Did you happen to record Monty Python’s Flying Circus
when it was shown on PBS back in the 1970s?
Do you still have the tapes?
Is there a
If so, please write to me. Thank you!
THE WORKS OF TINTO BRASS
Il disco volante
(The Flying Saucer, 1964)
A gem! This is one of the last of the great movie comedies, and it’s one of my favorite Tinto movies — even though it’s not exactly a Tinto movie. Chi lavora è perduto, though not a major success, earned Tinto some credibility with Famous Film B.V. producer Dino De Laurentiis, who now hired him to direct Rodolfo Sonego’s satirical political parable, Il disco volante, starring the beloved comic-singer Alberto Sordi and De Laurentiis’s legendary wife, Silvano Mangano, along with Monica Vitti. Tinto happily accepted the assignment, but he refused to make it as a typical studio comedy. Having learned his craft on natural locations, with actors performing amidst actual crowds while hidden cameras recorded the proceedings, Tinto decided to approach Il disco volante the same way. He insisted, over De Laurentiis’s initial objections, on shooting on natural locations throughout Asolo. To her credit, Silvano Mangano championed this decision, and she was surely instrumental in allowing this to happen. Tinto had a further idea: Why not have Alberto Sordi portray all four main characters? Sordi was thrilled by the idea and poured himself into the part.
Tinto’s direction is flawlessly smooth, Sordi is at his most brilliant with his priceless doubletakes, and the film is screamingly funny. Lest we forget, though, Tinto did not write the script. At least, he did not write the original draft. As was his wont, he suggested changes, new lines and jokes, and ran these by Sonego. For whatever reason, Sonego did not respond to these suggestions, and so when it was time to shoot, Tinto went ahead with the changes anyway. That is why Sonego was quite disappointed with the result. Though Tinto did not write the story, its anti-authoritarianism is certainly congenial to his outlook, and, coincidentally enough, this movie fits in perfectly well with the films he wrote on his own. It’s most interesting, by the way, to compare this movie with Gore Vidal’s earlier Visit to a Small Planet and to his later Duluth. There was no copying at all, but the resonances are quite striking. I would hazard a guess that Sonego perhaps saw Visit to a Small Planet, or, if not, he probably at least heard a good description of it.
The production was rushed so that the film could be released in time for Christmas season. As a result, Tinto did not edit the film himself, though he surely had some significant
The rush led to a problem: Since there was no time for Tinto to perform the edit himself, some scenes are rather clumsily put together. For instance, the camera zooms in and out on Berruti as he’s climbing the countess’s stairs; obviously this shot was to have been intercut with some other now-missing material. Further, two scenes were
Before VHS was invented, though, things happened to this movie, and what we are seeing on our videotapes is not the original, but an
The above six images are from scenes missing from the currently available prints and videos of this movie
The international title was originally supposed to be The Martians, but wiser heads prevailed in time for the English dub to be entitled The Flying Saucer.
Back in the 1970’s there was a book that consisted of a listing of
QUESTION: One of the doctors in the lunatic asylum sure looks like Alberto Sorrentino. Is it?
PERSONAL COMMENT: Like I say, I have memories of 1964, when I was all of four years old. Here’s another maddening memory. As soon as Brigadiere Berruti approaches the countess’s mansion, we hear the haunting strains of John Foster singing Ballando con te. I recognized it instantly, but I couldn’t place it. Maybe it played on the easy-listening stations when I was four? Can anyone help me figure out where I heard it? I heard it more than once, and I surely heard it many, many times. There’s no other way I would have recognized it so instantly. What’s memory for if you can’t use it?
This was in the original version of the movie, but it’s missing from current copies:
Screenwriter Rodolfo Sonego’s views:
http://www.sceneggiatori.com/ritratti/sonego/intervi.html, but click on it anyway because it turns out I saved a copy. If you own the copyright, please write to me. Thanks!
THOUGHTS ON HOW TO MAKE A COMEDY:
Una produzione Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica S.p.A.
Il disco volante
Originally released on Wednesday, 23 December 1964
Upon hearing from one of the rare people who became a fan of this movie by watching it on late-night-filler programming, I got curious and decided to see if it ever played in New York City. It did, a grand total of four times. Behold.
And now you can understand why it never found its audience.
Our brief email correspondence also got me to thinking. I found the English edition on eBay. It was a 16mm print that instigated a bidding war between myself and a rival. After I won the thing for $150, I contacted the losing bidder and asked what her interest was. That led to an email friendship. She was an elderly lady named Joyce Elliott, and she was a huge fan of Silvana Mangano. I also contacted the eBay vendor, who told me that this print was originally owned by a Chicago TV station. That’s all he knew of the provenance. When the 16mm print arrived, it was in a thousand pieces. Sprocket holes were shredded, glue splices had peeled apart, and tape splices were stretching and going bad. I spent the better part of a day on a rewind bench in a projection booth repairing the thing with a Ciro splicer. Fortunately, I didn’t need to chop anything out. I was able to rescue every surviving frame. In addition to being damaged, with noticeable jump cuts all over the place, the print had also been censored, with every hint of fake nudity deleted, as well as the finale of the friskiness between Don Mariscano and Dolores in the car, resulting in the deletion of the final line, “What gams!” (“Che gambone!”). Sheerest idiocy. There was no need to cut any of that. Nobody would have taken offense. Eventually I got a friend to run off an SVHS transfer, and with pathetic editing equipment at the office where I worked I was able to stitch it together with a horrid bootleg of the Italian version. The result was a total calamity. Unwatchable. But Joyce wanted to see it, and so I sent it to her. She was thrilled.
Anyway, the recent email correspondence got me to thinking again. More often than not, a license is good for seven years, after which the materials must be returned to the rights holder. So why was this print left behind after the license expired? Should it not have been returned to Famous Films B.V. or its successor? Yes, it should have, except.... You see, the station surely sent a message to Famous Films stating that the print was so badly damaged that it was being discarded. Someone then saw a pile of prints on a junk heap ready for pick up by the trash collector and decided he could probably make away with them and get a few bucks for each from collectors dumb enough not to demand a quality check prior to purchase. And that’s how I got my print. Fascinating, isn’t it?
With various licenses and assignments and transfers, the current licensor is StudioCanal+ in Paris. My damaged 16mm print is probably the only English-language print that is not in StudioCanal+’s possession.
Shall we explore some more? Shall we see if this ever played on television in Los Ángeles?
Original research and commentary copyright © 2009, 2013 by Ranjit Sandhu. All rights reserved.
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