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 TIME LIFE logo at the end?
If so, please write to me. Thank you!

Click here to learn the story.


The Key

(a.k.a. La chiave, 1983)

Does anyone know who painted this beautiful French/Belgian poster? If so, please write to me. Thanks!

Courtesy of Mrs Jenny Hanon, Japanese-Chirashi, Cardiff, Wales

The irony of Caligula is that, while it besmirched Brass’s reputation, it eventually opened doors. After 18 years of renewing an option for film rights from Junichirô Tanizaki and then from his widow, Brass finally found a producer for his dream project. In his wonderful book, The Parade’s Gone By..., Kevin Brownlow states: “The first place in which a film is seen is in the scenario writer’s imagination. And that is where it looks its best. The imagination short-circuits practical issues and reveals the film in all its glory, untarnished by effort and undiminished by compromise. It will never look so good again” (opening of chapter 22). I suspect that The Key is an exception to this rule. I suspect it looks almost exactly the way Brass imagined it.

Tanizaki’s novel Kagi is completely unfilmable. It consists entirely of the diary entries of a husband and wife, revealing their thoughts. We can only infer their motives and the events of their lives. The short novel is billiantly subtle, and its character development is completely believable. Probably the only way to turn the book into a script is to draw up maybe half a page of notes on the basic ideas in the book, and put everything aside. Then, a year or so later, go back only to the half-page of notes, and write a new story based on those ideas.

Now, the better a work is, the more difficult it is to describe. I’ve been thinking for years how to summarize this film, and I’m still in the dark. But I guess I can say that it is a parable about the virtue of jealousy — and about a loving marriage that never reaches full satisfaction until immediately before death. It’s lovely, lyrical, and often very funny. Frank Finlay and Stefania Sandrelli obviously enjoyed their rôles as hoteliers who don’t truly discover each other until after about twenty years of marriage, when, in his effort to break down his wife’s conventional modesty, Nino instigates Teresa’s sexual interest in their daughter’s fiancé. The Key is the most emotionally complex film I’ve ever run across — and the most intricately scripted, designed, and directed. (After all, Brass had 18 years to contemplate these ideas and continually rewrite the script.) The result is a film that goes beyond being profoundly heart-rending. Almost as amazing as the film itself was the audience reaction. Because about ten minutes of the film feature Stefania Sandrelli in the nude, the movie was a sensational hit. For that same reason film intellectuals ceased to champion Brass. Go figure. Watch it several times over. Watch for Brass’s amusing cameo as the father confessor. The film improves with each viewing, and it ages well.

By the way, the language choices in this movie can be a bit confusing. When Tinto Brass saw Frank Finlay portray Antonio Salieri on stage in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, he instantly decided that he had found the perfect actor for the part, and so he rewrote the part of Nino to make him English. Perhaps that’s why the bulk of the film was shot in English. Or perhaps the idea to shoot in English was a concession to the producers who wanted a more commercial product. In any case, even in the English-language scenes, Barbara Cupisti and Franco Branciaroli spoke Italian, probably because their English wasn’t sufficiently fluent. They were dubbed into English, and in the case of poor Franco, not well dubbed. A few scenes with Frank Finlay and Stefania Sandrelli, though, seem to have utilized direct sound. But it’s hard to tell, for the most convincing sound design (Zaira’s pub, toward the end) was entirely the work of the dubbing and folio studios! For the Italian release all the actors were dubbed into Italian. Even though you can often see their lips speak English, the Italian sounds that come out of them are for the most part quite beautiful. Stefania Sandrelli voiced her own part in both languages, and though Frank Finlay could have done the same, he didn’t. The reason is surely that Italian audiences will not tolerate a foreign accent in a movie. Why, I don’t know, but they don’t, and that’s all there is to it. So instead of Frank Finlay’s voice, we hear Paolo Bonacelli’s voice, which is excellent, but I still prefer Frank’s speaking voice.

NOTE ADDED 25 FEBRUARY 2009: I just discovered this wonderful interview with Frank Finlay: http://frankfinlay.net/Films/Key.html. He loved the movie as much as I thought he did! By the way, since nobody has ever pointed this out before, I might as well, though it has no significance to anyone other than the screenwriter. Tinto is a nickname. His real name is Giovanni. The name he gave to Frank Finlay’s character is John, which is equivalent to Giovanni. People named Giovanni are often called by intimates Nino, which is a diminutive of Giovannino, which is a diminutive of Giovanni; ∴ Nino = Tinto.

It’s interesting to compare this to Kon Ichikawa’s earlier film version, known in the US as Odd Obsession. Ichikawa’s film has none of the subtlety of the book and it also has surprisingly poor character development. Brass’s version is infinitely superior, and, while not true to the letter of the novel (how could it have been?), it is certainly true to its essence. Ichikawa made the characters weak, almost smaller than life; he turned them into people we would have no interest in ever meeting. Brass made the characters strong and made the couple appealing.

