ERNESTO GASTALDI interview by Jason J. Slater
Ernesto, could you please explain your background?
I was born in Graglia, a village close to Biella (the "wool city") on September 10th 1934. My parents decided to live in Biella and my father was later killed in 1945 during the Italian civil war.
As a child or teenager, did you want to carve yourself a career in film?
No, not all – I wished to be a writer. I wrote my first novel when I was 11 years old. My book was set in the Yellowstone Park and it was based on the defence of the Red Indian people and their customs and honour.
How did you get into the film industry?
By chance and for my love of a beautiful schoolgirl who I fancied in 1953. She left me and I was desperately trying to see her again. A friend of mine told me she was going to see a strange movie that was being filmed by some strange boys from Biella. I went to the set pretending to be interested in their film and I eventually met her but she was with another boy who was older than me. That was the last time I saw her.
But in that somewhat immature night of my teenage youth, I met Biella’s Peppo Sacchi who was a young director of 19 years (15 years later, Sacchi broke the Italian public TV monopoly). Peppo taught me everything there was to know about the magical world of cinema. I remember walking in the public park, all night until dawn, trudging through one metre of snow with Peppo when it was –20 Celsius. Peppo told me that he was filming a western. Truly, the first Italian western, titled Cowboy’s Story. Fascinated, I followed the film crew during shooting. In June, the film won an award at the Montecatini Amateurs Festival as the most spectacular movie of 1954. During this time, I left school for a job as a clerk in a bank. I hated this job but I had to do it because my mother was a widow without a pension and we were very poor. I began to think how I could break free from the bank. I enjoyed writing and knew that screenwriters were well paid. So I began to push Peppo into a new idea – make a film that could introduce us to professional film-makers. Peppo agreed. But what kind of movie should we make? To be honest, we had no equipment to lens a "real" movie. We had no money or a sound recorder and all our collaborators were young enthusiastic chaps without any experience. I thought that the easiest way to attract attention was to film a very hard scandalous thriller movie. I wrote the story. Peppo explained to me that I had to write ‘the actions’ and ‘the lines’ – that is what the actors have to do and say.
So I wrote my first script, La strada che porta lontano/The Road Taking You Faraway in June 1955. Peppo and myself were attending the Montecantini Festival with our little film. It was 90 minutes long, a really spectacular movie made by amateurs, shot without sound (I dubbed the audio track) and friends supplied the score from their record collections. For the first time in Italian cinema, the audience witnessed a story where the bad men win because they were smarter than the good guys. And when a bad man tore off the shirt of a blonde girl, the audience saw breasts! The last scene of the film showed the main character dying in woodland. Two children who were going to fish saw that he was helpless and stole his watch. When the film ended, the audience applauded with fifteeen minutes of cheers and clapping – an unbelievable success. Our scandalous little film was a press sensation and we were ordered to repeat a projection screening for the Minister of Cinema and Alessandro Blasetti, a renowned director and one of the founders of our national film school in Rome. Peppo and I had a telling-off from the minister, but at the same time were granted a passport to the famous film school.
And how was film school?
I enrolled in October 1955 and was rewarded with a diploma in screen-writing and movie direction in 1957. It was a good experience, not only for the school’s teaching, but also for meeting people who worked in the industry. I also met a wonderful "wannabe" actress: red hair, big dark eyes and an amazing curvy body. A few years later, I married her and she became the main character in many of the films that I directed. She's still my wife. Her name is Mara Maryl. She contributed small acting scenes with Vittorio De Sica (Matrimonio all'italiana), Dino Risi (Nonna Sabella) and in many other movies before we married. She then became the main actress in Libido, co-starred with Giancarlo Giannini in Cin cin... cianuro, Brad Harris in La lunga spiaggia fredda, Robert Hoffmann in Notturno con grida, and Martine Brochard in La fine dell'eternità (my son, Costantino, also acted in this film). Costantino died two years later. He was very young (23) and Mara ended her career immediately.
Renato Polselli has become something of an enigma as his films are sexually and violently graphic and are also extremely hard to trace. Could you please tell me of your experiences on Polselli's screenplays that you wrote, what happened on set, Polselli's friendship to you, and what you think of his films in general?
I met Renato Polselli in 1958. He was the boyfriend of one of my girlfriends at C.S.C (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia). I wrote two scripts for Polselli that were never filmed (and of course, never paid for) before he called me to pen L'amante del vampiro/The vampire and the Ballerina (1960). When shooting commenced, I was one of Polselli's assistant directors. It was an amusing working environment. The production was extremely disorganised. We used to work from 8 a.m. to midnight. Practically most of the film was set in an ancient castle owned by Prince Borghese in Artena, a village 50 kilometres from Rome. It was December and the weather was dreadfully cold. On the third week of shooting, the producer asked me if I wanted to finish the film because he didn't like what Polselli was doing. I said ‘No, Polselli isn't guilty for some poor scenes, you are!’
We had to invent the interior design sets from scratch and find what we needed. I remember Polselli asking for a skeleton and the producer was worried due to the cost. ‘Do you know that skeletons cost a lot of money?’ he replied. The assistant director told them ‘Don't worry, sir. We need skeletons of very poor people.’ On Christmas Day, we had to work because the film had still to be completed and the castle would not be available to us the day after. At midnight, our film crew began to sing ‘Tutti abbiamo una casa, tutti abbiamo una sposa...’ (‘We all have a home, we all have a wife...’) and put their tools down so that they could leave. The producer, now very worried that his film would be dashed, put his hands behind his back and offered them a bottle of Chianti. The chief worker told him ‘Are you thinking you can buy us with a bottle of wine?’ The producer showed them his other hand and another bottle. To this, the chief worker nodded and said ‘Okay, sir. With two.’ This offer made the film crew stay for another hour so the film could be completed.
What are your experiences and thoughts on your other Polselli movies - Il mostro dell'opera/Monster of the Opera (1961/64) & Ultimatum alla vita/Ultimatum to Life (1961)?
I simply rewrote a screenplay for Il mostro dell’opera and had penned Ultimatum alla vita before L'Amante del Vampiro. In those times, Polselli's writing technique was to put one adjective and one substantive together. Therefore, he would describe ‘a beautiful arrogance’ as ‘an arrogant beauty’, or ‘with a haughty bravery’ instead that of ‘with a brave haughtiness.’ Joking aside, Polselli isn't a great screenwriter – he's better as a director. He never had the right money to shoot a movie in the best way, so it's difficult to judge what Polselli could do with the right budget.
Lycanthropus/Werewolf in a Woman’s Dormitory (1961) has earned itself something of a cult status. What were your reasons behind writing the script and your experiences with director?
Lycanthropus was one of the first movies I wrote with my name fully credited. At the time I was writing for three years as a ghostwriter for the famous (in those times!) screenwriter Ugo Guerra. A producer asked me to write a thriller and the first idea for Lycanthropus came from Ugo. Then, as usual, I started to write the "scaletta" – the plot broken up in small chapters. Ugo liked it my treatment. Paolo Heusch was chosen to be the director. I began to write the script and once a week Paolo came to my house so that I could read out various scenes to him. Paolo was a very sweet man. He was homosexual. He use to lie on my sofà in a very femminine position (we used to call him the "Paolina" as in Canova of Paolina Bonaparte’s famous stature) and we discussed the script. Paolo was more interested in formal perfection than the story construction. I prefer the construction of a screenplay, but we never argued.
Can you please tell me more about Giovanni Simonelli’s Rocco e le sorelle (1961) and Marcello Baldi’s Marte, dio della guerra (1962)? What are your opinions of these films and why you wrote them?
I wrote "Rocco e le sorelle" essentially to eat. Joking aside, I was just at my beginning. Franco Cirino, my collegue as assistant director of Polselli in "L'Amante del vampiro" introduced me to Mr. DiGianni. DiGianni was a musician who was used to produce movies coming from songs. This time DiGianni was interested in a parody of "Rocco e i suoi fratelli" directed by Luchino Visconti. So I wrote that script. I liked it, because it was full of little language remarks about sicilian dialect.
About "Marte, dio della guerra": it was the movie of my "emersion" from the world of ghosts! I was the ghostwriter of Ugo Guerra from almost 2 years, when Ugo told me he was in trouble with some producers because he had told them he had a new great idea, but he hadn't any idea... nor new nor great.
At those times the famous screenwriters were obsessed by producers, so Ugo had told that just to take time for breathing. Ugo told me that the meeting with those producers (Mr. Ercoli and Mr. Pugliesi) was fixed an half a hour after. At those times the Italian Cinema was full of strong muscular heros like Hercules, Maciste, etc. Ugo and I went to the producers' office, they were very nice and kind, Ugo started to talk about policy for minutes looking at me, hoping in some NEW and GREAT ideas by me. Then the conversation about Government, taxes, traffic died so Mr. Pugliesi asked about this NEW GREAT idea. Ugo gave me a desperate look and began to talk about philosophy... My brain was running but I hadn't any NEW and GREAT ideas. I was also shocked because it was my first introduction to very important producers. Rags of thoughts were passing into my brain, like "...big trouble... no one, not even God can resolve this trouble, my dear Guerra... (Guerra means War in Italian)... God... War... the big idea flashed!
When Mr. Pugliesi asked for the third time which were the NEW and GREAT Ugo's idea, I just said "Marte, il dio della guerra". Ugo, a very smart man, took the ball immediately and nodded, smiling at me: " After Hercules, Maciste... we thought it would be interesting to explore a new step forward: gods." Mr. Ercole and Mr. Pugliesi stayed for a while thinking, then clapped! So I signed my first important official formal contract.
And of course, your screenplay for the MAGNIFICENT L'orribile segreto dal Dott. Hichcock/The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962)! What was your inspiration for this classic horror film?
Often reality is less romantic than film critics hope. Mr. Donati and Mr. Carpentieri were looking for a new horror script. They asked me something new (always producers ask for something new... but they didn't like anything really new. I never managed to convince one of them to realise my script "The end of the Eternity", that was similar to "Back to the future", but we were in 1970!). I was saying, "something new". I thought that necrophilia was enough new and they agreed. I wrote a story called "Spectral", then producers changed the title in a better one: "Raptus", and only when the movie was ended they put the Hichcock title.
Was horror something that attracts you to a screenplay? And of your experiences with Riccardo Freda on the film as well as the cast.
Not particularly. In that time I was writing a musical "Pesci d'oro e bikini d'argento", an epic story "Marte il dio della guerra", a comedy "Divorzio alla siciliana" and other scripts like the SF "The End of Eternity" never realised. Riccardo Freda was called to direct "Raptus" after the script was finished. Producers asked him if he wanted to direct a necrophilia topic. Freda answered, before reading the script, that as he was screwing at that time the famous actress Gianna Maria Canale and that girl was very expensive, he was ready to shoot even the Yellow Pages!
While Freda was shooting, he called me once. I went to the stage (an inhabitated villa in Roma,) he introduced me to the actors and asked me if he could cut 8 pages off from my script because he had to finish his work in a few days. He showed me those pages: they were dialogue pages, where there were many explications about the plot. I said to Freda that probably the movie would have become incomprehensible, almost partially. Freda shrugged his shoulders answering that it wasn't important because people love incomprehensible horror movies. Freda was a master in this field. I shrugged my shoulders too. OK! Freda torn up the pages, the movie became enough incomprehensible and people loved it! Isn't that funny?
