Category Archives: Italian Films

Wanted: Babysitter (1975)

babysitter1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A babysitter gets kidnapped.

Michelle (Maria Schneider) is an artist who works part-time as a babysitter and is roommates with Ann (Sydne Rome) who’s an aspiring actress. Ann is upset that her career isn’t taking-off as quickly as she’d like and her frustrations cause her to get involved with her co-star Stuart (Robert Vaughan) who schemes to kidnap the 8-year-old son, Boots (John Whittington), of a wealthy food mogul (Carl Mohner) and then hold him for ransom. He hires Ann to disguise herself as Michelle while taking on a babysitting assignment of looking after Boots. She enters the place wearing a wig that resembles Michelle’s hairstyle and then forces Boots to drink something that will put him to sleep. He is then taken to another location where Lotte (Nadja Tiller), who is also in on the plan, pretends to be the boy’s mother and hires Michelle to babysit. When Michelle arrives at the alternative address she’s completely unaware of what’s going on, but soon finds herself trapped by the criminals forcing her to work with the distrustful boy to find a way out.

This was the final film directed by Rene Clement who did many acclaimed movies throughout his long career, but towards the end focused on kidnapping stories that had an offbeat touch like The Deadly Trap and And Hope to Die. This one is similar to those as it features in elaborate scheme that gets presented in fragmented style requiring the viewer to piece it all together. For the most part it works particularly with Clement’s use of eccentric characters and moody atmosphere though it’s not a complete success.

Although just few years removed from having done Last Tango in Paris Schneider looks much more mature here and I liked seeing her in such a different setting even if Leonard Maltin, in his review, complained about her acting, which he described as ‘abysmal’.  I didn’t find her performance to be as bad and in a lot of ways it works particularly her expressive eyes that helps convey an innocent pleading look in an environment where she’s surrounded by otherwise sordid types. Maltin also criticized the casting of Renato Pozzetto, who gained fame in Italy as a stand-up comedian. I found his presence interesting as his pudgy body type went against the chiseled features that most men who play a love interest in a movie have and his unpolished thespian skills meshed with his confused and dim-witted character.

Vic Morrow scores as the short-fused kidnapper though he’s played this type of role a bit too often. Vaughan is okay as the sinister mastermind and the kid, whose only acting role this has been, is quite endearing. Yet out of everyone it’s Rome, an American born in Akron, Ohio who came to Italy in the late 60’s to break into showbiz and never left, that’s the standout. She’s probably better known for her modeling, singing, and early 80’s aerobic videos, but here she’s quite diverting as a desperate young thing ravaged with insecurities and whose wide-eyed, breathless delivery hits the bullseye.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is intriguing up to the scene where the ransom gets paid-out, but the wrap-up is unsatisfying. Michelle had gotten tricked into making it look like she was a part of the scheme, she really wasn’t, but to an outsider it would seem that she was, so the fact that she doesn’t get questioned by the police about it was confusing. Having her go back to her boyfriend’s art studio and then having him arrive with a locksmith while she’s inside wasn’t clear either. Was he going to change the locks on the door and trap her in there without knowing it? If so this should’ve been explicitly shown and not just eluded to.

Alternate Title: The Babysitter

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: Cite Films

Available: DVD, Tubi

L’Immoralita (1978)

limmoralita1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child falls for killer.

Simona (Karin Trentephol) is a lonely 12-year-old who lives with her mother (Lisa Gastoni) and her wheel chair bound step father (Mel Ferrer) in a secluded home on the Italian countryside. One day while walking through the forest that’s near her place she comes upon an injured man named Federico (Howard Ross), who has been shot in the arm by the police for being a dangerous child killer at-large. While he was able to escape the ambush the authorities continue their search, so Simona offers him sanctuary in a small coach house behind her home. It is here that she grows fond of him,but Simona’s mother finds out who she’s been hiding and tries to entice him to kill her invalid husband. Simona,who’s relationship with her mother is already strained, becomes upset that she can’t have Federico all to herself and plots a revenge on both of them.

