Friday, July 08, 2011

Siamo Uomini O Caporali

1953, Italy, directed by Camillo Mastrocinque

My sister-in-law is from a small town near Naples, and when we travelled to the wedding I thought some research on that most iconic of Neapolitan film performers, Totò, was in order. I dragged my indulgent wife around an absurd number of shops in search of Totò DVDs only to find that very few of his films have English subtitles; I couldn't find any subtitled fare from before the early 1950s, and the few films I did find seemed, for the most part, like second-string affairs.

Siamo uomini o caporali ("Are We Men or Corporals?") was written by Totò, too, under his real name or an abbreviation thereof since he had noble origins, with the multiple names such afflictions entail. It's a sort of loose sketch film, framed by an extended interview in a doctor's office in which Totò, very much in Little Tramp-ish mode, expounds on his philosophy that men can be divided into two groups, the eponymous men and corporals, before narrating several instances in which he came into contact with such corporals.

The first section deals with Totò's wartime adventures in a German-run camp, and it's not hard to discern a somewhat queasy foreshadowing of Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, with Totò's camp experience the background for a burgeoning romance, and a spoof of Nazi medical experimentation that seems distinctly unamusing. The subsequent sequences, particularly those which undermine the image of a beneficent American military, are stronger, although the overdubbing of the "American" characters, a standard Italian practice of the period, is distractingly poor.

Although director Camillo Mastrocinque worked frequently with Totò, he doesn't always seem to appreciate what he has on his hands: one of Totò's great strengths is his way with words, and he delivers a terrific near-soliloquy early on in the doctor's office, but Mastrocinque constantly undermines the performance by cutting away for reaction shots. Later, he has the good sense the to keep the camera squarely on his star even when engaged in conversation with another actor, for it's Totò's actions and reactions that make the scene.

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States