How do go about writing a screenplay? I mean, does a producer ask you to write, say, a Spaghetti Western and you go home and type up a script. Or do you write a screenplay which takes your fancy and offer it to a producer?
During the past decades, when Italian Cinema was running better, usually it was the producer who called me and asked me a script of a certain genre. It was difficult enough to convince a producer to produce what writers judged what was good. I remember a long fight against Carlo Ponti to convince him to produce Sci-Fi movies based on time adventures. I lost! At the end of our long arguments, Ponti (but the other producers too) was usually saying "That's very interesting! But why you don't want to write for me a good thriller? (or a good western, or a good comedy...). Of course I wanted to – they paid me for it. Now it's me, more often, that propose a story. More, for "Crime vs. Crime" that is starting on Monday 30 Nov., I wrote the script, with the future director, as a spec., then we presented it to our General Direction of Cinema to have the "label" of a "cultural national script". We got it and then we could have 2 billion liras of public financing and only after this we managed to find a producer!
How long does it take you to write a script?
It depends. When I was working for Sergio Leone almost a whole year. Usually between 1 month and 2 months.
Have you ever written a screenplay to a film that you were unhappy with when it left your hands? If so, why?
Sometimes, when I was a ghost-writer and I couldn't make changes. In return I was always unhappy seeing the movies made from my scripts! Maybe except "Il mio Nome è Nessuno" "La Frusta e il Corpo" "Milano Trema, la polizia vuole giustizia" and a very few other ones.
What do you think of Italy's leading horror icons: Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato and Sergio Martino. How do their films compare with each others?
I'm used to compare what we call "gialli" from real horror movies. The first Dario Argento's movies were a "giallo". I think the most part of the movies I wrote for Sergio Martino were "gialli" too. In the strictly horror films field the masters were Freda, Fulci and Bava. I never liked the Deodatos's movies. I felt them too vulgar, full of blood, without an interesting story. I like the very well constructed stories, so when I saw the first Argento's movie "L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo", I laughed. At the beginning of the movie, a witness told you that he saw a man killing a woman. Then for the whole movie, this witness repeats that there is something in his brain, something confused, that he cannot clearly grasp... at the end, the light! It wasn't a man who was killing a woman, but a woman who was killing a man! Go to hell, writers and director!
Could you please explain to me your experiences on Carlo Veo's Pesci d’oro e bikini d’argento (1962)?
Horrible! I wrote the script paid by Mr. DiGianni who was the producer, without meet Carlo Veo. He was a theatre director at his first movie direction, so DiGianni asked me to follow the shooting as assistant director. I lasted exactly one day. Carlo Veo told me at every frame, that he would have been a great director if there wasn't the camera. In the afternoon he took a frame and then put the camera to take a reverse angle shot. I advised him that the position of the camera was wrong because all people who were on the right in the previous frame now will look to have jumped on the left.
I advised him in low voice. Veo didn't agree with me and called aloud to the Photography Director to know if I or Veo was were right. The PD gave me a look meaning "my dear, the movie director is always right..." and said Veo was right. I was (I am) headstrong, so I took a piece of paper and I demonstrated to Veo and to the whole team that I was right and Veo wrong. Veo had to admit the truth but that was my last working day on that particular film. "Okay - I added - I know I'm wrong because I'm right. I go out of your balls (Italian expression) but, please, don't cut the part acted by my wife Mara Maryl.- Veo cut it out.
Can we discuss your involvement with the great Mario Bava?
Mario Bava was probably the best in the thriller and horror field. He was a great photographer! Unfortunately he directed just one of the scripts of mine: "La Frusta e il Corpo". We didn't collaborate because when he was shooting I was writing another script and I was out of Rome, but I liked the film. It's long time that I don't see that movie. But I remember that I had a good first feeling.
Why did you only write one screenplay for Mario Bava?
In those times I was always working about more than one script a time. VOX Production (made by Ugo Guerra and Elio Scardamaglia) called me to write "La Frusta e il Corpo", then they called Maria Bava. VOX Production interrupted its activity very soon and Bava started to work for GALATEA Production. I wasn't use to work for that production.
You also directed a small number of films. What made you take a career as film director?
My career as director? I never had one! I had a career as husband of my wife, the actress! My wife and I made a deal when we married: I would have never directed a movie without her, and she would have never acted in a movie if I wasn't the director. This way I had to direct some movies! I began trying to convince producers to produce Sci-Fi stories. I wrote many tales and novels that I liked to direct, but times weren't ready for Sci-Fi. So I directed "Libido", a very low budget "giallo". This movie was born from a bet between two producers: Luciano Martino and Mino Loy. Luciano was coming from the script field and Mino was an optic technician always in love with cameras and objectives.
They argued about if it was better for a director to be a good teller or a good technician. I proposed to them a practical proof: I was an enough good story teller but a poor technician. They agreed. They put 5 million liras (1965) each and I wrote the script. The production costs and the eventual earns had to be fifty-fifty. I agreed, well knowing I hadn't 10 million lira. I formed a firm called "Nucleofilm", then I started to go around looking for a distributor and for friends who allowed me to shoot a movie with that incredible lack of money! In that movie I was the director, the manager, the architect, the costume-designer, the wardrobe mistress, the sound director, the editor, myself assistant and I don't remember how many other person. I shoot the movie in 18 days, in an almost free studios. I think my amateur experience helped me very much.
Luciano won the bet. Libido was a very little black and white poor film but we sold it all around the world and we earned a 400% investment rate. More, the main woman character was of course my wife, but the main actor was Giancarlo Giannini in his first film.
You mention that you rated Lucio Fulci highly among Argento and Deodato. Why is this and what are your favourite films of Fulci's career?
Lucio Fulci was a very cultured man. He was interested in medecine, philosophy, religion and arts. I worked with him for the script "Sette note in nero", but I think his best movies in the thriller field were "Una sull'altra" and "Non si sevizia così un paperino". Lucio told me that the idea to make his first "giallo" came to him from "Il Dolce Corpo di Deborah" that I wrote in 1967. Lucio thoughts it was the first Italian giallo. He never saw "Libido" written and shooted almost 3 years before. I prefer the Lucio Fulci's thrillers because of their well constructed story. They are intelligent, the giallo game involving. Often thriller movies are based on a very simple technique as: the girl is waiting with fear staring toward her right and the badman came in abruptly appearing on the high left frame corner!
Do you know what I mean? I like less the horror movie as "Zombie" but there is always a philosophy in the horror movies directed by Lucio. He was afraid by what men can find after their death. I told him many times his fear was irrational: after death there is the same things there were before we were born: nothing. No darkness. Nothing.
Now Fulci is dead and unfortunately he cannot know there is nothing, of course.
When he died we were working on a very interesting idea of a new giallo. I proposed as title "Brackets" (Parentesi), Lucio preferred "Personal Inferno". It was a story about a road girl with her guitar that a car accident allows her to take the place of a very rich girl in a fantastic villa at Riviera. She thinks to enjoy this mistake just for one or two days but... I wrote a story about this idea and we published it in a Tuscan newspaper. Then Fulci disappeared... he was still alive but when I went to his apartment to meet him, his apartment was open and completely wide of furniture. I asked for him to doorman and he answered me that Fulci sold the furniture and escaped! Without have paid the rent and the furniture wasn't of him!!! After months I knew he died. It was scandaleous that a man like Lucio was without any money while his movies were broadcasted in TV, almost one every week! And TV Net was earning billions of lira with them. Not one cent was going to the director and writer.
You penned a screenplay for Alberto de Martino with Perseo l'invincible/Medusa Against the Son of Hercules (1963). Was peplum something you enjoyed writing as I note this is your only peplum film that you wrote? What were your experiences on the film and director?
I wrote the script called "Perseo contro la Medusa", I don't remember any Hercules' sons! (it was the American title, i don't know why!). I wrote the script for the producers Pugliesi and Ercoli, then they sold it to another production, I think, I never met Alberto De Martino. We called "peplo film" even the ancient Roman films. My first script in this genre was "I Giganti di Roma" inspired to me by "I Cannoni di Navarone", in place of guns I put catapults.
Enzo Di Gianni's Divorizio alla siciliana (1963). Could you please explain more about this film and your involvement with it.
Do you remember the famous movie "Divorzio all'Italiana" directed by Germi? It was a big Italian success, so Di Gianni wished to shoot a parody of it. I enjoyed very much in writing it. I used an Italian-Sicilian dictionnary to be able to write some dialogues, not really in pure dialect but using just funny words and expressions. The same I did when I wrote "La Pupa del Gangster" acted by Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. The main character in "Divorzio alla Siciliana" was Tiberio Murgia. He was a Sardinian become very famous in Italy acting "I Soliti Ignoti" where he acted as a Sicilian. He was very funny with his absurd jealousy!
Could you please expand on your screenplays for: Camillo Mastrocinque’s La cripta e l'incubo/Terror in the Crypt (1963), Antonio Margheriti’s I giganti di Roma (1964) and Enzo Di Gianni’s Scandali nudi (1964)? I'd like to know more of the films and your thoughts on them.
"La Cripta e l'Incubo": I had written just a few pages story, coming from the tale "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu. I had titled it "I Lunghi capelli della morte".
Two producers were looking for a horror movie and Tonino Valerii and I went to their office and, following my plot, we improvised at the moment details and scenes. The producers told us they were interested in, but only if the script was already ready. Tonino and I declared the script was ready. They nodded and asked to have it the day after. Tonino and I ansered "Okay". It was six in the evening. Tonino and I ran to my home and started to write the script. We wrote it for the whole night, a 1963 summer night, staying in my penthouse terrace with my wife who brought us coffee every hour. At seven A.M. next day the script was ready. At 10 A.M. it was in the producers' hands. During the long night writing, when we were tired, Tonino and I stopped for some minutes composing a little funny song about the movie, I'm afraid, it not translatable in English...
The producers liked the script but not its title. Tonino proposed to change it, from "I Lunghi Capelli della Morte" to "La Cripta e l'Incubo". They agreed. The director was chosen a week after. He was Camillo Mastrocinque, an old film director who directed a lot of comedies. "La Cripta e l'Incubo" was his first horror movie. I could never understand why he was asked to direct. Mastrocinque signed Thomas Miller. I didn't like the movie, save Christopher Lee and Carla Calò acting.
"I Giganti di Roma": it was the first movie produced by Luciano Martino and Mino Loy. Luciano was a friend of mine. I met him when I was at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, because he was the boyfriend of one of our most beautiful schoolmates, Wandisa Guida, Miss Cinema 1955. Then Luciano was one of the screenwriters working for Ugo Guerra, our common master, so we wrote together many scripts I didn't signed. When Luciano, taking 30 million lira from his father as a part of his future legacy, decided to produce a movie, he asked me to write a "peplo". I remembered "I cannoni di Navarone" and I wrote a similar plot setted in Gallia, at the Caesar's times. Guns became catapults. Antonio Margheriti was called as director. Since at those time Italian producers preferred that authors used American names, Antonio signed as "Anthony Daisy". Someone told him it looked like a gay name, then he changed it to "Anthony Dawson". But times were changing, peplos were going out of fashion because the 007 season were beginning. Luciano Martino and Mino Loy didn't lose their money but the earnings weren't big enough.
