23 March 2018

Special David di Donatello Award for Stefania Sandrelli

On 21 March 2018, Stefania Sandrelli (1946) received the special prize at the 62nd edition of the David di Donatello awards, the Italian equivalent of the Oscars. She received the statuette by TV host Carlo Conti, and according to Italian media she was moved, almost to tears. The sensual, vivacious and very talented Italian actress is famous for her roles in the Commedia all'Italiana. She was 15 years old when she had her breakthrough opposite Marcello Mastroianni in the Oscar winning comedy Divorzio all'italiana/Divorce, Italian Style (1961). Later she also played dramatic roles in Italian classics like Ettore Scola's C'eravamo tanto amati, and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il Conformista/The Conformist (1970) and Novecento/1900 (1976).

Special David di Donatello Award for Stefania Sandrelli
Italian postcard by Alterocca, Terni, no. 64121. Photo: A. Frontoni. Publicity still for La Bella di Lodi/The Beauty of Lodi (Mario Missiroli, 1963).

Stefania Sandrelli
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Divorce, Italian Style

Stefania Sandrelli was born in Viareggio, Tuscany, into a middle-class family, in 1946. She was the daughter of Florida and Otello Sandrelli, owners of a well known pension in Viareggio. Her father died when Stefania was eight years old. She has a brother, Sergio, seven years older, who had a successful music career and died in 2013.

At a young age she learned to play the accordion, and studied ballet. In 1960 Sandrelli won the Miss Cinema Viareggio beauty contest. Next she was the cover girl of the magazine Le Ore and made her cinema debut in Gioventù di note/Youth at night (Mario Sequi, 1961) with Samy Frey and Magali Noël. Her second role was as a confidence trickster and petty thief in the war film Il federale/The Fascist (Luciano Salce, 1961), starring Ugo Tognazzi.

Her film career was definitively launched when she appeared as Marcello Mastroianni's seductive, young cousin, Angela in Divorzio all'italiana/Divorce, Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961). The film won an Oscar for Best Original Script. With director Pietro Germi she later worked three more times: in the dark satire of Sicilian social customs and honour laws Sedotta e abbandonata/Seduced and Abandoned (1963), the comedy L'immorale/The Immoralist (1967) featuring Ugo Tognazzi, and Alfredo, Alfredo (1970) with Dustin Hoffman.

Stefania Sandrelli became in a short time a protagonist of the Commedia all'italiana. She was excellent as a lonely, sickly country woman trying to survive in a hostile post-WW II city in Io la conoscevo bene/I Knew Her Well (Antonio Pietrangeli's, 1965) with Mario Adorf. In France, she appeared in the box office hit Tendre Voyou/Tender Scoundrel (Jean Becker, 1966), starring Jean Paul Belmondo. For her role in L'amante di Gramigna/The Bandit (Carlo Lizzani, 1969), Sandrelli was awarded as Best Actress at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Throughout the 1970s, Sandrelli continued to be one of the stars of the Commedia all'italiana. She appeared in Mario Monicelli's Brancaleone alle crociate/Brancaleone at the Crusades (1970) with Vittorio Gassman and Adolfo Celi, in Ettore Scola's C'eravamo tanto amati/We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974) with Gassman and Nino Manfredi, and in the satirical comedy-drama L'ingorgo - Una storia impossibile/Traffic Jam (Luigi Comencini, 1979). She also starred in several dramatic films, such as Delitto d'amore/Somewhere Beyond Love (Luigi Comencini, 1974) with Giuliano Gemma.

Sandrelli worked several times with prolific director Bernardo Bertolucci, and starred in his dramas Partner (1968) opposite Pierre Clémenti, Il Conformista/The Conformist (1970) as the wife of Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Novecento/1900 (1976), as the wife of Gérard Dépardieu. She also played in French productions, such as Les Magiciens'/Death Rite (Claude Chabrol, 1976) with Franco Nero, and the crime-thriller Police Python 357/The Case Against Ferro (Alain Corneau, 1976) starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. In 1980 she won the Nastro d'Argento for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Ettore Scola's La terrazzo/The terrace (1980).

Stefania Sandrelli and Marcello Mastroianni in Divorzio all'italiana (1961)
Small Czech collectors card by Pressfoto, Praha (Prague), 1965, no. S 83/6. Publicity still for Divorzio all'italiana/Divorce, Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961) with Marcello Mastroianni.

Stefania Sandrelli
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Stefania Sandrelli
Italian postcard by Il Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino.

The Key

After some less successful films, Stefania Sandrelli relaunched her career with the erotic film La chiave/The Key (Tinto Brass, 1983), based on the novel Kagi by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. The film caused some scandal because of the explicit nude scenes in which Sandrelli was involved and obtained a great commercial success. In the wake of the success of La Chiave, she played in a brief series of successful erotic films. She also continued to appear in dramas like Segreti segreti/Secrets Secrets (Giuseppe Bertolucci, 1985) and the courtroom drama Mamma Ebe/Mother Ebe (Carlo Lizzani, 1985).

One of her best films of this decade was the comedy Speriamo che sia femmina/Let's Hope It's a Girl (Mario Monicelli, 1986), starring Liv Ullman and Catherine Deneuve. For this film Sandrelli was awarded with a David di Donatello for Best Supporting Actress. The film also won the David di Donatello for Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Producer, Best Editing and Best Script. Another award winning film was La famiglia/The Family (Ettore Scola, 1987) in which she starred with Vittorio Gassman, Fanny Ardant and Philippe Noiret.

Sandrelli was nominated to the Nastro Argento (Silver Ribbon award) for Best Actress for her role in the historical comedy-drama Secondo Ponzio Pilato (Luigi Magni, 1987), an ironic reinterpretation of the history, starring Nino Manfredi as Pontius Pilate. She won again a David di Donatello for Best Actress for the drama Mignon è partita/Mignon Has Come to Stay (Francesca Archibugi, 1988). The film won another four David di Donatello awards. A popular success was the comedy Il piccolo diavolo/The Little Devil (1988) directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. She also starred opposite Giancarlo Giannini and Emmanuelle Seigner in the drama Il male oscuro/Dark Illness (Mario Monicelli, 1990).

In the following decade, the Italian film industry got into a crisis and Italian films in general were less prolific than they used to be. Sandrelli appeared in TV series and in international productions like the romantic drama Die Rückkehr/The African Woman (Margarethe von Trotta, 1990) with Barbara Sukowa and Samy Frey, the Spanish comedy/drama Jamón Jamón/Ham, Ham (Bigas Luna, 1992), starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, and the Argentine-American drama De amor y de sombras/Of Love and Shadows (Betty Kaplan, 1994), based on the novel by Isabel Allende and starring Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Connelly.

She played a supporting part in Bertolucci’s Io ballo da sola/Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1996) starring Liv Tyler and Joseph Fiennes. That year she also appeared in the comedy-drama Ninfa plebea/The Nymph (Lina Wertmüller, 1996) with Raoul Bova. She won another the Nastro d'Argento for Best Supporting Actress for the Commedia all'italiana La cena/The Dinner (Ettore Scola, 1998). In Portugal, she appeared in Um Filme Falado/A Talking Picture (2003), written and directed by Manoel de Oliveira, and starring Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. She continues to appear in films and TV series and her most recent film is the comedy A casa tutti bene/There's No Place Like Home (Gabriele Muccino, 2018).

In 2005 she received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 62nd Venice International Film Festival, and in 2012 she received the title of Chevalier (Knight) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Stefania Sandrelli had a long and tempestuous relationship with Italian singer-songwriter Gino Paoli, since she was 16. Their daughter Amanda Sandrelli, born in 1964, is also an actress. From 1972 till 1976, she was married to Italian athlete and entrepreneur Nicky Pende with whom she also has a son, Vito (1973). Their marriage ended when Sandrelli had a short affair on the set of Novecento/1900 (1976) with her co-star Gérard Dépardieu. Since 1983, she's the longtime companion of director Giovanni Soldati.

Sandrelli has a passion for wine, and in 1993, she started a partnership with Distilleria Bottega to produce her signature wine ‘Acino d'Oro, Chianti Classico DOCG’ commercially. She also continues to act. More recently, she starred in La passione (Carlo Mazzacurati, 2010), a Commedia all'Italiana which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, and in the TV series Una grande famiglia/The Family (2012-2015). At IMDb, Manutwo writes: “Stefania Sandrelli represents one of the few actresses who are able to age gracefully and still get interesting roles. She is still regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Italy and she is still able to charm the audience with her sweet smile and sparkling eyes.”

Trailer Divorzio all'italiana/Divorce, Italian Style (1961). Source: ClassicCinemaLovers (YouTube).

