With the publication of my book Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult in the US last week, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the book’s key films, which are both representative of Italian cinema’s golden age from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, and of its two camps of ‘arthouse’ and ‘popular’ cinema. In the introduction to Cinema Italiano, I include two Top 20 lists of Italian films no collection should be without. Over the next few weeks I’ll be intermittently looking at essential movies of the era, in their best available releases for English language collectors.
La dolce vita (Fellini, 1960)
Federico Fellini’s decadent masterpiece is a time capsule of Roma at the turn of the decade and depicts the uneasy relationship between the rich and famous on the Via Veneto and those who thrive on reporting their exploits, the ever-circling journalists and paparazzi photographers (this film coined the word ‘paparazzi’). La dolce vita also contains an iconic moment in cinema: American movie starlet Sylvia Rank (Anita Ekberg) takes a moonlight dip in the Trevi fountain. The diverse cast includes Anouk Aimee, Yvonne Furneaux, Lex Barker, Alain Cuny, Magali Noel, Jacques Sernas, Nadia Grey, Riccardo Garrone, Audrey McDonald, Ida Galli, Adriano Celentano, future director Giulio Questi and 1960s Velvet Underground singer, Nico. The memorable score was composed by Nino Rota.
This UK DVD release is ‘Digitally Remastered from a Restored Print’ and looks great in widescreen.
Rota’s score is now available on CD.
In the US there is a Region 1 two-disc edition.
And an impressive Deluxe Collector’s Edition, loaded with documentaries, Fellini short films, interviews etc
Known variously as Black Sunday (in the US) and Revenge of the Vampire (in the UK), Mario Bava’s gothic established his name as a purveyor of stylish chills, in this, his only monochrome gothic horror. Its success ensured Bava continued in a similar vein, with the addition of vivid colour cinematography, in Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963), Kill…Baby, Kill! (1966) and Baron Blood (1972), but many of his fans still rate this is his greatest work. It also made a star of Wirral-born British actress Barbara Steele, who enjoyed a six-year career in Italy in such horror fare.
The Mask of Satan is available as part of the Mario Bava Collection, a superb boxed set which includes Black Sabbath (Italian version), The Girl Who Kew Too Much (Italian version), Knives of the Avenger (English and Italian versions) and Kill, Baby…Kill! (English and Italian versions), plus enlightening intros by Alan Jones and audio commentaries by Bava biographer Tim Lucas
In the US, the Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 includes the same five films.
Black Sunday is also available individually.
Vittorio Cottafavi’s mythological adventure starring British bodybuilding champion Reg Park ranks as a highpoint in the peplum genre, surpassing even Steve Reeves’s Herculean efforts. The simple plot whisks Hercules to the lost continent of Atlantis, ruled by Queen Antinea (Fay Spain) in the best tradition of Greek myth. The cast includes sword and sandal regulars Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin and Salvatore Funari, plus guest stars Ivo Garrani, Enrico Maria Salerno and Gian Maria Volonté.
The film is widely available in Region 1 format, in its truncated, rescored US version, as Hercules and the Captive Women on a double bill with The Giant of Metropolis, a sci-fi peplum starring Gordon Mitchell.
It’s also available in the Region 1 ‘Hercules’ boxed set that also includes Hercules, Hercules the Avenger, Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules, Hercules and the Black Pirate, Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops and others.
It’s worth seeking out a widescreen DVD print from Europe, as the cinematography looks tremendous in Technicolor and 70mm Super Technirama.
The only uncut version of the film currently available in the UK in English is on videotape.
The same ‘Hercules’ collection is available in the US.
Hercules and the Captive Women is also available in the US on a double bill with Hercules, Prisoner of Evil, an entertaining horror-peplum also starring Reg Park.
To read more about La dolce vita, The Mask of Satan, Hercules Conquers Atlantis and other films discussed here, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult, published by I.B. Tauris, is out now.