Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hey, It's That '60s Chick!

There's a YouTube user called "donfardon" who has a rather large collection of clips from Italian movies from the '60s. And I'm not talking your Fellinis, Antonionis, and Leones here, but the bread-and-butter of the Italian film industry in the '60s (which may have been the busiest in the world): super-cheap movies with beautiful '60s starlets. The Americans made movies like these too in the same period, often with the same actresses, but except for the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies, which look and feel a lot like these Italian cheapies, the U.S. films tried harder to be respectable and offer good production values, or good songs, or something. A movie like The Pleasure Seekers is essentially an exploitation movie, but it tries very hard not to be one. Also, whereas American movies almost always tried to feature young and handsome men as well, the Italian movies never really seemed to care much about that; they were more into comedies that would pair a starlet with an aging star like Vittorio Gassman.

Many of these actresses were working simultaneously in several countries as all-purpose decorations. In the '60s, there were a ton of movies and TV shows that called for beautiful actresses to be there not so much as characters but as promotional materials: they might not have much to do with the stories (which were usually mostly about men) but they would adorn the movie/episode well and they could be used in promo pictures and posters. That's what people mean when they talk about "'60s chicks," these beautiful actresses who traveled from country to country, from movie to TV show, from Elvis to Mastroianni to Star Trek, purely as window dressing. Sometimes an actress would start out that way and then manage to move up to better things, like Jacqueline Bisset. Others would just stay stuck in the role of intercontinental movie babe, like Sylva Koscina.

Then there were the many Americans who went to Italy. Some, like Barbara Bouchet, moved there because they couldn't get decent parts in America and while the Italian movies they were in weren't necessarily great, they were at least getting lead parts instead of being the Star Trek or Man From U.N.C.L.E. girl of the week. Here she is in a scene with Lando Buzzanca, whom you'll remember from Divorce Italian Style as well as some of Italy's James Bond knockoffs (he played "James Tont"). Note the cocktail-organ music.

And then there were the lost starlets (tm) for whom Italian movies were a form of exile: Ann-Margret did some Italian quickies in the late '60s when she was considered washed-up in America.

You can also see clips from some of the more obscure projects of bona fide Italian stars, like Monica Vitti. (Remember, we usually see only the "A" projects for non-U.S. stars; the big picture is that most working actors, including lead actors, make a bunch of run-of-the-mill commercial films too.)

I doubt there are any hidden masterpieces in this collection, but that's not the point; the point is that it gives a fuller idea of what Italian filmmaking was like in this period. By which I mean, a lot less L'Avventura and a lot more of this:

1 comment:

dino martin peters said...

Dear Mr. Wienman, I see you are still feelin' the need to dis our Dino: "but except for the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies, which look and feel a lot like these Italian cheapies".....well know there are millions of Dinolovers in the world who disagree with you.