"Scandali nudi": I don't remember almost anything about this film. It was my last collaboration with M. DiGianni. I remember I argued with him because I didn't agree about some changes he made to my script. I forgot the plot too, it seems to me it was a story about a strip-tease show in a little village in Southern Italy. I think I'd never see the movie!
I lunghi capelli della morte/The Long Hair of Death (1965) is a horror film that has gained itself a considerable cult following. What are your thoughts on the film itself, director (Antonio Margheriti) and cast?
You can notice that the surname of the main characters in the movies "La Cripta e l'Incubo" and "I Lunghi capelli della morte" is Karlenstein (or Karlstein). As I told you the first title of "La Cripta e l'incubo" was "I Lunghi capelli della morte". Before the producers changed that title I wrote another story I called "La maledizione dei Karlenstein" and when the producers of "La Cripta" changed the title I used "I Lunghi capelli della morte"(I liked it) as new title of "La Maledizione dei Karlenstein". Antonio Margehriti was a very good director particularly about special effects. He was able to shoot good special effects using very poor materials. I liked the movie.
At this time, Barbara Steele became well known as a horror scream queen. What is your opinion of her?
I liked very much Barbara Steele acting and her big dark eyes! She was (I think she is) a very strange woman, fascinating, shady, with heterosexual and homosexual lovers.
Is it true that Bruno Valeri (as 'Robert Bohr') help pen the script?
Never existed any "Bruno Valeri", Robert Bohr was the English nickname of Tonino Valerii, a very good friend of mine and my schoolmate at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. We wrote the script together because Tonino hoped it could be his first movie direction. Before the producers called Antonio Margheriti, Tonino proposed himself as director, (Tonino hadn't directed any films at those times) but producers wouldn't take any risks and preferred Antonio Margheriti.
Do you as a scriptwriter find it easier to write with another contributor, or do you prefer to be solo?
Usually solo. But with Tonino it was very easy to work and very hilarious too. We enjoyed ourselves writing together.
Could you tell me more of your work on Mino Loy and Luciano Martino’s Le spie uccidono a Beirut/Secret Agent Fireball (1965)? I note that Richard Harrison starred in the film - a veteran of exploitation cinema.
"I Giganti di Roma" was still in working, when Luciano Martino and Mino Loy told me if I wanted to write a spy story, following the big success of "007, Licenza di Uccidere". They disposed of a very little budget and they want to direct themselves the movie. I wrote the script without any problems and they directed it in Beirut. The film was dramatically poor. Richard Harrison acted the best he could. Wandisa Guida acted too (she was now the Luciano's wife). I noticed an interesting face in the cast: Alan Collins alias Luciano Pigozzi and I'll used him in Libido, some months after.
And you followed suit with another spy film a year later.
A 077 sfida ai killers was one of those spy stories I wrote in that period, after the success of the enough ugly Le Spie Uccidono a Beirut. In spite of it was a poor film, "Le Spie Uccidono a Beirut" was sold in the whole world and Martino and Loy were really happy! I wrote the story by myself, in a few weeks, inventing that three scientists were killed by a women organisation! Of course there was also an agent called Fleming (not James Bond but his author...) who solved everything! I met Antonio Margheriti when the script was ended and approved by producers, as usual, and director could say almost nothing about it but just if he wanted shoot it or not.
A... come assassino (1965) is a new title for me. What is this film and could you tell me more about director Angelo Dorigo ["Ray Morrison"]?
"A... come Assassino" is a thriller I wrote for the theatre. There was a little company used to act thrillers in a Roman theatre. In that company was acting the Polselli's girlfriend. She was one of my schoolmate at Centro Sperimentale. We were friends. I needed money. So I tried to write a story for her company. Only when my story was ready I knew that that company acted only scripts that had had a government financing. To have it I presented my story to the Istituto del Dramma Italiano (I.D.I) and I wont the first award.
But when I came back to the Polselli's girlfriend company, it didn't exist anymore! My work was put on stage, a year after, by another company (Spaccesi's Company), then Walter Brandi (the main chracter of "L'Amante del Vampiro") became producer and he bought my drama to make a movie from it. Angelo Dorigo was the associated producer. "A... come Assassino" is my best thriller plot, I think. I saw the movie. It was too static. Angelo Dorigo was a theatre producer and not a film director. He limited himself in shooting my drama as it was. But it wasn't written for a film.
I have seen Michele Lupo’s Arizona Colt (1966) recently on Italian TV (Rai Uno) and rather enjoyed it. What were your inspirations for the film - were any particular film, actor or director an inspiration? What are your thoughts on the film, director and leading actor?
Can you tell me the date when you saw this film? It's important for TV rights – I missed it! The first Italian western movie was shot by Peppo Sacchi in Biella in 1953. Its title was COWBOY's STORY. It was an amateur B&W movie that won the Montecatini Festival. I met Peppo when he was starting this shooting. I didn't know anything about cinema. As I told you, he taught me all the film technique in a whole night, walking in the Biella's park at 20 degrees below zero.
I became a kind of his assistant. "Cowboy's story" was a strange film: among a lot of naivities there were some very strong western scenes! Critics were enthusiast! I learned it was possible for us, Italians, to make western movies. When I came to Roma and I started to write as a ghost-writer I tried to convince famous screenwriters and then Italian producers it was possible to shoot western movies in Italy. All of them laughed! After "Per un pugno di dollari" nobody was still laughing and some producers remembered my words and called me to write spaghetti westerns.
Duccio Tessari, a director friend of mine, directed "Una pistola per Ringo" using a new young unknown actor: Giuliano Gemma. Of course Giuliano had to change his name to an American nickname and he was now called "Montgomery Wood". Luciano Martino brought me to see this movie in a public theatre to test the public. People was extremely amused! I recommended Luciano to make a deal immediately with this "Montgomery Wood"... Martino didn't deal with Gemma immediately because the Giuliano's agent was putting his price higher and higher every time Luciano was calling! At the end a contract was signed, I think for 30 million lira (1965!)! Just to compare:the whole budget of my movie LIBIDO was just of 26 million of lira!
It was very easy for me to write ARIZONA COLT. The character was that Duccio Tessari had invented yet, I just added an idea: Arizona is a man who likes answer to all questions with the same sentence: "I should think about it" (Ci devo pensare).
When I saw the movie I found a very funny thing: I had written that a gang was used to attack jails to free prisoners and enrol them in the gang itself when some former outlaws had died. The scene of the attack had been realised as a D-Day scene, with a lot of bandits killed to free a handful of unknown men... just to substitute the bandits themselves. Michele Lupo, the director, was plagiarized by Piero Lazzari, the general manager of the movie, and Piero told me: "Logic is not important! People like great scenes!". I wrote the script alone. Luciano Martino signed with me just to be sure he was in the business.
Had Sergio Leone seen the film and made any comments to you?
Oh yes. Sergio saw the movie before he met me. I think he liked it because then he called asking me to write a film for him.
Could you explain your involvement with Luigi Scattini’s Duello nel mondo (1966)?
It was a spy story. The idea came from Mino Loy and Luciano Martino. They wanted a movie showing many beautiful places around the World. I wrote a story about an insurance company. I didn't like this film. Luigi Scattini wasn't a real story director, he was more experienced in document films.
And Mino Loy and Luciano Martino’s Flashman (1966)?
Flashman was something between a bet and a joke. Mino Loy, very able with optic technique, invented a mirror trap to be able to shot something like "The invisble Man". Mino wanted make this movie without spending a lira... And of course you can see it!
Furia a Marrakech (1966) was another spy film.
After the "Le Spie Uccidono a Beirut" big success (money success!). Mino Loy and Luciano Martino wanted to produce and to direct a new spy story. I liked the story more than the movie... but that’s a typical comment from me!. Loy and Martino made a better picture than the first time in Beirut.
Enzo Di Gianni’s Giorno caldo al paradiso show (1966) sounds like a great movie!
I don't remember almost anything about this movie but it was some kind of musical based on popular songs and some beautiful girls. I think it was about a competition among girls to be "Miss Something"... in a dancing managed by three criminals, but don’t count me on that! Production, story and direction was by Di Gianni.
Could you please tell me more on Lionello De Felice's ["Michael Hamilton"] La lama nel corpo (1966). Some sources credit Elio Scardamaglia as director – is this true?
I met Lionello De Felice just once, after he ended the "Lama nel corpo" shooting. He was arguing with Elio Scardamaglia about the movie. I don't remember why. DeFelice proposed that his name were cancelled from the credits. I think Scardamaglia did, probably putting a fantasy name as director. I never saw the final cut of this movie. I haven't any particular thoughts on the movie – I wasn’t that impressed. I met William Berger in Scardamaglia's office when he decided to choose him as the main actor. I thought he was good enough for the role.
The Aurum Encyclopaedia of Horror Films state that you based your script on Robert William's ‘The Knife in the Body’
I didn't know that novel existed. I never read it, even today.
Romolo Guerrieri's 10,000 dollari per un massacro/$10,000 Blood Money (1967) is another western. What were your inspirations for this film? What were your working relations with director and cast? And your thoughts on the film?
To write western films was in those times was very easy. Simple stories of hate, vengeance, violence and revenge earned a special fascination running against the great western panoramas, immersed in that fantastic never-real-existed society. I knew that real western duels were extremely rare, I knew that men almost always died shot from behind by assassins who never thought anything about hethic. But the western world shown at cinema was different. Not only the western world, the same it happens when movies show ancient Romans or medieval knights! I wrote the script alone. There was an old script by Sauro Scavolini but I didn't use it. Mr. Fogagnolo was a book-keeper of Luciano Martino and he was involved in the Scavolini's story. Luciano Martino asked me if I accepted that their names was on credits. I always accepted things like that because producers knew who was the real writer. Often they asked me to add or also substitute my name with that of someone absolutely unknown to justify the government's helps when the movie looked to be an international co-production. It's funny when I read some critics speaking about, we say, the "Azcona's style" about the movie "Si può fare, amigo!": Azcona was in Spain and I never met him when I was writing that script.
Romolo Guerrieri is a relative of Enzo G. Castellari who lensed the excellent Keoma (1976). Have you at any time had any working experience with the Castellari clan?
I think I worked with Castellari just once. In 1994, I think, we write together some episodes of a TV serial directed by Nando Cicero.
Pino Mercanti's Cifrato speciale (1967) is new to me. Could you please explain your involvement, thoughts on the film and your experiences with the director and cast?
