This week, three more essential Italian films: a gothic horror, a period costumer and a tragic story in a fabulous setting.
Freda’s Victorian ‘necromance’ is Barbara Steele’s finest gothic. This Edgar Allan Poe-influenced chiller has a great performance by Robert Flemyng as Dr Bernard Hichcock, who accidentally murders his wife, Margaretha. When he returns 12 years later, with his second wife Cynthia (Steele), Margaretha’s spirit returns also, to seek revenge.
In the UK, the uncut 84 minute version was released by Stablecane Home Video in 1985 and unbelievably this remains the best version of the film available.
Freda’s sequel, The Ghost (1963), is widely available in the US.
The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock is harder to find. In fact in the US, it’s only out on videotape, cut, under an alternative title
Billed at the time as Europe’s answer to Gone with the Wind, The Leopard was a costly failure on its international release, but is now highly regarded. Burt Lancaster starred as the Sicilian Prince of Salina, who finds amid changing times of revolution and reform that the ‘new rich’ are rising and displacing the old aristocracy:. The movie fields a fantastic cast of famous and soon-to-be-famous names including Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Serge Reggiani, Romolo Valli, Pierre Clémenti, Ida Galli, Giuliano Gemma and Terence Hill (under his real name, Mario Girotti). There’s also a wonderful score by Nino Rota, magnificent Sicilian landscapes and architecture photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno in Super Technirama-70, and a justly-famous lavish ball staged at Palazzo Gangi in Palermo at the film’s climax.
However, my favourite version of the film is the abridged English language release (with Lancaster and Cardinale dubbing their own voices) which runs 161 minutes and is available in the US on this excellent Criterion Edition, which includes documentaries, audio commentary and the uncut Italian print of the film in 2.21:1 Super Technirama.
It’s also out on Blu-ray in the US.
Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel A Ghost at Noon (Il Disprezzo), Jean-Luc Godard’s tragedy depicts international filmmakers at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, as they attempt to plan and shoot Homer’s The Odyssey. German director Fritz Lang plays himself, while Jack Palance is superbly cast as greedy American producer Jerry Prokosh. Georgia Moll is Prokosh’s translator, Francesca, and Michel Piccoli is playwright Paul Javal, who following the success of his script for Totò against Hercules is hired to adapt Homer. Trapped between Paul and Jerry – in Rome and later at The Odyssey’s shooting location on Capri – is Paul’s beautiful French wife, Camille, played by Brigitte Bardot in the performance of her career. The epically mournful music – a candidate for my favourite film score of all time – is by Georges Delerue.
This CD contains 6 tracks from Georges Delerue’s score.
Read more about The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock, The Leopard and Contempt in my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult.