A Special Day

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni appeared in many films together, but in 1977’s A Special Day they both play against type – she’s the dowdy housewife rather than the glamour bomb, he’s a gay man rather than the straight Italian lover, two characters thrown together after pretty much everyone else in their apartment block has rushed out into the streets hoping to catch sight of the Führer or Il Duce on the day that Hitler visited Mussolini in 1938. They may live in the same block but Antonietta and Gabriele have never met. She’s always too busy looking after her six kids and husband (John Vernon), and he’s always at work. Or always … Read more

Big Deal on Madonna Street

The crooks prepare for the job

Working a gag a thousand times and in a thousand different ways, Big Deal on Madonna Street, aka Persons Unknown (a translation of its Italian title, I Soliti Ignoti) pours good-natured scorn all over the heist movie. The heist movie traditionally goes like this – a target is identified, a team is assembled and a plot is meticulously masterminded, there’s a dry run and then, finally, in the film’s big centrepiece, the heist itself, which goes like clockwork, apart from one tiny moment, when something freakish happens – a screwdriver slips, a guard varies his routine – and the entire operation is suddenly hanging by a thread. Writers Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (known … Read more

La Notte

Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni

It’s called The Night, the IMDb tells us, though I’ve never heard Antonioni’s 1961 drama called anything but La Notte. So let’s use the original title. It’s pithy. As Italian phrases go this one is not hard to say and it’s distinctive. There are plenty of films called The Night already. The title is as stark as the film’s opening moments. The credits are written in an unfussy sans serif font. The theme music is atonal. The first images we see are of glass and steel buildings shot to emphasise their angularity. La Notte is the mid-century modern movie – sleek, unadorned, made out of good materials and not entirely comfortable. Isn’t life … Read more

The Tenth Victim

Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress

The Tenth Victim is a textbook case of a cult film that’s actually no good. Released in 1965 and billed as sci-fi (it barely is), it’s a camp Italian spectacle combining the unique talents of Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni, and just that cocktail – 1965, Italy, sci-fi (ish), Andress and Mastroianni – is plenty of reason for seeing the film. It’s set in the 21st century, where violence has been outlawed and is now limited to carefully controlled contests between designated Hunters and Victims. These contests, adjudicated by the Ministry of the Big Hunt, are broadcast on TV, where advertisers line up with sponsorship deals – Ming Tea being the product successful Hunters (or … Read more

Divorce Italian Style

The count imagines burying his wife in sand

Who remembers 1961’s Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all’Italiana) today? An Oscar winner for its screenplay, with nominations for both its star (Marcello Mastroianni) and its director (Pietro Germi), it now for some reason languishes in the dusty zone where forgotten movies slumber. Perhaps it’s time to wake it up. It’s a brilliant example of the “sex comedy”, that strangely chaste beast most typified by all those Doris Day and Rock Hudson/James Garner films about bullish males trying to get their leg over and virginal ladies saying no. Sex was never really the issue, it was marriage, an institution that was beginning to chafe in a much more liberal post-War world. Germi wastes no … Read more

La Dolce Vita

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 29 September Anita Ekberg born, 1931 On this day in 1931, Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg was born, in Malmö, Sweden. A model in her teens, Ekberg was Miss Sweden by the age of 19 and had a contract with Universal studios shortly afterwards. Howard Hughes, a keen student of the female form (or lecher, according to your viewpoint), and then owner of the RKO studio, was also keen on exploiting her talents, but Ekberg preferred to go horse-riding and take part in the sort of stunts that starlets in the 1950s got up to. More often seen in a bikini, or … Read more

La Dolce Vita

fellini marcello mastroianni and anita ekberg la dolce vita

More than 50 years old yet curiously contemporary, Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece isn’t just a cynical critique by a conflicted Catholic of “the sweet life”, it’s the film that announces the arrival of the world we now inhabit. It starts with one of cinema’s most famous shots, a lingering view of a huge statue of Christ being airlifted, possibly rescued, from a Rome gone to the bad. God, Fellini appears to be saying, has left us, and in his place we have placed the pursuit of carnal pleasure, the joys of the night, drink and the worship of our new deity – the celebrity. This, after all, is the film that introduced the … Read more

Isn’t It Iconic?

the original poster

La Dolce Vita might not be the best Italian film ever made. Or the cleverest, steamiest or most gripping. But it is the most iconic. Here’s why… Just a touch over 50 years ago the assembled critics at the Cannes film festival gave Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita a standing ovation. Not at the end of the film, or even at the moment when Anita Ekberg gets into the Trevi fountain, its most remembered scene. No, what got them to their feet was the film’s opening shot. It’s of a huge statue of Jesus Christ being airlifted out of Rome, the Eternal City. It doesn’t look like much now but back then this … Read more