"Cifrato Speciale" was a movie produced by Ugo Guerra. I worked as his ghost-writer for 2 years. He asked for a script to me and it was some kind of official baptism as a screenwriter. My master trusted me and risked his money on one of scripts of mine! As usual director wasn't important. Producers had to "square" their business before they chose directors, of course when directors weren't famous directors. I had the idea of "CIFRATO SPECIALE" reading a newspaper article about some desappeared German documents involving secrets usable to build new weapons. I imagined that it was the secret of antigravity (I like Sci-Fi more than movie scripts). I hadn't any involvement with the director (I'm not sure if I met him!) and actors.
And then you worked with Spaghetti Western director Tonino Valerii on Il giorni dell'ira/Days of Wrath (1967).
Enough different it was the story of " I Giorni dell'Ira". I was called by Mr. Sansone, one of the producers, who asked if I had some new ideas about a western script. In those days I met a young man coming from Biella (my town) and recommended to me by my friend Peppo Sacchi (the man who explained to me that a 16mm.film was running in a camera and what it was the difference between a negative and a positive film... in a very cold Biella's night when I was 18...as I told you). This young man called Renzo Genta had a dream, he said, to write scripts! We talked some hours and he told that he was thinking about a western story hinged on an old gunman and a kid who wished become a gunman himself.
I told to Sansone the Genta's idea. He liked it and I came back home to write the story. I phoned to Renzo telling him he was a lucky man because after just a week from his coming to Roma, probably he was selling a story! Renzo answered me to write the story alone and then introduce him to the producers. I wrote the plot, amusing myself inventing the " commandments" that the old gunman teaches to his pupil. Mr. Sansone read the story ad he was crazy about it. He wanted I wrote the script immediately and I called Renzo. He came and he signed his first and very good contract with Mr. Sansone! I started to write the script and I phoned to Renzo asking for his collaboration: he was never ready to come to my home and work! I never got about what he was afraid! In the same time, Sansone was trying to make a good cast. We needed an old gunman and a young boy. The perfect old gunman in my opinion would have been Lee Van Cleef who had acted wonderfully in Leone's movie. Sansone contacted him and Lee said okay. "Who do you think could direct a movie like this?" asked Sansone to me. As usual, when I can, I try to help friends, so I advised Tonino Valerii who had just directed a nice western "Per il gusto di uccidere", it was a little western but well shot. Sansone called Tonino and he signed.
A week after Sansone called me: big news! A German producer wanted put good money in our project but we had to use the plot of a novel he bought for his company! Tonino and I read the novel called "La morte galoppa a mezzanotte", unfortunately it wasn't a good novel... In that time it was very convenient to make coproductions between the Countries who had an international deal, so it was important for Sansone to be able to sign a contract with his German coproducer. But the coproduction laws asked that the film's authors were of the both countries. In a few words, Tonino and I took from the novel just the names of the characters and a little episode, but Sansone could put on credits "story from the novel "Il galoppo della morte"... In all this time Renzo Genta never appeared! Tonino was very lucky too, because to act the young boy character was taken Giuliano Gemma who wasn't so young but he was the most paid actor in Italy! This way Tonino find himself directing a great couple of actors in a very important movie! My following screenplay, "Per 100.000 dollari ti ammazzo" (1967) was without any particular story. The idea was by Sergio Martino. I wrote the script. Fago directed it. Critics weren't nice with this movie!
Can you please explain on Michele Lupo's Troppo per vivere, poco per morire (1967)?
I don't know if exists an English title of this movie. In France, the film was called Qui etes-vous inspecteur Chandler? I think the story was written by Sandro Continenza and I worked with him writing the script. Sandro was older than me, a good friend of my master Ugo Guerra, a very nice person. Unfortunately he died two years ago. The story, sett in London, was about a thief who stole some jewels at a "defilé". He had been seriously hurt while he was escaping trying to get a ship in. His associates in the robbery abandoned him, dying. He gave a key to a journalist who was there by chance. The journalist began to investigate… On credit with me and Continenza, there are also Fabio Carpi (he's dead too) and one man called Paolo Levi. I don't know who this Paolo Levi can be! I knew Fabio Carpi but I didn't work with him on this script. Maybe Fabio worked with Continenza before I started to write the script with Sandro.
I notice that Lupo made an excellent western called California, and of course, the star Giuliano Gemma, became a household name in Italy.
Michele shot "California" in 1977, ten years after "Arizona Colt" and "Troppo per vivere e poco per morire". I never saw "California". Of course, Gemma was a very important actor in 1977! As I told you, the first movie director who believed in Giuliano Gemma was Duccio Tessari. He chose Giuliano as main character in "Arrivano i Titani", then in "Una Pistola per Ringo". "Arizona Colt" was his next western. It was a big success. After it, Giuliano became one of the most paid among Italian actors.
Giorgio Ferroni’s ["Calvin Jackson Paget"] La Battaglia di El Alamein/The Battle of El Alamein (1968) is an impressive WW2 action film with sound performances from Frederick Stafford, Ettore Manni and Robert Hossein. The film is based on an uneasy alliance between Germany and Italy with the British being shown in a bad light (it does happen, of course!). When you wrote the screenplay, did you think that a war film where the British are projected as the chief enemy would affect sales - especially in America and Britain?
The producers knew that it would have been not easy to sell the movie in England, but my principal worry was that I didn't want to write a fascist movie! The El Alamien Battle is, still now, the best pride of our Right. The division called "Folgore" was, still is, a great nationalistic division. I don't think I put the British in a bad light: they were our enemies in those times but I focused my attention on our soldiers, some of them plagiarised by the Fascists. The battle is historical stuff, all the facts I wrote, really happened. Some Italian soldiers attacked British tanks with their bare hands having just little hand grenades. Facts like these speak about personal courage but also about the bad Italian military preparation.
I worked for months on this script. I met some old soldiers who were at El Alamein. I met a very interesting person, speaking an incredibly number of different languages, always wrapped in a wool blanket because he always had a high temperature. He was a spy, living in Alessandria, Egypt, in 1942. Dressed as an Arab, he joined an Arabian caravan and took pictures of the fake walls just painted on the desert between El Alamein and Alessandria to stop Italian and German armies for a while. These pictures looked as true walls, if pictures were taken by aircraft but, of course, they looked just painted if they were photographed from a camel back. This man met Rommel and showed him his pictures. Rommel stayed thinking for minutes, then he gave back the pictures to this fake Arab telling him he trusted more his pilots than an Italian dressed as an Arab. This person told me he took the strong impression Rommel got he was showing him the truth but that the German general didn't want to win anymore. In fact, Rommel flied to Berlin and tried to kill Hitler with the help of other generals. Unfortunately they failed.
When "El Alamein Battle" issued in Italy the movie had a big success. Half billion lira in 1968, it ment nowadays more or less 30 billion lira! Almost all reviews were very good. It was the first time, after the WW2, that Italian cinema showed something not only bad about our soldiers. I liked this movie but I could not convince Giorgio Ferroni not shooting the tanks battle exactly like really happened because it was too static. I advised him to move tanks as modern tanks do. Modern tanks can move, run and shoot in the same time. Giorgio Ferroni fought in WW2 and answered me, firmly, that my idea was a big bullshit! "All people know - he told me- WW2 tanks CANNOT shoot and run!" Giorgio was deaf. He was deaf also when he was young and he got a silver medal during WW2 because he stood absolutely still in front of a general referring his report while bombs were falling very close behind his shoulders. The general lasted for minutes but at the end escaped and then, not knowing Giorgo was deaf, gave him the medal!
When writing the script for La battaglia di El Alemein, were you aware of a man called Maskelyne, of magician stock, who painted and camouflaged the British vehicles during the conflict?
I don't know if we are speaking about the same thing: painted walls and fake trenches were painted on the desert between El Alamein and Alexandria. I think this work was made when general Alexander was still the chief of the English Army. It was thought to give time to the English Command to escape from the Egypt to India. If Rommel had run toward nothing was there to be able to stop his tanks. But Rommel stopped for months. Then new soldjers, new tanks and the general Montgomery arrived in Egypt and the war for Rommel was lost. During his waiting, the man I met, went to Rommel masked as an Arab and showed him pictures that cleared the trick. Rommel preferred to go to Berlin where he tried to the attempt to Hitler's life.
Also, could you please tell me about your experiences on the film, the director, budget and cast?
Giorgio was a very stubborn person. I wrote a treatment and then I started to speak with him about the story. He was worry overall about the military accuracy and left me free about characters. I was friend of Enrico Maria Salerno (Vittorio's brother) and he asked me to read with him his role. I did. We made some emendations to his dialogue. He was very happy to act his character.
Giovanni Fago's Uno di piu all'inferno/Full House for the Devil (1968) and Mario Siciliano's I vigliacchi non pregano/Taste of Vengeance (1968)- could you please give me more details about your experiences on these films, director and cast?
Giovanni Fago was one of my schoolmates at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia di Roma. He was a delicate person, not the right people to direct a violent western, but in those times you could propose what you want to Italian producers. They listened to you nicely and then they nodded "Wonderful story, but... why don't you write me a good western script?" Luciano Martino was an old friend of mine. I met him when I was a schoolmate at CSC of the girl who became then his wife (Wandisa Guida), then I wrote with him some scripts for our common master Ugo Guerra and at the end, when Luciano produced his first movie, asked me for a script (I Giganti di Roma, as I told you). So Luciano asked me for a new western and I wrote him it. Luciano wanted a story about a revenge. I chose a rape and murder. I think the movie had another title at its beginning, then Luciano took a sentence from the dialogue and put it as a title. George Hilton (Luciano's cousin) was the main actor. He wasn't too bad. Reviews were very bad.
What were your inspirations behind Il dolce corpo di Deborah/The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968) as it’s something of a collectable horror film? What were your experiences with the director and cast?
In 1965 I directed and wrote LIBIDO, it was one of the first Italian giallo film. LIBIDO was born just for a bet between Loy and Martino. They tried to convince me to take Carrol Baker (she was in Italy) as main character, saying that my "debut" will be a great one if I had directed a famous American star! But I couldn't agree! I couldn't do a thing like that having at home a wife waiting to act. More, she had helped me in writing the story! So Mara Maryl was the main character and LIBIDO costed the unbelievable amount of 26 million lira (it means today less than half billion lira, or if you like to look updated 256,800 euro...) and earned in 1966 almost 200 million lira! It was a wonderful sample that an Italian giallo movie was a great business! A giallo usually haven't heavy costs, almost all is in the plot! Loy & Martino asked me another plot immediately! They can spend three times more than I in LIBIDO. I wrote a well complicated story, trying to be logic. Martino asked a little bit of sex and I put it (in those times "a little bit" was really "a very little bit"!), finally Loy & Martino engaged Carrol Baker and Jean Sorel. A good couple of actors. I don't know why they chose Romolo Guerrieri as director: he was a quite good action movie director, but to shoot a giallo you have to understand it... I'm kidding, but I had the impression that some scenes weren't exactly got by the director. In spite of it the movie had a great success. I never was on its set, I was writing another giallo yet!
What are your working relationships with other Italian screenwriters towards you? - such as Dardano Sacchetti who used to write for Fulci. Due to work, is there any conflict or bad feelings - or are you one happy bunch?
We aren't a bunch, no happy bunch, no sad bunch. No bunch at all. I never worked with Dardano Sacchetti. I met him twice, few minutes, at producers' office, just by chance. When I was a ghostwriter I had to work with a lot of other screenwriters because I had to obey to my master. So I worked with Jemma, Continenza, Age & Scarpelli, Sonego, Benvenuti & Debernardi, Scola & Maccari, Festa Campanile and other ones. I liked very much to work with Rodolfo Sonego and Sandro Continenza. Working with Benvenuti & Debernardi was amusing because they make me laughing for hours. When I became a screenwriter I tried to work alone because I had suddenly a lot of scripts to write and if you work as a team you have to spent ten times more time that writing alone. Working in a team is wonderful, amusing (almost always...) but wasting time. It happened I worked with friends, like Tonino Valerii or Vittorio Salerno. But not so often. Working with Sergio leone was tiring, interesting but tiring, because he liked repeat the scenes many many times, telling them to different movie people who he was use to invite at home. It was not like work in a team but it was working alone with a maniac. Of course he was a wonderful maniac!
Umberto Lenzi's Cosi dolce del deserto/So Sweet, So Perverse (1969) was your next film. Once again, what were your inspirations and experiences for this film?
"LIBIDO" was my inspiration. Luciano Martino asked me a plot similar to Libido, the movie I directed based of an incredible low budget. I wrote the story taken from Libido just some plot's knots and the two lesbian characters. I knew that the main actors could be Jean Louis Trintignat and Carrol Baker, but both had signed their contracts with a provision telling that the deal would have been cancelled if they didn't like the script! I tried to be more careful than usual in writing their both characters! Fortunately they liked the script very much and they acted it!
How did you get along with Umberto Lenzi as he has earned a reputation for being somewhat difficult?
Umberto lenzi was one of the schoolmates of mine at C.S.C.. He was following the second class when I was following the first one. He was very nice and cheerful when he was a student. I met him again ten years after and I found him tremendously changed. He had a love affair with a Greek girl, our schoolmate too, they married but their manage didn't last. The new Umberto was almost hysterical, he argued with everybody even for stupid reasons. I have to say with me was very nice. My script had been approved by the actors and by Luciano Martino so he cannot change absolutely anything. He was upset for that but he signed his contract.
What genre do you think Lenzi is best suited for? He was competent as a director of Italian cop films during the 70s.
I don't know. When he was a student it seems that he liked more comedies.
Have you seen his cannibal shockers? If so, what do you think of them?
No. I never saw this kind of movies. Horrible rumours ran about this kind of movies, I hope they were just rumours!
In an interview, Lenzi feels that your screenplay for Cosi dolce del deserto was "clumsy" and "crude"! Is the first you heard of such a claim? – and if so, how do you feel about such a rude remark? He also states that the screenplay was half-based on Clouzot's Les Diaboliques and Miller's Midnight Lace. Was this your real aim?
If Lenzi said he felt my script "clumsy" and "crude", he evidently told his side of the story. I respect his feeling and probably he was right. Everything depends with what you compares a script! Everyone can say what is his feeling about a script, particularly the man who directed it, right? I didn't like too much the movie and critics were very bad with Lenzi, saying that two very good actors as Carrol Baker and Jean Louis Trintignant never acted in that horrible way being so bad directed. What I can say by sure is that Lenzi was wrong when he said that the plot was inspired by "Les Diaboliques" and "Midnight Lace", also if they are very well written scripts.
On with Mino Loy's La battaglie del deserto/Desert Battle (1969). What was your thoughts on this film and your experiences with the cast and crew? In such times, the Italian war film suffered due to a low budget and could not match Hollywood with exciting and colourful action scenes. Did this ever hamper you as a writer?
La battaglia del deserto was a movie made using many scenes shot for "La Battaglia di El Alamein" and cut off in the last edition. It was what we call "un film di recupero". I wrote the story remembering that my script had to "pass through" the scenes that Mino Loy had yet. For "La battaglia di El Alamein" we had enough budget and a big help from our Army to be able to shoot an acceptable war movie (nothing to compare of course with American budgets!) but Italian writers always know it's useless write spectacular great battles! Our war movies are forced to be "psychological" movies!
Arizona si scatenò... e li fece fuori tutti (1970) would be your first collaboration with Sergio Martino. Can you please tell me all about the film, cast and your feelings about it. What was your working relationship with Martino like as you both worked together on a number of films?
I met Sergio two years after I met Luciano Martino. Sergio was 20 y.o. and he knew anything about the film field. Luciano put him working as manager assistant, then he asked me to teach him the art of script... Sergio is an intelligent man, he learnt almost immediately and started writing stories and treatments. When Luciano decided he could direct a western, the script of "Arizona si scatenò... e li fece fuori tutti" was already written. (Luciano told me that if a simple man as Michele Lupo was, had directed the first "Arizona" and it was a big success, even his brother could direct a western"). Then, since Luciano made a co-production with Spain, he put a spanish name as screenplayer, of course it was just pro-forma. I think someone made from this movie a photo-novel too, but I haven't it. Sergio discussed with me some scenes, and in one afternoon we agreed on the whole stuff. I never had problems with Sergio about scripts. We have almost the same feeling about them.
Why did Martino use the pseudonym "Martin Dolman"?
Because he directed the first movies with Mino Loy Donà. So they put sounds together and invented this nickname.
Also, why "Julian Berry" for yourself - is this taken from someone else. Why did you drop the full name "Julian Berry Storff" after the completion of Libido?
This is a long story! When I was a student at CSC I shared an apartment with a young English citizen called Julian Birri. His parents were coming from Italy but he was born and grew up in London. He got always upset when the Roman English Ambassade asked him if he was "reeeeeally" sure to be an English citizen... In that time I wrote my first SF novel and the publisher wanted an English name. I took Julian Berry (the English pronounciation is almost as "Birri" in Italian...). So I started using this pseudo when producers or publishers called me an English nickname. I directed Libido with Vittorio Salerno and the surname of his mother was Storff. For that we signed Julian Berry Storff.
Can you please tell me of your experiences on Luciano Ercoli's La foto probite di una signora perbene/Prohibited Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1970)? Dagmar Lassander (hot and spicy!) and Susan Scott have contributed acting roles to many Italian films. Could you please tell me more about these Italian beauties.
I was planning to direct a new movie acted by my wife called "VENERE +", when Pugliese and Ercoli phoned me. They were in serious money troubles, they need to start immediately a new movie! I had this script ready to shoot, so I sold it to them (accepting to be paid when the movie were finished, and they paid me).Then they changed its title in "Le foto probite di una Signora perbene".
About Dagmar Lassanders I cannot tell you anything because I never met her. Susan Scott was the pseudo for Nieves Navarro. She was the Ercoli's fiancè. They lived together, I think they married 15 years ago or so, but I'm not sure. When Ercoli inherited from his father he decided to retire from film field. Nieves was a charming woman, coming from Spain.
Giuliano Carmineo's Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino/Sartana, I am Your Gravedigger (1970) is an enjoyable Spaghetti Western. Again, what are your thoughts on the film and director? Carmineo is a difficult person to trace and interview - could you please tell me what kind of director is he?
I think I wrote the first version of this script in 1969 or before for Luciano Martino but then the movie was shot by another producer. I never saw this movie and probably they changed my script a lot. Giuliano Carmineo was a close friend of mine during our stay at the CSC. We were in the same course. Giuliano has a wonderful touch in shooting comedies but he had to shoot what producers wanted. I think his best is when he can shoot ironic scenes. The last time we met ( 5 years ago) was because of a TV project called "L'avventura è l'avventura" and we worked very well together. Unfortunately this project wasn't shot.
Could you please tell me more about the cast as they are/were regular Italian actors (I understand that Wolff killed himself last year): John Garko , Frank Wolff, Ettore Manni, Sal Borgese and Gordon Mitchell?
Sorry, I can't. I worked just with Gordon Mitchell when I directed "Cin Cin...Cianuro!" . He was (he is I suppose!) a very nice man, very kind. He was collaborating in any situation. I remember that a day we were on the Circeo rocks (the same rocks that you can see in LIBIDO, that cliff on the sea) and we had to shoot a sceene with boats, when we found out that al the make up stuff had bee forgotten in Roma! Gordon stroke a match, lit a fire, then took a little stock, black by fire, and started to mark his eyebrows! I met many times Garko in the Martino's office and we talked about scripts and movies, but we never worked together. Garko wasn't use to discuss my scripts In those time he was grateful to producers that asked him to act main western characters!
Could you please tell more of your experiences on Martino's La coda dello scorpione/The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)?
It was an easy work. As I told you I worked always well with Sergio Martino. In this case I invented a quite good plot and the writing of the script was without any problem. Because of the Spanish co-production I found the name of Mr. Brochero close to mine. Of course I never met Mr. Brochero and I don't know if he exists or it was just a Spanish name for bureaucrats. I have confused memories about the movie, but I can remember that it was one of the few "giallo" I have written that had good reviews. Especially for the script.
I have found Luciano Ercoli's La morte cammina con I tacchi alti (1971) to be an extremely obscure film. Therefore, would it be possible for you to inform me about the film, director, cast and your thoughts on the film?
Another giallo with a good plot. Luciano Ercoli and Alberto Pugliese were really kind with me, after I rescued them giving them "Le foto prioibite di una signora perbene", that made good money resolving their situation. You can imagine how much they estimed me... and every word in my scripts was a sacred one! In that time I had a dream. To convince one Italian producer to produce SF movies, and particularly a story of mine called "The End of the eternity" (I used the title many years after but not the story). It was a story build in a ring without end and beginning. You could see the movie starting where you wanted. It was a story about a man closed in a time ring. Pugliese introduced me to Mr. Angelo Rizzoli (the man who produced "La Dolce Vita" by Fellini), a very strange intelligent billionaire. Rizzoli said OK. Giuliano Gemma offered himself to act the main character free! And he was in that time the most paid Italian actor! What had happened? The time ring closed aroudn Mr. Rizzoli who died. God didn't want it! In those time there were a few of producers who could produce the movies they wanted. The most part of them had to deal with distributors and sellers. My second attempt to convince an Italian producer to produce that movie was Luciano Martino who answered me that if distributors had accepted the risk of that strange story, he produced it. One of the distributors told me" Dear Ernesto, what wonderful story! Until page 40 I was completely fascinated. Then, okay then, you know... this problem about the time... we have to distribute movies among stupid people, to sell them to nigros too... they cannot get the meaning of that... stuff!. He wasn't a "nigro" but, sure, he didn't get a nut!
My third attemp was Carlo Ponti. I changed the story. I wrote something very similar to "Back to the future", set in Italy. Carlo was (is) the Sophia Loren's husband, so I wrote a scene set in Napoli at 1943, where the boy who travelled back to past, told a man: "Look this poor girl named Sophia and her younger half-sister named Maria. Yeah, those walking bare foot! Within 10 years Maria will marry the Benito Mussolini's son!" "That's incredible!" was the answer and the time traveller continued:" The weird fact is not that! The marriage will be important not because of the husband, but because Maria is the sister of Sophia Scicolone who in the future will be better known as Sofia Loren!". All people laughed in my script e no one could believe these words. This dialogue isn't very similar to that in "Back to the future", when the boy says that the actor Ronald Reagan would be become the U.S. President? And people laugh and answer "of course John Wayne is the chief of the Army!"? Uh! I digressed!
Can you spill the beans of Martino's Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)? I'd like to know what you think of the film and your script. And as usual, could you tell me about your experiences on the film and the cast. I did speak to Edwige Fenech a few years back and had agreed to an interview. However, she had won a contract on Italian TV and dismissed me as she thought he horror films were embarassing!
I gave up writing for Martino when he started to produce his soft-porno films acted by Edwige! I think those movies have to be embarassing now for Edwige, not my sweet horror movies... I wrote the story and the script, alone as usual. Sergio directed it in an enough professional way. George Hilton wasn't great as main character but he was bearable. Edwige was as usual: tall and beautiful. The only anecdote I remember now is about title. First version was titled "...la signora Ward" without the "h". Popped out a lady called Ward and Martino had to add an "h" to the title. -You get - said the real lady Ward- I cannot stand that all my friends will phone me calling to me which were my strange vice!-
I'd like to know more on Adalberto Albertini's L'uomo piu velenoso del cobra (1971) and Luciano Ercoli's La morte accarezza a mezzanotte (1972).
About the first one: I'm sorry. I never saw this movie. I wrote it for Luciano Martino then he sold half of it to Mr. DiCarlo who produced the movie. I never met the director too. I don't know if this movie was distributed. Di Carlo was (and is) unable as a manager, thinking always of women and scams. Regarding La morte accarezza a mezzanotte, I wrote the script alone and Ercoli directed it in quite well way. Reviewers were generous. I think it was a good movie in its genre. I think it was the last movie I wrote for the producers Pugliesi and Ercoli. Then Ercoli's father died leaving good money to his son who ceased to work in the cinema field.
Have you ever played a cameo in any film?
Never but once in an amateur movie that I directed with my friend Peppo Sacchi in Biella in 1955. It was called "La strada che porta lontano".
Can we now discuss the absorbing Perchè quella strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer/Why the Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer's Body (1972) which was directed by Giuliano Carmineo. I find it interesting that your murderer in the film, who wears black leather gloves, hat, coat, etc, is similar to that of later Argento gialli killers, and the general gialli in whole. Was this your idea? Did other directors such as Argento give you their comments on this gialli? Once again, I would like your comments on the film, director, cast and other invalubale annecdotes. The film also boasts a great soundtrack. Now, music can add or take away atmosphere in a film - do you have any say in what can be complemented as a score for a film you have written?
I wrote the script without knowing that Giuliano would have been the director. Black leather gloves look very expressive for a mysterious killer. I don't think I've invented this detail. Probably I wrote "black gloves". The Argento's movie changed the "sentiment" of Italian producers about gialli. Since in the first Argento's movie there was an incredible scene where, at the end of the movie, the witness "remembers" that what he remembered along all film was wrong because it weren't a man killing a woman but a woman killing a man (!), they decided that plots could have been free of any logic. "L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo" had a big success and proved it. (Also the first scene, when the killer takes note typewriting his "duty" to kill someone, is ridiculous but nobody cared!). I was saying, after the Argento's movie, plots became less important. In opposite to Hitchcock style all screenwriters felt themselves free to write everything could strike people even if it was absolutely unreasonable. It seems people liked strong beginning, bloody scenes, sex and nothing else. Producers pressing me in this direction. A screenwriter, you know, is not the last author and he has to write what producers and, sometimes, directors want. I like stiff rational plots as in LIBIDO or in A COME ASSASSINO but they need more my brain work (and also audience's brain work... but people pay to enjoy a movie and I was paid to write it!), Argento didn't care about that and, in my opinion, he was great in showing scenes more than in telling interesting believable stories. "Perchè quelle gocce..." was one of my script in this new genre, not "giallo" anymore, but blood sex horror show. It was easy: not only one corpse, but many corpses... About the sound track: I liked the Bruno Nicolai's music but I didn't participate in it anyway. Edwige Fenech was as usual: tall and beautiful and George Hilton tried to find his third expression. What I mean by that is Hilton was not a great actor. He could only express himself on film with two ‘faces’, but he used them to great effect. His ‘ironic smile’ was his best.
Can you please expand on Maurizio Lucidi's Si puo fare, amigo/It Can Be Done, Amigo (1972).
I wrote the story in two hours. It wasn't difficult because I was thinking yet about a man who went around tasting the ground, looking for petrol. I was amused by this idea. Then I wrote the script staying at Circeo and going to Sperlonga (20 km. south) to meet Maurizio Lucidi one day yes and one not. Lying down on the hot sands, we talked about scenes. I read what I had written and sometimes we built together new scenes. Maurizio was with his beautiful wife and his baby called Erasmo who was running (and sometime annoying us) nude all day. Usually I brought my wife Mara and my daughter Amarilli (11), and we passed a month deliciously. Script was approved by the producers and distributors without suffering any alterations. I never went to set and never met Bud Spencer.
In the same year, you wrote two screenplays for Sergio Martino - Il tuo vizio una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave/Gently Before She Dies and Tutti i colori del buio/Day of the Maniac.
"Il tuo vizio..." was coming from the Edgard Allan Poe's tale "The Black Cat". I don't remember if the first idea came from Luciano Martino or not. I don't know why I found Biolzono and Scavolini as co-writers. Sure I've never worked with them, probably they wrote something or before or after my version. Sergio shot the movie in an acceptable way. You have to remember that every Luciano Martino and Mino Loy's production was always produced with an incredible low budget. They became both very rich this way! About "Tutti i colori del buio": I loved very much this plot! But Sergio this time partially failed. I liked some "special effects", but I found that the film was quite different from my script, different not because someone changed the script scenes, but different in spirit.
Tonino Valerii's Una ragione per vivere e una per morire/Massacre at Fort Holman (1972) was a successful Western and boasts an excellent cast of James Coburn, Telly Savalas and Bud Spencer. The story where seven condemned prisoners undertake a suicide mission is somewhat reminiscent to that of The Dirty Dozen - was this the case?
It was, I think, my last work for the Sansone's brothers (Sancrosiap). Yes, the idea came from The Dirty Dozen, just for the inspiration. English title I know "A Raison to Live, a Raison to Die!". German: " Sie verkaufen den Tod". I wrote the script with the Tonino Valerii's collaboration. Of course we never met Rafael Azcona! I liked the movie. It was well acted by those great actors you said. I never went to set and never met those actors! Really in those time I didn't care to these kind of thing. Looking back, I should have done.
Could you please tell me more on Anna: quel particolare piacere (1973). Am I right in saying that this was your third encounter with Carmineo?
I think so. In those time Carnimeo stuck around Luciano Martino's office. I mean, Giuliano and me met very often. "Anna" wasn't coming from an idea of mine. Luciano gave me a little treatment and I just wrote the script. I didn't like the genre.
Are you still in contact with people such as directors who you used to work with during your career?
With some of them – the ones who are still alive! I meet Tonino Valerii more or less once a week, Sergio Martino once a month, Carnimeo once a year, the other ones only by chance... there is a saying that goes "Two people, living in Rome, meet each other once every 7 years."
Let’s talk about I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale/Torso (1973). What are were your inspirations for this slasher giallo?
The first story was by Sergio Martino. It was just a litle plot about four girls and one killer. I had the idea to isolate the girls in a villa and then to put a saw in the hand of the killer... Sergio was afraid that it was too much. I convinced him that you can shoot everything if you find the right way to do it. I don't like the movie too much because, in my opinion, it was badly acted. I liked a handful of scenes. I never went to the set. I saw the movie in a private vision with Carlo Ponti. He wants to know my opinion about the sawing scenes. I found them not particularly obscene and gory. He agreed with me.
Personally, I rate it as one of Italy's more entertaining giallo's. Had other directors such as Argento seen the film and given you their thoughts?
No. This film had a medium success in Italy but great sales in the whole world. Italian reviewers were particularly wicked. They said acting was at a very low level. I agreed.
A great scene is towards the end of Torso when Suzy Kendall is trying to slide a key under a door – when suddenly, a black leathered hand gently retrieves the key and places it on her newspaper. Was this scene your own as it is one of cinema's greatest horror moments. It's up there with Psycho.
You exaggerate! It was just a little good moment of suspense. I notice just now that I wrote many times something about a key passing under a door... There is a similar scene also in "L'uovo del cuculo".
The Italian version is much longer than the watered-down International release as seen in America and Britain. Do you know why the film was cut?
No. We never know if and why our movies have a new cut in USA! I think it is an American mania! I do know that Martino was very concerned about the gore sequences. He was thinking that all the gorier scenes would have to be cut so that the film could be distributed.
Did you know that The Cramps used to play the trailer for Torso on a big screen during their concerts?
I delighted to know that The Cramps played the trailer on stage. I shall tell Sergio when I see him!
You say that the acting in Torso is terrible. Do you think that the lead actress Suzy Kendall gave a bad performace - if so, why?
All actors seemed to me false, I don't know exactly why. The atmosphere in that town wasn't believable.
Can you tell me more of Il grande duello/Storm Rider (1973) and its director, Giancarlo Santi?
I think my story was at the same level of the other western spaghetti I wrote: medium level. But Giancarlo was at his first direction. He tried to imitate Sergio Leone making a lot of close ups. Movie was enough bad. Giancarlo was an assistant of Leone. One day we all were dining at Leone's home and there was a French TV recording an interview. Giancarlo showed a new long beard like that one of Sergio. Suddenly, Sergio asked to Giancarlo: "Why you grew up that long beard? Don't you know that men who have a beard like that or are genius or are assholes?" . Giancarlo get red. Nobody said a word. After few second of silence I answered to Sergio: "Sergio but I hope you don't think you are a genius, dont't you?". All people laughed.
Do you think that Lee VanCleef was one of Italy's greatest American actors for the Spaghetti Western?
Oh yes. I liked him very much. He was just an "extra" in the American cinema but Sergio changed him in a very enjoyable actor. He was particularly skinny but his face and his eyes were unique.
Although Il mio nome nessuno/My Name is Nobody (1973) is credited to Tonino Valerii, a rumour suggests that Sergio Leone directed most of the film with Valerii as his assistant – was this the case?
If I refer your question to Tonino probably he would have an heart attack! It isn't true! Valerii shot his movie alone! Sergio was in Roma for almost all time while Tonino was shooting in USA! First week of shooting I was on my sailboat in front of Sicilian coast and was reached by a radio call from Sergio. He waas upset: he contested me the barber shop scene, saying that it was impossible to shoot it because a barber shaving a customer had to turn around him, so it was impossible that Henry Fonda kept his revolver against the fake barber's ball! I answered to Sergio that he recalled me in a few hours and I sailed to the closer Sicilian harbour. I went to a barber shop and I ordered a shave. I found out that the barber DON'T have to go around to shave one client! When Sergio phone me again ( he was calling from Roma!) I told him my new experience...
When the movie was almost finished Sergio went to USA and he shot as director of the second unit just the restroom scene, do you remember? He wasted for it an incredible lenght of film, changing what it had to be a very speed scene in something like a novel... I told that to Sergio tipping him to cut the 90% of his shooting. He did but the scene is still too much long! That's all. While Tonino was shooting with Henry Fonda he was very emotioned and Fonda called him and told hime more or less "I know you are a young brilliant director but I think you have to much awe of me. Please command me as I was a young unexpert unknown actor!". I know the source of rumors you are talking about. It was Sergio Leone. One day, while I and his brother-in-law Fulvio Morsella (his interpreter) were working with Sergio to a new project, called Spielberg. The phone call was amplified to allow Fulvio to translate for Sergio. Spielberg was offering to Sergio to direct his new movie called "Pirates". Sergio answered no, then they chat for a few minutes. Spielberg called to Sergio which among his movies was that he had preferred. Sergio answered DUEL. (It wasn't very kind because it was the first Spielberg's movie!), then Sergio put the same question to Spielberg and he answered MY NAME IS NOBODY sadic answer, don’t you think? The best Leone's movie was... one that Leone had'n directed! From that day Sergio began to say that Tonino was just his assistant. Tonino was hi assistant but in one of Leone's early movie "Per Qualche Dollaro in Più"! So, please, turn off that kind of rumors!
The film is slapstick in places, even comical. When you wrote the screenplay, were you trying to keep the spirit of the Trinity films that were tongue-in-cheek?
Absolutely no. I wrote a serious movie and the humor was into the plot and in the way of Terence Hill was able to act. It was Sergio Leone that wanted add this very bad scenes, as that about a "fiesta" in the village. I hate that. Sergio added it to get evident that MY NAME IS NOBODY wasn't one of his "first class" movie. In spite of that Spielberg said it was the best Leone's movie... and its hits at the box office was incredible.
I don't know if anyone has said this before, but I found it amusing when Terence Hill is about to face a duel with Henry Fonda in an Indian cemetery. As Hill muses over the gravestones which bare peculiar Indian names, he then says "Sam Peckinpah" as if he was buried there. Was this your dedication to the director?
It was a funny story. When I was writing the script I had to put some Indian names on the gravestones but of course I didn't know any Apache's names, so I put, for instance, the Sam Peckinpah's name, just for its sounds. In my opinion it had something Indian. Then I told to Sergio that when the director was shooting in the Apaces area he would have ask to Indian’s some true Indian names. Sergio agreed. This happened very months before Valerii was chosen as director. When I saw the first cut I listened Terence Hill pronouncing the Sam Pechinpah's name in the cemetery scene. I told to Sergio to change it with an Apache's name. He promised but it didn't happened. A reviewer, a Leone's friend probably paid by him, named Oreste DelBuono, started his review writing that "It is not by chance that Sam Peckinpah is buried in the Leone's cemetery..." I wrote to this man, telling him that it was by pure chance and that he was wrong twice, because it wasn't the Leone's cemetery but the Gastaldi's cemetery or, at least, the Valerii's cemetery...". The reviewer reacted asking to himself a rethoric question: "Gastaldi's name is by chance just a Leone's pseudo...?" But you know as some journalists are, right?
Lado directed the excellent gialli The Short Night of the Glass Dolls…
Wow! I wrote the script of THE SHORT NIGHT... ecc. It was called "Le Notti di Malastrana" (it's a Praha's area). I had a contract with a production but then the movie was produced by another one. I never knew why, Aldo told me if I would be hurt if he asked me to cancel my name from credits. In those times to have my name on a thriller script was like a warrant... so I shrugged my shoulders and I said "cancel what you want!". He cancelled and put in only his name as screenwirier and director.
Regarding My Name is Nobody, I love the scene where Hill tells Fonda and an old man a joke of sorts over a pool table regarding a little bird covered in cow dung. Where did you come up with such an idea?
Do you like it? Me too! Leone loved motto’s and such short stories. I arranged an old joke. Valerii told me the same lines appeared in the Assasins, an American movie made few years ago. Evidently many people liked it!
Were you pleased with Terence Hill's performace? What did Henry Fonda think of the film?
Yes, I liked it. Leone told me Henry Fonda was very amused by the movie. It was like a final crown of his western career.
Do you enjoy the Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movies?
Just the first one. Then they repeated themselves too much.
Were you never asked to pen Damiano Damniani's Un genio, due compari, un pollo/Nobody's the Greatest (1977)?
It was maybe my best western script! I wrote it for Sergio Leone. When Sergio called Damiano to be the director, Damiano didn't get the meaning of that movie! I argued with him for one whole month trying to explain to him the script! Damiano was pushing to direct another story he wrote but Sergio didn't like it, so Damiano finally directed mine. But he ruined it on purpose, I think! He changed the script in a slapstick movie! I got very upset! Sergio Leone told me that it was better if I NEVER saw the movie. But I saw it. What a sorrow! THE GENIUS was a big hit at box-office but I hated Damiano for years.
Can you please tell me more on Luciano Ercoli's The Magnificent Daredevil (1973)?
I think it's the Italian "Troppo rischio per un uomo solo". I wrote just the treatment, not the script. I never saw the movie.
And what was Martino's La citta' gioca d'azzardo/The Cheaters (1974)? Likewise, could you please tell me more about this film and your involvement?
It was a good plot, I think. I liked very much the Enrico Maria Salerno acting. I wrote the story and the script. I think the movie was enough well made, in the Luciano Martino's standard. I think Sergio Martino is a very good director who, until now, hasn't had enough good opportunities.
Could you please tell me more on Umberto Lenzi's Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare/Almost Human (1974). What was your working relationship with Lenzi?
After Sergio’s box-office smash, "Milano Trema...", Luciano Martino called me and proposed "Milano Trema 2". I wrote it the screenplay. The script was approved by Luciano, and some weeks after, Lenzi was asked to be director. I had no problems at all with Lenzi, simply because I hadn't have to work with him.
I notice that the film stars Tomas Milian who was a very popular and charasmatic actor during the 70s - what are your thoughts on him and his acting performances?
I think he's a very good actor. In those old times he was a strange man. Tomas started acting as a handsome young man, but then he chose to be a dirty bad dressed man in every movie! I don't know why. Maybe he believed he was ugly... He gave me a short tale story written by him titled "L'uovo e la strega" (it was never made into a film). If his story has been filmed, Milian would have played the role of a very dirty bad man, living in a poultry-pen, covered of chicken shit! If well directed, I think Tomas can reach to Al Pacino's level.
Your screenplay for La pupa del gangster (1974) boasts an excellent cast of Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Could you please tell me about the director (Giorgio Capitani), your thoughts on the film, what prompted you to write the screenplay, and of course, your involvement with Loren and Mastroianni.
A long story. The greatest woman there was in that time in the whole Italian Cinema, Jone Tuzi, big executive, asked me to go to Goffredo Lombardo (Titanus owner) to buy the rights of a short American tale titled, I think, "Collared". Lombardo had tried to make a movie from it but two different scripts, written by different writers, hadn't been accepted. Carlo Ponti - told me Jone- was thinking about this tale but he didn't want to buy it directly from Lombardo because he knew that its price would be multiplied by 20. (In that time there was an ethernal fight between Lombardo and Ponti to win the title "I am the greatest Italian Producer in The World!"). So, Jone wanted to buy it, hoping that I was able to write a script that Ponti liked.
I went to Lombardo to ask for those rights. Goffredo patted me on my shoulders, as he was my father (he liked this attitude...), tipping me to not waste my money. He declared that "It's impossible to develop a good script from this short tale"(he liked this other attitude too, we called it "the God's feeling"). I insisted and he sold me the rights for pennies. I wrote the script. I amused myself a lot! I had to change all characters in American-Italian characters first, and then in almost only Italian characters but speaking a comic American slang. Ponti was crazy about this script. Marcello Mastroianni too and Monica Vitti (Italy’s best comedy actress of the time) loved it. Ponti called Giorgio Capitani to direct the film. I had never met Giorgio before. He was completely conquered by the script and by the idea to work with Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti and Carlo Ponti! He told me I was a genius!(Giorgio like this attitude, we called it "hypocritical excess"). Monica Vitti was sure to act the movie. She signed a contract with Ponti. She phoned me at night asking me if I wished to see her wonderful guepière she will put on for this movie... (we called this "sexual trap for writers"...) but some days after Ponti told to me and Giorgio, he had sent the script to London, where Sofia was, and that Sofia liked the script very much. Ponti added he's was used to give a lot of importance to Sofia's opinion. I told immediately to Giorgio that Sofia would have been his actress. Giorgio answered that it was impossible, because the role wasn't good for her and that Monica had signed her contract yet. I repeated to Giorgo that his actress would have been Sofia.
A week after Ponti got an excuse to cancel the Monica's contract and Sofia came to Roma. I met her and Ponti at their wonderful villa in Roman Castelli. She was very nice, we passed all day together, we saw an English version of "Ciao, Pussycat" (I didn't understand a nut but Sofia was studying English many hours a day) and she said my script was better than that one. Giorgio Capitano had to accept to shoot with Sofia. After all she was the biggest Italian name in the whole world! Giorgio solemnly promised me that he NEVER would have shoot anything in his life that wasn't written by me! ( Luckily he didn't keep his promise because, after a musical we made together in TV - Profumo di Classe-, he started to direct B movies and soap operas). I went two times to the set, just to greet Sofia and Marcello and to listen my lines said by those important "mouths"... Movie was well made. Sofia and Marcello were great. The first sound recorded while they were acting was incredibly funny. Unfortunately they had to dub themselves. Anyway the movie was a big success.
Duccio Tessari's L'uomo senza memoria (1974) is a new film to me. Could you explain more on this film, your involvement with the screenplay and relationship with Tessari?
Duccio was a very intelligent smart man. He had a particular sense of humour. I loved him very much. When we met first, he told me that a few years before, he had sold one of my scripts, simply changing my name with his name on the first page! "I was hungry" he added and smiled. I answered him he had done the right thing. He was always extremely elegant, living in beautiful apartments, if he had the money or not. He told me some funny anecdotes about people who were waiting to have their money back. One time a tailor went to his home pretending to be paid. Duccio answered him" My dear man, every New Year’s Eve I put the names of my creditors in a hat and I pick up one of them: this one will be paid. You now hadn't be very nice, so, this year, I don't put your name in my hat!" With intelligent people, you know, never problem can arise! I always enjoy to work with Duccio. I just regrets we had worked together just few times! "L'uomo senza memoria" was produced by Lombardo. I never saw that movie. As for the cast, I never met Senta Berger but I knew Luc Merenda well. He acted many movies I wrote.
He asked me for a script when he was going down in fame. I was to busy to write a "spec" for him. Maybe I had to be nicer that time!
In your script for Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia/The Violent Professionals (1973), were you deliberatley trying to reflect the political atmosphere in Italy at the time - specifically the fear of terrorism and anarchy?
Oh yes. In my first version, my script was more political. But Goffredo Lombardo, who was the former distributor, was afraid about it and he asked me to be softer and less precise. I did it in a great bad will! In spite of it, Lombardo refused to distribute the movie, saying it was too much involved with the criminal and political realities and people don't like this stuff and no one would pay a ticket to go and see what every one could see every day on the streets...etc. And other bullshit like that. Goffredo Lombardo was (is!) famous for his solemny declarations, always wrong! I knew producers who were used to go to Lombardo to ask his opinion about their films and then do the exact opposite! Luciano Martino, proud for the unique time in his life, decided to produce the movie without any national distributor who paid in advance! But he asked me that I had to share his risk: no money in advance to me too, but 2% on the gross revenues. I accepted and I had in two years almost five times more money than usual!
Films like Milano trema were very cynical and suspicious of politicians and the establishment. Do you still feel that way now?
Yes. Someone at Ministero dello Spettacolo told me that this kind of movies was pushing people against the "istituzioni". But in those time we had just a censor after we made the film and it was aimed only against sex, now we have a committee who judges scripts, that is before we can make your movie. Of course we are free to film what we want but out of the market, without any TV, any distributors, wasting our own money.
In Milano odia, la polizia non può sparare (1974), Tomas Milian's character recalls the gangsters played by James Cagney in classics like White Heat. Did you have these films in mind when writing Milano odia?
No. In not even remember now that movie! It was just Milano trema 2, then the script wasn't directed by Sergio Martino.
Did you feel that violent policemen like those played by Luc Merenda and Maurizio Merli (in Il cinico,, l’infame, I’ violento/The Rat, The Cynic and The Fist 1977) were the antidote to the rising crime wave?
Noooo! He was violent like criminals. Desperate and violent. It wasn't the antidote to anything, just an action movie set in a violent reality.
Did you write the character of Giulio Sacchi with Milian in mind?
I don't remember. I think that time I knew that Milian would have acted this role.
Were any of the violent incidents or characters in your crime scripts inspired by real life events or people?
I was used to copy some events from reality, changing them the few enough to fit them in my story. Character too. Names too. It's easier for me to write using names of known people and imagine them in action. Sacchi is the surname of Peppo Sacchi, a friend of mine, the man who won the battle against the public TV monopoly. He's a strange man, speaking in a strange bad manner, say, "fake unfriendly".
Did Umberto Lenzi or Sergio Martino change much in your scripts?
No, since every script was approved by Luciano Martino. Some lines, few times.
Regarding Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, you mention that your script was hardly altered by Lenzi and Martino. In the opening sequence, Maurizio Merli is a hardboiled cop who prefers to breath carbon-dioxide than get a lift from a work colleague. Was such maschismo intended so that he was tougher than Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry?
In the Italian version, Merli is working as reader of gialli in a publisher company. He WAS a "commissario di polizia". His collegues are kidding him every days about his past work as policeman. Not a word about what you said! Merli is annoyed by their boring jokes and tells to his collegues he's going to walk, to breath some air "anche se qui l'aria, in questo paese di baùscia sa solo di polenta". More or less it means "even if, here, in this country of boasters the air tastes only of polenta". Merli's not presented as a "macho", but as a looser. This way, when after one minute he is killed, it's almost credible (...of course the main character cannot die such early....). I'm afraid that English version of many Italian movies looks a lot different from the originals!
I underdstand that Merli died at a young age. Can you please tell me how this brilliant actor passed away? If he lived, do you think that Merli could have become a more successful actor that, say, Tomas Milian?
I think was killed by an heart attack. Merli wasn't an actor like Milian! Merli was just an acceptable (and not always!) action film actor!
Could you please explain your involvement with Ruggero Deodato and Concorde affair '79?
None. When I was writing I thought the director would have been Mino Loy. Then I knew he would have been Deodato, but, after shooting, Mino Loy told me the real director was James Franciscus. I don't know if that it is true. I never went to the set but I trust Mino Loy. I just tried to avoid the last line said by Van Jonson " Thanks Concorde", but Mino told me that it was imposed by British Airlines.
Was it a direct Italian response to the Airport movies at the time?
Airport movies had a short period of success in Italy. If not, Luciano Martino and Mino Loy NEVER had produced this kind of films. They had been always careful to take advanteges from "the good period of every genres".... After 007 James Bond, they produced 007 movies, after Leone's success they produced spaghetti westerns. Just with the gialli, thanks to LIBIDO, they started a new genre.
Were you aware of Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust made in the same year which is still sickening and offending people today?
Of course not – I heard rumours almost a year after. Martino and Loy are very good freinds and have never had been involved in these kind of films.
Likewise, could you tell more of your involvement with Sergio Martino's Il fiume del grande caimano? Was this film a cash-in on Lewis Teague's Alligator or was your screenplay written before the American movie?
I don't remember the movie you're speaking about. Maybe in Italy had a completely different title. By sure, I never saw movies about alligators, but it is possible Martino did. Then he could have asked me for a script about a great alligator, I don't know.
Do you have any anecdotes on the film? - it must be quite a sensation to have Barbara Bach, the future Mrs Ringo Star, to appear in an Italian film?
No. I never was interested in actresses.... I had one of them at home, remember?, and it was enough!;) You tell me now that Barbara Bach married Ringo Star? Okay, but I justconfusely remember that Mr. Ringo Star was... a musician? Excuse me, but I worked in the entertainment world for 40 years but I never had been interested in its personnages. I hate all this fake glamour around stars, I pity this young people who go and cry and shout in concerts or in front of the hotels where stars are eating-sleeping-fucking bored by fans. All this is disgusting! When I saw these kind of scenes on TV, I feel ashamed to be a human being... ;) About the movie: Sergio Martino told me it was difficult to shoot it. Iliked enough that low budget movie.
Do you believe that the majority of Italian monster films at the time failed to be a success due to their low budgets?
Of course! We had wonderful technicians, like Rambaldi who made E.T., and very smart directors as Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti experts in special effects. They all were obliged to make everythink using match boxes and fish glue! They made miracles!...but bad movies!
I'd like to learn more about Sergio Corbucci's Mi faccio la barca. Could you please tell me more about this film, director and cast - Laura Antonelli (wow!).
Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a little book about my family and my funny experiences with our first sailboat, sailing around on the Mediterranean Sea. I had already written more or less 30/40 scripts at that time, but I never thought to make any movie from my "I Quaranta Belanti"( The Bleating Forties - the opposite of The Roaring Forties. We are around at 40 degree of latitude, after all!). Some months after the book was published, phoned me a famous comedy director, Luciano Salce, asking me if I wanted write a script from my book! Of course, I wanted too!
I met Salce and Mario Cecchi Gori, the producer (the father of Vittorio who is now the greatest producer in Roma). We signed a very good contract and we chose as main character a brilliant actor called Johnny Dorelly (who would have act ME!) and Laura Antonelly (who would have act MY WIFE). Johnny Dorelli came sometime in the Salce's Residence to work with us, to give tips, to read the written scenes. Dorelli was living a very bad personal period. He stayed with Catherine Spaak, an actress, but they have troubles in your affair. Salce and I have to comfort Dorelli many times and to pat to his shoulders saying commonplaces and postprandial philosophy (post prandium: after dinner). When the script was finished, three weeks before starting shooting, Mario
Cecchi Gori organised a meeting and suddenly Johnny Dorelli declared that he never would have worked with a wearied and torn director as Luciano Salce was! Luciano salce had had a heart attack a few months before. He became green and started to perspire. I knew there were rumours that a week before, Dorelli had signed another contract with the Cristaldi's production to act a movie immediatley, titled "Tesoro mio". So I told to Dorelli "Tesoro mio, you have to be very careful! While you are moving around these your big "corneas" -(this is an untraslatable joke: we say "avere le corna" when someone has an unfaithful wife or husband, so in that time Dorelli had big corneas, coming from Nature, and big cornas coming from Catherine Spaak...)- you can make a lot of damages, tesoro mio – you get what I mean?"
Dorelli began to toss in his seat, excited, upset. Salce was still unable to say a word. Dorelli shouted: "The title too! -Mi faccio barca-, it's not a title in my favour but it is in favour of the boat!" "Okay, okay, tesoro mio - I answered, pushing my voice on "tesoro mio" – we can change the title. At place of "Mi faccio la barca" we could title "Mi faccio Dorelli"! (it's another joke, the last title can be get as "I'm taking Dorelli's arse).
Dorelli exploded and escaped out from the Mario Cecchi Gori's office. Salce restarted to breath, astonished, destroyed.
A week after Mario Cecchi Gori called me: he need that I agree to change an article on our contract because he must change the movie director because of Dorelli. I answered that if Mr. Salce would have agreed the change, I would have agreed too. Two weeks after Mario Cecchi Gori called me again saying that all was okay and I had to go to his office to take the rest of my money and to sign the new agreement. I went and I found a contract saying that the producer would have been authorized to change director IF IT WAS NECESSARY. I didn't sign. Mario became upset and didn't give me my money. His son Vittorio came. I asked him if his father had followed gesuitical schools. Vittorio laughed. A month after Salce called me, saying that he had to accept to renounce to direct our movie because Mario Cecchi Gori was too strong in the cinema field and he needs money. Then I accepted to sign the new article of my contract with the name of Sergio Corbucci as director and finally I took my money!
I never met Sergio Corbucci for this movie. Vittorio Cecchi Gori told me that the script was heavily changed in its second part. I asked to read it, but Mario sent me a new, well printed copy of MY script! It's very funny for me to see this film. The first part on the boat shows exactly what happened to my wife, my 2 children and me when we decided to become sailors, the second part was completely new and different from my script and my life.
Do you agree that Corbucci, a far talented director than Bruno, was a great film-maker whose westerns such as Django and The Great Silence still have impact today?
Yes. I think he was the second one, after Sergio Leone. I remember one day, Corbucci came to Leone's house while Leone and I were working about The Genius, I think, and we saw together his last movie "Il Bianco, il Giallo e il Nero". It was a strange movie. Sergio Leone and I didn't like it very much. Sergio Leone was even upset because of the title remembered too much, in his opinion, his "Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo". I stayed quite late but Leone told to Corbucci he didn't like the movie. Corbucci became very, very sad and left without a word.
Can you please expand your thoughts on Sergio Martino's Assassinio al cimiterio etrusco/The Scorpion with Two Tails (1982). The English language title would suggest that the film is somehow related to Martino's previous La coda della scorpione/The case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971). Is this correct?
I'm almost sure that Sergio Martino didn't direct in 1982 a movie called "The Scorpion with Two Tails", it didn't appear in his Italian curriculum, probably it was an English title completely different from the Italian one! Anyway: no relation. La coda dello Scorpione benefited from a good plot and was a medium action thriller movie.
Assassinio al cimitero etrusco is a long story. I wrote a TV serial about Etruscans for Luciano Martino: six long episodes, practically six movies in all. Sergio Martino directed them. One of the main character was acted by Wandisa Guida, Luciano Martino's wife. Something went wrong: acting, or maybe it was the dubbing. Anyway Luciano Martino could not sell this serial. After two years, Luciano Martino edited a single movie from that enourmous quantity of material. I didn't know he made that. Many years after I saw my name as author of that movie and I protested because I never had written it. Later, Sergio told me the truth.