of historic events. The romance between the Balboa and the Indian queen is of course fake, but adds to the drama and spectacle of it all.
Der schwarze Abt (1963)
Atmospheric Edgar Wallace thriller!
Atmospheric Edgar Wallace thriller, about a large treasure hidden in an old country estate. Several persons show up, who happen to be employed by the lord of the estate, but only to get their hands on the treasure. However, a black-hooded killer soon makes his entrance, and begins killing those who know the secret. This is one of the better Edgar Wallace thrillers I've seen to date, and features some really spooky scenarios.
The wildest entry in the Kommissar X series!
From what I've seen of the Kommissar X series, this one definitely takes the cake. The plot involves a kidnapping ring run by a wealthy Oriental "madam." American tourist women are kidnapped, drugged, and sent to a secret island, where they are kept strung out on morphine, while serving as prostitutes to rich tourists. Brad Harris and Tony Kendall team up to nip the operation in the bud, but constantly run into a barrage of thugs, gunmen, and Asian assassins. In my book, this is another reason why director Roberto Mauri is one of the more enticing directors of Italian cult cinema. He doesn't just appeal to the spooks, but to genuine film aficionados as well. His resume extends to many forgotten and obscure corners of the cinema. All in all, he is a wonderful director. This film is really great from a technical point-of-view, and features some very nice improvising by Harris and Kendall. Walter Brandi also appears in a fine role. Thumbs up for the Three Golden Serpents!
Lasciapassare per il morto (1962)
Effective crime thriller with touches of horror.
I recently got the chance to watch this one, which is usually packaged as a crime thriller, yet is also quite effective as a horror film. I consider this film one of the two best Gariazzo films I've seen so far, the other one being "La Mano Spietata delle Legge." Alberto Lupo plays a criminal who, with a partner, attacks a van loaded with bank notes. During a shootout with the guards, his partner is killed, and Lupo tries to make it over the French border by hiding in a coffin. Unexpectedly, he ends up being trapped in an icy cold morgue. This film has some powerful moments, and really displays Lupo's acting talents. I never thought Lupo was a very good actor until I saw this film, which showed me that I had been wrong. As well, this is a wonderful debut for director Mario Gariazzo. With an almost non-existent cast, Gariazzo concentrates almost entirely on Lupo's predicament, and we feel his desperation as the tension builds to a climax. The English-language print of this film is supposed to be cut pretty deeply, but the version I saw was the uncut Italian release.
Top-notch swashbuckler, with some great moments.
This happens to be one of my favorite entries in the muscleman genre of films produced in Italy between 1958-1965. This film, along with Piero Pierotti's "Golia e il Cavaliere Mascherato" was one of the takeoffs banking on the success of Umberto Lenzi's "Zorro contro Maciste." This little sub-genre, which grafts the swashbuckling film onto the traditional peplum, had an enormous success, and sparked new life into a dying genre. This film bears all the hallmarks of Fortunato Misiano's productions, and bears the usual style and good story-telling of director Luigi Capuano. Capuano directed the best adventure films, and this one is no exception. It also shows faint signs of the cultural transition then happening between the continents. Nerio Bernardi plays the staunch traditionist, who berates Alan Steel for his humble origins, but later concedes that "nobility is revealed by actions, not by birth." Piero Lulli plays the conniving courtier, who colludes with Andrea Aureli (the Black Pirate) to get Bernardi killed so he can get his hands on the lovely daughter (played by Rosalba Neri). A wonderful film that bears up well after many years, this has its ample scenes of swordplay, suspense, and genuine humor.