This film is notorious for its depiction of child nudity and simulated sex. Back in the 70’s Italian filmmakers were on the front lines of shock cinema in their effort to push-the-envelope and attract curiosity seekers looking to see how far the next controversial film would go. This one, while dull and generic story-wise, definitely goes to the extreme at the one hour mark, when a naked Simona jumps out of the tub and then lies on the floor begging for Federico, who’s in the bathroom with her, to ‘make a baby’. While an adult stand-in was then used for the simulated sex it’s still an explicit moment that will disturb most viewers and likely will never get a DVD/Blu-ray release here though in Italy it has.

If you take out the controversial moment, which wasn’t needed and could’ve been implied, the film is otherwise quite sterile. There were a few things I did like including the subtle yet haunting score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone and the film’s faded color. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or just the print of the DVD, but the off-color nicely reflects the immoral characters who seem normal initially, but quickly reveal their twisted natures underneath. Trentephol, whose only film appearance this is, is outstanding. I don’t know where the producers found her, or quite frankly how they got her paent’s permission to play such a difficult role, but she lends an amazing presence particularly her piercing blue eyes that clearly conveys her character’s inner disdain for those around her.

Gastoni, who was quite prolific in Italian films during the 50’s and 70’s, but then went on a sabbatical after doing this one and didn’t appear in another movie until 2005, is good too as an aging, jaded woman where nothing it seems is too vile to upset her. The conversations she has with her daughter are truly warped, but still something you might hear in a family that was as dysfunctional as this one. Even the aging Ferrer, who at one time was a budding star, but relegated to finding work in overseas productions when Hollywood quit calling, gets an intense moment where he angrily points a rifle to his chest and then challenges his wife, who he knows wants him dead, to pull the trigger.

The story’s weakest element is Federico. While we see him dig the grave of one of his victims at the start, we never witness him killing anyone, which hurts the tension as he’s not volatile and threatening enough. Instead he’s overly passive while being lead around by both Simona and her mother. Maybe that was the point, to show how women ultimately control men even the dangerous ones, but it’s not handled in a way that’s interesting. Everything gets played-out in a heavy-handed fashion including a climax that offers little punch.

Alternate Title: Cock Crows at Eleven

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Massimo Pirri

Studio: Una Cinecooperativa

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

peeper1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child could be killer.

Elise (Britt Ekland) marries wealthy author Paul (Hardy Kruger) and then after the nuptials comes into contact with his 12-year-old son Marcus (Mark Lester) still grieving over the death of his mother 6 months earlier. Elise had the understanding that the mother, who died from drowning in her bathtub, was accidental, but as she gets to know Marcus she suspects that he may have had something to do with it. She then speaks to his school’s headmaster (Harry Andrews) and learns that Marcus has been having disciplinary issues including that of torturing and killing animals. When Elise tells Paul of her suspicions he refuses to believe it, which pits her against both the father and boy.

While the story may have intriguing elements, though it does sound too much like The Bad Seed, the execution is poor. It starts out right away with Elise meeting Marcus, no backstory scenes showing how Elise met Paul are shown, and right away he acts weird and creepy. There’s no nuance or layers to the story, just one long ‘is he a killer, or not’ scenario that ends up being highly talky with no real thrills. The producers, apparently realizing the proceedings needed some spicing up, hired Andrea Bianchi to come in and add some sexually tinged moments including a scene where a nude Lester, sitting in a bath tub, begins fondling Britt’s breasts, who is sitting outside the tub fully clothed. If that wasn’t shocking enough there’s another scene later where she strips fully naked in front of him, but neither of these moments, as sleazy as they are, makes this otherwise tired and placid plot any more intriguing.

The film’s only real selling point is to see child star Lester playing against type. He shot to fame in the starring role in Oliver!, but all of his roles after that couldn’t capitalize on his talents and like with this one were weak and pedestrian that didn’t give him much to do. Watching him play an evil kid, instead of the angelic lad like we’re used to seeing, is interesting to some extent and he does it surprisingly well, but he’s not in it enough.

As for Britt she’s quite beautiful and the camera focuses on her lovingly, and the male viewers certainly won’t mind her nude scenes of which there are plenty, but her character is poorly fleshed-out. It’s hard to understand why she married Paul as he treats her in a callous way and clearly favors the kid over her, so why stay in a relationship if she’s just going to be the spare tire especially with a psycho kid that’s just going to put her life more and more in danger? Any sensible person would pack-up and leave and the fact that she chooses to stay in such a bad and uncomfortable situation makes her seem as nutty as the rest.

Things pick-up during the final 10-minutes which gets filled with a lot of wild imagery though some of this should’ve been sprinkled though out the film, which is too cardboard otherwise. The final twist is a bit of a surprise, but the whole thing could’ve been better paced. Everything hinges too much on the provocative overtones while the characters are one-dimensional and fail to resonate and thus causing the viewer to remain pretty much detached emotionally from everything that goes on and the twists that do occur fail to deliver any punch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: James Kelley, Andrea Bianchi

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

lasttango2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex without knowing names.

Paul (Marlon Brando) is a middle-aged American man living in Paris who’s despondent over his wife Rosa’s recent suicide. Feeling alone and without direction he meets up with Jeanne (Maria Schneider),a much younger woman, while both are looking to rent the same apartment. Jeanne is dating Thomas (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a filmmaker who wants to film her life and make it into a movie, which Jeanne is not so keen about. Despite not knowing Paul’s name, as he wants their identities to remain a mystery, she gets into a torrid sex affair with him and finds Paul’s evasive manner to be both frustrating and intriguing. However, after he rapes her he disappears and Jeanne considers their relationship over, but Paul meets her on the street a few days later, but this time he tells her all about himself, but hearing the sad details of his lonely life makes him less appealing to her. She tries to get away from him, but Paul continues to pursue her, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

The film is probably better known for the controversy and scandal it caused upon its release than anything else. While some of its sexual aspects will seem somewhat tame by today’s standards back in 1972 it became a hotly contested commodity where the government in Italy openly banned the film and ordered all copies of it seized and destroyed while also revoking director Bernardo Bertolucci’s right to vote for 5 years. Residents of Spain, where the film was also banned, would travel hundreds of miles to the French border just so they could see the film that everyone was talking about. In the US the controversy was no different with conservative pundits labeling it ‘pornography disguised as art’. In Montclair, New Jersey residents tried to physically block movie goers from going in to see the film by forming a human chain in front of the theater and those that were able to break through got labeled as being ‘perverts’.

Today the most controversial aspect are Maria Schneider’s accusations that the infamous ‘butter scene’ where Brando rapes her anally while using butter as a lubricant was not planned nor scripted and the she was taken by complete surprise. In a 2013 interview Bertolucci admits that Maria did not know the details of the scene ahead of time and this was intentional in order to capture the genuine look of shock on her face. While Bertolucci says he does not regret doing the scene he still felt bad for Maria, who maintained up until her death in 2011, that she had been both ‘violated’ and ‘humiliated’ and never spoke to Bernardo afterwards.

As for the film itself it’s interesting on a technical end, I particularly enjoyed its fragmented/dream-like narrative, but it also comes-off as being a bit overrated. It was based on Bertolucci’s own sexual fantasies regarding his desire of picking-up a young, beautiful woman off the streets and having a passionate sexual affair with her without ever knowing her name, or having any responsibilities or obligations attached to it, which is certainly an intriguing idea for a script, but the way the two come together seemed just a bit too rushed and unrealistic. Brando, who never bothered to memorize his lines and ad-libbed most of it, seems to be playing himself as he displays the same moody, self loathing quality that he also conveyed in every interview I’ve seen him in making it less about creating a character and more just him showing his true nature. Schneider is the best thing about the movie, as is the scene where the two disrupt a tango dance contest, but ultimately the film leaves one with a dark, depressed, and dismal feeling after it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 2 Hour 10 Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, YouTube

Conversation Piece (1974)

conversation piece1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Obnoxious tenants take over.

Burt Lancaster plays an aging Professor who lives alone in his giant palazzo situated in Rome along with the exquisite art pieces that he has collected through the years. His only connection with other people comes through the form of his servants headed by his live-in maid Erminia (Elvira Cortese), but even here his communications with them is distant and detached. Then one day a Countess (Silvana Mangano) arrives asking if she can rent his upstairs room, which he rarely uses. The Professor is initially reluctant, but the Countess is looking for a place to harbor her young, left-wing lover Konrad (Helmut Berger) from her right-wing husband as well as using it as a sanctuary for her teen daughter Lietta (Claudia Marsani) to spend time with her boyfriend Stefano (Stefano Patrizi). After a great deal of insistence he finally agrees. The new tenants then immediately begin remolding the room using outside contractors, which creates a great deal of noise and distraction, causing the Professor to regret his decision and feel like his once peaceful abode has now been invaded.

