Films rarely make their initial theatrical run at the Pacific Film Archive, but this coming weekend marks one of these exceptional occasions. Beginning on Friday, September 1st at 6:30 p.m. and continuing with four additional screenings throughout the month, PFA will be hosting Vittorio de Sica’s Il Boom!, a 1963 comedy that astonishingly – unbelievably! – has never previously had an American big screen release.
How could this film – produced within a year of the director’s Academy Award-winning comic anthology Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – have been denied a release for over half a century? Perhaps distributors at the time found the film too “Italian’” but even Franco & Ciccio films were being dubbed into English at the time and sold for American television syndication.
Il Boom! even features someone Americans would have been somewhat familiar with during the early 1960s. Alberto Sordi had recently played opposite David Niven in 1961’s The Best of Enemies, an amusing World War II-set comedy-drama – but even that, apparently, wasn’t enough to get de Sica’s film over the distribution hump.
Sordi pays Giovanni Alberti, an Italian businessman whose efforts to take advantage of the country’s post-war economic boom have left him deeply in debt. His bills now coming due, Giovanni is forced to beg, borrow, or steal from his mother, his tennis partner, his brother-in-law, or (shudder) even the neighborhood loan shark – all while trying to keep beautiful wife Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale) in the luxury she’s become accustomed to.
A last roll of the dice occurs after a chance encounter with self-made construction tycoon Bausetti (Ettore Geri). Initially spurned by the billionaire (who offers him some tried and true “you need to start at the bottom” advice), it looks like Giovanni’s luck has finally run out – until Signora Bausetti (‘La Scala’ opera singer Elena Nicolai) makes him an eye-opening offer that will be hard to refuse…
Written by frequent DeSica collaborator Cesare Zavattini, Il Boom! features some dirty jokes that could easily have been re-written during the dubbing process. There’s a scene of some openly gay men congregating around a fountain that might have set off alarm bells in uptight American boardrooms, but the scene is short and could have been cut without affecting the film’s narrative flow.
Whatever the reason for its long-delayed release, this much is clear: Il Boom! is first rank De Sica; a wickedly funny (very funny) black comedy steeped in European atmosphere and early ‘60s chic. I guarantee satisfaction: this is one of the most important discoveries cum restorations of the year.
Also opening on Friday (but at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas), Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is a fascinating documentary about Native American contributions to popular music. The first half of the film is particularly valuable, as directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana make previously unacknowledged connections between the music of America’s indigenous peoples and jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. I’m still waiting for a full-length doc about Link Wray, but for now, this will do nicely.
Footnote: Il Boom! opens with a memorable musical cue composed by the legendary Piero Piccioni. If someone can explain to me why I am thoroughly familiar with this cue without ever having seen the movie before, I’d appreciate it!