Trailer Delitto d'amore/Somewhere Beyond Love (1974). Source: Film&Clips (YouTube).

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Biografieonline.it (Italian), Wikipedia and IMDb.

22 March 2018

John Mills

Sir John Mills (1908-2005) was one of the most popular and beloved English actors. The Oscar-winner appeared in more than 120 films and TV films in a career stretching over eight decades. He often played people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes because of their decency, bravery and good judgement. 

John Mills
British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 177. Photo: London Films.

John Mills in The Way to the Stars (1945)
British autograph card. Photo: publicity still for The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945).

John Mills and Juliet Mills in the studio
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. F.S. 18. Caption: John Mills with his small daughter 'Bunch' in the studio. The picture was taken during the shooting of Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946). At the time, Juliet (or Bunch) must have been four years old. Juliet Mills is the elder sister of Hayley.

Hayley Mills and John Mills in The Chalk Garden (1964)
Spanish postcard by Postal Oscarcolor, no. 264. Publicity still for The Chalk Garden (Ronald Neame, 1964).

Juvenile Lead

Sir John Mills, CBE was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in the seaside resort North Elmham, England, in 1908. He was  the son of Edith (Baker), a theatre box office manager, and Lewis Mills, a mathematics teacher. It was the stage world, rather than his father's academic milieu, which most attracted the young Mills.

After a job as a clerk in a corn merchant's office, Mills moved to London, where he enrolled at Zelia Raye's Dancing School. He started his professional career in 1929 as a chorus boy in the revue The Five O'clock Girl at the London Hippodrome. He followed this with a cabaret act.Making as many contacts as possible, Mills was able to secure work on the legitimate stage.

Mills got a job with a theatrical company that toured India, China and the Far East performing a number of plays. Noël Coward saw him appear in a production of Journey's End in Singapore and wrote Mills a letter of introduction to use back in London. On his return Mills starred in The 1931 Revue, Coward's Cavalcade (1931) and the Noël Coward revue Words and Music (1932).

His film debut was in the quota quickie The Midshipmaid (Albert de Courville, 1932), a comedy with musical interludes starring Jessie Matthews. The following years, he learned his craft in such 'quota quickies', low-cost, quickly-accomplished films commissioned by American distributors active in the UK or by British cinema owners  to satisfy the quota requirements.

Next Mills was a juvenile lead in the mystery The Ghost Camera (Bernard Vorhaus, 1933) with Henry Kendall and Ida Lupino. Wikipedia: "Despite being made quickly on a low budget, the film has come to be considered as one of the most successful Quota quickies made during the Thirties."

He then played lead roles in the musical Charing Cross Road (Albert de Courville, 1935), Brown on Resolution (Walter Forde, 1935) with Betty Balfour, Tudor Rose (Robert Stevenson, 1936) starring Cedric Hardwicke and Nova Pilbeam, and The Green Cockatoo (William Cameron Menzies, 1937).

He did Aren't Men Beasts? (1936) on stage and worked for Hollywood director Raoul Walsh in O.H.M.S. (1937). His Hollywood debut was in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood, 1939) with Robert Donat, but he refused the American studios' entreaties to sign a contract and returned to England.

John Mills joined the army in 1939 but occasionally made films on leave, such as the comedy  Old Bill and Son (Ian Dalrymple, 1940) and the war film Cottage to Let (Anthony Asquith, 1941) with Leslie Banks. He also appeared in the classic In Which We Serve (Noel Coward, David Lean, 1942).

He relished acting in films and the cinema made him an internationally renowned star. His climb to stardom began when he had the lead role in We Dive at Dawn (Anthony Asquith, 1943), a film about submariners. He was top billed in This Happy Breed (David Lean, 1944), directed by  from a Noël Coward play. The film was a big hit and director David Lean would go on to direct Mills in some of his most memorable performances.

John Mills
British Postcard, no. F. S. 23. Publicity photo for Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

John Mills
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. W 443. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation Ltd.

John Mills
British postcard.

John Mills
Belgian collectors card by Merbotex, no. 67. Photo: Gaumont Eagle-Lion.

Traditionally British Heroes

After the war, John Mills took the lead in Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946). It was the third biggest hit at the British box office this year and Mills was voted the sixth most popular star. Subsequently he had another big hit as Captain Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (Charles Frend, 1948). It was the fourth most watched film of the year in Britain and Mills was the eighth biggest star.

Over the next decade he made his career playing other traditionally British heroes and became particularly associated with war dramas, such as The Colditz Story (Guy Hamilton, 1954), Above Us the Waves (Ralph Thomas, 1955) with John Gregson and Donald Sinden, and Ice Cold in Alex (J. Lee Thompson, 1958). He is credited with playing more military roles than any other star. In 31 of his films, almost a third of his whole cinematic output, he portrayed soldiers, usually officers.

David Lean directed Mills in a memorable performance in the romantic comedy Hobson's Choice (1954) with Charles Laughton. Other significant films in which he appeared include War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956), The Chalk Garden (Ronald Neame, 1964), King Rat (Bryan Forbes, 1965), and Oklahoma Crude (Stanley Kramer, 1973).

With his daughter Hayley Mills he also appeared in Tiger Bay (J. Lee Thompson, 1959) and The Family Way (Roy Boulting, 1966) and had a cameo in her Disney hit The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961). In 1966, Mills directed Sky West and Crooked (aka Gypsy Girl), which starred Hayley and was written by his wife, Mary Hayley Bell.

As he aged, his proclivity for well-written roles enabled him to make a seamless transition from a lead to character lead to character actor. For his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (David Lean, 1970) — a complete departure from his usual style — he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

For Richard Attenborough, Mills played in Young Winston (1972) and Gandhi (1982), with Ben Kinsley. Among his last films were Bean (Mel Smith, 1997) starring Rowan AtkinsonBright Young Things (Stephen Fry, 2003) and Lights2 (Marcus Dillistone, 2005), his final film appearance as a tramp.

Altogether he appeared in over 120 films. Jon C. Hopwood at IMDb: "No male star of English cinema enjoyed such a long and rewarding career as a star while appearing predominantly in English films. As an actor, Mills chose his roles on the basis of the quality of the script rather than its propriety as a 'star' turn. Because of this, he played roles that were more akin to character parts". Mills was appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1960 and was knighted in 1976.

His first wife was the actress Aileen Raymond, (1932-1941). After their divorce, he married the dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. Their marriage, on 16 January 1941, lasted for 64 years, until his death in 2005. He was 97. Mills and Bell had two daughters, actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills and one son, Jonathan Mills, a screenwriter. His grandson is Crispian Mills, the lead singer of the pop group Kula Shaker. John Mills' life, both off screen and on, was summed up  in his autobiography Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen, Please (1980).

John Mills
British autograph card.

John Mills
British postcard.

John Mills
British postcard, no. W 211.

John Mills
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 131. Photo: British Lion.

Sources: Jon C. Hopwood (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

21 March 2018

Die Richterin (1917)

In the silent German melodrama Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917), Lotte Neumann stars as a young woman who brings tragedy to her fiance and herself by being a moral judge. Neumann produced the film herself for her own company. The postcard series was published by the well-known Berlin firm Photochemie.

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2092. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2093. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

A Moral Bride of Yore

Fritz Rönninger (Carl Clewing) owns a large printing works. One day, the businessman falls in love with his neighbour's daughter (Lotte Neumann), who was brought up in strict order by her father (Magnus Stifter).

Fritz turns out to be a kind and sincere candidate for her favour, and so one day the girl agrees to his request to marry him. Since Fritz does not want to go into marriage with a lie, he admits her a misstep, but one which took place a long time ago: in his youth he had once falsified a check and went to jail.

The strict paternal principles of custom and morality have turned Rönninger's future bride into a moral judge, and so she lets the upcoming marriage burst at the last moment.

Deeply saddened, Rönniger decides to give up his previous life completely. He sells his company and goes to Monaco with his new lover. There he leads a licentious life, probably only to numb his painful loss.

When he is finally broke, Fritz kills himself. In his farewell letter he blames his 'moral' bride of yore on his downfall. She had 'judged' him with her unforgiving morals. As she reads the letter, she realises her injustice towards Rönninger and also takes her life, by drowning herself.

Die Richterin was produced by Lotte Neumann herself and shot at the Mutoskop studio in Berlin-Lankwitz. It was the fourth part the Lotte Neumann-serie. The script was by Hans Land, pseudonym of Hugo Landsberger.

In October 1917 it was presented to the German Board of Censorship and quite soon after it was released. IMDb dates the film in 1918 because of the premiere of the film in Hungary on 28 January 1918.

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2094. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin 5
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2095. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Sources: Wikipedia (German), The German Early Cinema DatabaseFilmportal.de and IMDb.