Students of Italian film history have had much to enjoy at the Detroit Film Theatre this year.

In June, the DFT screened several old Italian movies as part of the annual Cinetopia Film Festival (A Festival of Festivals). In September, the DFT showed the restored 1964 comedy Il Boom (Mining History).

And on October 19-22, 2017, the DFT presented five old Italian films in conjunction with the Consulate of Italy in Detroit as part of the Week of Italian Language in the World.

The movies were presented in chronological order, from the 1930s to the 1980s, revealing changes in acting styles, film technologies and film content, as well as clothing, hairstyles, architecture and automobiles.

The films were all comedies. Their stars included male actors who acted out their energetic personalities through romantic obsession, personality disorders, brashness, and clever criminal con games.

Lia Franca,  What Scoundrels Men Are!

Lia Franca, What Scoundrels Men Are!

Each of these men tested the patience of leading ladies who, in true Italian style, exhibited a wide range of beauty:

  • In What Scoundrels Men Are! (1932), the pleasantly quiet beauty of Lia Franca, as she reacted in different ways to the romantically obsessed Vittorio De Sica.
  • In The Peddler and the Lady (1943), the earthy beauty of Anna Magnani as she dealt with her mixed feelings about Aldo Fabrizi.
  • In An American in Rome (1954), the cute and sexy beauty of Maria Pia Casilio, trying to keep up with the erratic behavior of Alberto Sordi, whose obsession with American culture went to hazardous extremes.
  • In Love and Larceny (1960), the mysterious beauty of Anna Maria Ferrero, trying to reconcile her romantic feelings for Vittorio Gassman with his second life as a cleverly deceitful criminal.
  • In Henry IV (1984), the mature beauty of Claudia Cardinale and the youthful beauty of Latou Chardons as they patiently suffered through Marcello Mastroianni’s delusional trip to the 11th century.

The movies also showed how Italian film history is much more than the neorealism classics that came out after World War II and the imaginative cinematic journeys of directors like Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

For example, Mario Camerini, the director of What Scoundrels Men Are!, had a long and influential career that included popular comedies in the 1930s starring the future director Vittorio De Sica.

The journeys of these films to the DFT were greatly helped by the restoration efforts of the Istituto Luce Cinecittà in Rome. Hopefully someday these films will appear on DVD or on world cinema streaming services like FilmStruck.

Detroit Free Press,  May 1,  1964

Detroit Free Press, May 1, 1964

I was curious to know how much exposure these films originally got in the United States, so I searched through the vast newspaper archives of

  • The only screening of What Scoundrels Men Are! (1932) that I found was at a Vittorio De Sica retrospective in 1991 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
  • The Peddler and the Lady (1943) was distributed in the U.S. in 1949 and the early 1950s, to capitalize on the performances of its stars in the famous neorealist film Open City (1945). I couldn’t find a Detroit screening, although several other Anna Magnani movies were shown in Detroit during this period.
  • For obvious reasons, An American in Rome (1954) got some attention in U.S. newspapers, but I couldn’t find any U.S. screenings of the movie. A 1955 syndicated article described Sordi as “a kind of Italian Danny Kaye.”
  • Love and Larceny (1960) enjoyed wide U.S. distribution when it was first released in this country in 1963. It was advertised in large display ads and received many positive newspaper reviews. It came out when Italian stars like Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni were very popular in the U.S. It opened in Detroit on May 1, 1964 at the Surf art film theater on Fenkell.
  • Henry IV opened in the U.S. in 1985 in an art film release. It played throughout the country to lukewarm reviews. It screened at the Detroit Film Theatre on April 4, 1986.

Thanks to many efforts, they were all on the big screen in October 2017 during a memorable long weekend at the DFT.

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Copyright © 2017 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.


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