The behind-the-scenes had more drama than anything you see in front of the camera as director Luchino Visconti had suffered a stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair and made it hard to find funding as backers believed he was in such bad shape that the film wouldn’t be completed only to have Lancaster assure them that he would take over directing should it become necessary. To help compensate everything was shot on a soundstage, which is the most impressive thing about it as the interiors were so meticulously created that it genuinely looks like an old lived-in mansion complete with a wide assortment of artifacts that you’d find in an home resided in by an elderly person. There’s even a hidden room and the major renovation by the tenants to the upstairs is visually intoxicating. Ultimately though it becomes static and having at least a few scenes done outdoors, or in a different locale, would’ve helped.

Lancaster is excellent and comes-off seeming quite old even though he was really only in his late 50’s. His facials expressions and body language are enough to carry it even as his voice gets dubbed into Italian, which is weird at first, but eventually you get used to it. Still I didn’t understand why since it was shot in English that the dubbing even was necessary as they could’ve used subtitles for Italian viewers while allowing the authentic voices of the actors to remain.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is the story, which essentially doesn’t lead to anything interesting. I sat through it convinced there was some subtle context beneath the surface that was sure to come out as I couldn’t believe these tenants could be as obnoxious as they were without intentionally doing it in order to drive the guy mad, so they could  take over the residence, steal his paintings, and resell them on the black market, at least that’s what I thought would be the twist, but instead there really isn’t any. Despite the way they annoy the Professor at every turn he still ends up appreciating their presence and calling them his ‘family’ while anyone else would’ve had them forcibly removed and the locks changed. No matter how lonely one might be dealing with these idiots and the massive upheaval that they brought including criminal elements and even sexual perversity would be considered NOT worth it to any rational person. The fact that the film acts like it is and goes as far as rehabilitating their image to that of ‘well meaning losers’ by the end made it corny and not worth the effort, as talky as it already is, to sit through.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated R

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Crazy Joe (1974)

crazy1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Bread and Chocolate (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has no home.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) has moved to Switzerland to work as a guest worker in that country since he’s unable to find employment that pays a living wage in his homeland of Italy. In order to provide for his family he works various odd jobs and then sends the money back home to his wife and kids who he has not seen in years. There are many other foreigners from other countries competing for the same jobs as Nino including a Turkish worker (Gianfranco Barra) who vies for the head waiter position at a fancy restaurant that Nino also wants, but even though the two don’t get along they’re still forced to room together in a cramped attic apartment. Nino’s only source of companionship comes in the form of a friendship that he has with Elena (Anna Karina) a Greek who lives across the street from him in an equally small loft. He moves in with her and her son when he gets kicked out of his other place, but because she’s also a guest worker striving to make ends meet she has no time for a relationship making Nino feel like an unwanted outsider no matter where he goes.

This critically acclaimed film really allows the viewer to get to know their characters and the desperation that they feel. Many viewers today may be unaware of the guest worker program that many European countries took part in during the 60’s and 70’s, so watching this will be an educational experience as well as a good character study. What I found most fascinating though was the issue of racism. Most people wouldn’t consider Switzerland to be a ‘racist’ country, so it’s interesting to see how this element can creep in anywhere and it doesn’t have to hinge on one’s skin color either as the Swiss end up picking on the Italians simply because they aren’t from there, poor and ‘stealing their jobs’, so are therefore in their minds deserving of being looked down upon, much like foreign workers in this country can sometimes feel.

The film also makes keen observations in regards to the rich versus poor and how having a lot of money can sometimes make one a weaker person less able to handle challenges. This comes to a head with Nino’s friendship with an Italian Industrialist (Johnny Dorelli) who despite living a lavish lifestyle commits suicide after losing a custody battle with his ex-wife even though Nino hasn’t seen his family for years and lives in near squalor, but because he’s toughened to the hard times he’s able to preserve and remain upbeat where the rich man couldn’t.

There’s many memorable moments, so many that it would be hard to list as the story and characters are so multi-layered the laughs and insights come in literally just about every frame. Many will consider Nino’s visit with some farm workers who out of desperation have moved into a chicken coop and start behaving like the chickens they tend, which is funny and unique, as the film’s highlight. However, my favorite part came when Nino decides, in an effort to move up in society, to pretend that he’s Swiss and even dyes his hair blond and begins speaking in a Swiss accent. Then while at a bar he watches a soccer match between Switzerland and Italy on the TV and even though he initially cheers for the Swiss team he can’t help but eventually shout out in excitement when Italy scores a goal, which just proves the old saying: You can take a person out of their homeland, but you can never take the homeland out of the person.

The film’s most redeeming quality though is showing the strong bond that forms between the guest workers. Even if they’re at first strangers and from different countries they immediately offer support and friendship to Nino no matter where he goes simply because they are going through the same hardships as he, which becomes a wonderful testament to the hearty human spirit.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: January 18, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Director: Franco Brusati

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

The Last House on the Beach (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers hold nun hostage.

Aldo (Ray Lovelock) leads a gang of three robbers who stage a bank robbery in broad daylight, but things go wrong and lives get lost. During the getaway their car breaks down and they’re forced to hideout in a nearby home that sits next to a beach. Inside the home is Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan) a nun who takes in wayward teen girls and helps them find their way. She was in the middle of rehearsing a play with them when the men break-in. The thugs soon takeover, raping two of them while terrorizing the rest. At first the women are compliant, feeling they have no other choice, but eventually they decide they’ve had enough and turn-the-tables on their captors.

While this film will initially come-off as just another Last House on the Left rip-off the production values are much better than most American low budget cheapies and the location quite scenic. The place didn’t look like any type of religious school to me and more like an ocean front pad for a rich person, it was more than likely the home of one of the film’s producers who decided to use it in place of a real school to save money, but the setting ultimately still works. Too many other horror movies feel the need to go for the cliché, like having things take place at night in some abandoned building, or rundown home, so having it work against this is a refreshing change. In some ways it makes it even scarier because it shows that bad things can happen even in the affluent suburbs and that nobody is truly immune from crime and violence.

I liked the way the bad guys were all good-looking too especially Aldo whose face could be on the cover of  teen heartthrob magazine. Again, other horror films feel the need to make the killer look menacing, disfigured, or creepy in some way, but working against this stereotype makes it more unsettling by showing that anyone can harbor evil. The women are all good-looking too with great figures, but in this regard it doesn’t work as it didn’t seem realistic that only women who looked like models would join this school and there needed to be at least one plain-looking, overweight one to give it balance.

The set-up happens a bit too quickly. It would’ve been more frightening if things had been shown at the start from the women’s perspective, rehearsing for the play, and then having these robbers burst in unannounced versus showing the robbery, which ends up getting reshown through flashback later on anyways, and everything from the men’s perspective. Horror works when there’s a surprise and in that regard this film misses a prime opportunity early on.

However, once it kicks in I was surprised how compelling it was. There isn’t a lot of violence, but when there is it’s bloody and pretty graphic, even the injury that one of them receives (Stefano Cedrati) looks quite realistic, and shown close-up, and I liked how this becomes and on-going part of the plot and doesn’t just magically heal and get forgotten.

The film also features two prolonged rape segments with the first one done in slow motion. Some may say this is exploiting the situation, but ultimately it ends up making it even more unsettling. The second rape  is equally disturbing as it features a woman (Sherry Buchanan) being violated by a wooden cane and done from her point-of-view.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending for me was the best part. Rape and revenge flicks have been done a lot and there’s also been films like Straw Dogs where a wimpy guy ultimately turns violent through necessity, but this film does it better than those. Seeing the angry looks on the once tranquil women’s faces as they take turns beating the man to death was actually pretty shocking as you’re not quite expecting it. It successfully hits-home the fact that anyone can be provoked into violence even those that deny they have that ability and gets the viewer to realize they harbor that tendency too since these guys were so vile you actually end-up enjoying seeing their comeuppance.

Alternate Title: La Settima Donna

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Francesco Prosperi

Studio: Magirus Film

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube