Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Like a ragged samurai – L’Armata Brancaleone

Mario Monicelli (1915-2010) was a genius and a true artist. He started his career in movies at 19, writing an adaptation of Poe’s Telltale Heart, and for over seventy years he was at the cutting edge of Italian cinema, with a total of 112 scriptwriting credits, and 69 movies directed. He was one of the stalwarts of the so-called “commedia all’italiana” (Italian-style comedy), a genre that, at its best, mixed broad farce, subtle satire, and sharp social observation. And Monicelli was the best in the game.

Italian-style comedy came with a bundled problem, and some friends warned Monicelli that by bringing to the screen the flaws of the Italian character in highly comedic manner, his would be perceived by many as a celebration, not as an exposé. It was a fair warning, and indeed, today a lot of Monicelli’s work is remembered for the belly laughs and the ribald double-entendres, not for the often painful underlying themes of human frailty and misplaced ideals.

In 1966, Monicelli and some friends, including actor Vittorio Gassman, decided they could not take anymore the Disney-esque popular perception of medieval times, and decided to do a movie about a “ragged samurai of sorts” in a Medieval Italy that was at the same time historically accurate and sharply modern. So they did L’Armata Brancaleone (known in English as For Love and Gold or as The Incredible Army of Brancaleone).

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Something light: Surprise Package, 1960

I was ten or twelve years old, and I was in bed with a bad case of the flu, and I caught half a movie on the TV one morning – on the old family Zenith black and white television. It was the end of the ’70s – 1977 or 1979. I watched it – there was Yul Brynner in it, and Yul Brynner was the guy from Magnificent 7 and Westworld, and that movie about the Czar’s daughter my mother liked. Yul Brynner was cool.
Later that day, checking the TV listings, I learned the movie was called Surprise Package, and forty years on, last night, I finally watched it form the beginning.

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