Gustav Klimt, Idylle
Gustav Klimt, detail of the Beethoven Frieze, showing Intemperance, Lust, and Gluttony

TINTO BRASS EXPLAINS: “The story looks at adult relationships between a couple. Normally, in cinematic or TV terms, they fight and drama presents an ugly face but in The Key we look at the relationship of two people who enjoy themselves.... From the start, I always wanted Frank Finlay for the part. He was appearing as Salieri on stage in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus in London. He became very excited and after I’d told him about it I gave him the script to read.... The day after he rang me and said, ‘Stop looking for other actors. I want to play the part.’... I am interested in a certain aspect of the human condition because of “Culture” — with capital letters — has failed in its mission. After 4,000 years of civilisation the world is still full of misery, war, violence. Civilisation has not learned to live in a cultured way. It has always avoided looking at certain aspects of human nature, not cultivated dignity as a solid basic passion.... It is my job through the actors to display human emotion. Sex is secondary in that context.... The Key is a film on sexuality, but not sexy. It is full of fear, joy, excitement. My job is to deal with telling stories with lots of emotion.... I felt so deeply about it and translating the story from Japan into an Italian situation. All through it was sexuality, the fear of guilt. In talking to the author [Tanizaki], in translating it to Italy to free it of its guilt complex, he said it was like Eve in the Garden of Eden with the snake and the apple. Then he laughed and said there were no snakes in apple trees!” (Iain F. McAsh, “Take 1: People in Camera — BOLD AS BRASS,” Films on Screen and Video 5, no. 2, February 1988, pp. 22–23.)

Tinto Brass as the father confessor

HOW NOT TO EXPLAIN EROTICISM TO THE MASSES: Flesh & Blood no. 6 (1995) contained a three-page interview with Tinto Brass that made me wince. Brass’s English, while quite serviceable, is based primarily on book learning. Unfortunately, the quite-serviceable English of his Italian interviewers, Massimiliano Boldrini and Paolo Serafini, is based only on the colloquial (“vulgar”) language of the streets. So I’m sure that none of the participants realized how badly and hopelessly they all miscommunicated. Probably unbeknownst to Brass, Boldrini and Serafini took as their starting point a statement that Brass had given to a British magazine called Fiesta (vol. 15, no. 2, 1980) some years earlier:

I like pornography because it is vulgar. I like everything that’s vulgar.... I just exalt pornography because it is a vulgar way to approach the problem of screen sex. Just take it for what it is, without any taboo, any surprise, any guilt complex — anything. Sex is serious. As serious as eating. Sex is everything. There can never be enough.

Perhaps the Fiesta interview was conducted in Italian and incompetently translated into English. Or perhaps it was conducted in English, with Brass optimistically assuming that his British interviewer had a good grasp of the language. Brass had obviously meant “vulgar” in the best sense of the word. The dictionary definition is “generally used, plebian, belonging to the common people, typical, vernacular.” “Vulgar” was once a beautiful word, lending a dignity to those who were not born into the nobility. (For instance, the Latin translation of the Bible that the Catholics still use is called the Vulgate — and the term “Vulgate” refers to the vulgar Latin language spoken by the general public, as distinct from the artificial classical Latin spoken by the ruling classes.) In the English of the streets, however, “vulgar” is understood to mean something else entirely: “vile, ugly, coarse, crude, rude, reprehensible, disgusting, abhorrent, offensive.” This is obviously how Boldrini and Serafini understood the word. The interview completely disintegrated before it even started. So, if you didn’t know the correct definition, go back and read that Fiesta quote again.

Giorgione’s La tempesta, which is referenced in the film, directly and obliquely

A FAR BETTER WAY TO EXPLAIN EROTICISM TO THE MASSES: In an interview conducted entirely in Italian (and not too badly translated into English) for 99 donne (Milano: MediaWorld 1999, pp. 228, 282), the same idea is expressed much more eloquently and accurately. Interviewers Manlio Gomarasca and Davide Pulici asked Brass: “Is there still sexual repression in Italy nowadays, in your opinion?” Brass responded:

No, there isn’t, at least regarding the masses. There is still repression — or rather a cultural removal — amidst the élitist classes, undoubtedly the most inhibited. I always asked myself the reason, and the only answer I can think of is that since rules, laws, taboos, commandments — which transformed nature’s most splendid pleasure into a monstrous form of madness — were conceived by culture (religious or otherwise), the more one is cultured, the more one is neurotic and inhibited, and this burden keeps one from enjoying sexuality in a quiet, serene, and natural way, even regarding the so-called perversions, which are in fact nothing but different sides of the same thing.

“Serene” is indeed the operative word in describing Brass’s usual approach to sex in his films.

REQUEST: That music! It drives me nuts! Pay attention. There’s a song called “Ma le gambe,” and the words and music are credited to Alfred Bracchi and Giovanni D’Anzi and it was first published in 1938. Here’s what’s wrong: I swear I heard an American version of that song, with entirely different lyrics, on a vintage recording, which I once owned, but I can’t remember who did it, nor can I remember the words! (Yet I do have a vague, vague, vague memory that it was performed by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks and that it had something to do with a daddy singing about his newborn baby girl’s blue eyes — of course, since my memory is so vague, I could be entirely wrong!) In any case, unless my memory is truly failing me, the American version predated the Italian one! Now: Help? Can someone tell me what the American tune was, and who recorded it, and who wrote the lyrics, and where I can get it?

Another mystery: When Teresa, Lisa, and Laszlo are dashing through the rain to reach the Caffè Florian, a nice vintage tune is playing on the soundtrack. That was the same tune that was used to underscore the preview, which is included on some videos. What on earth is it? It’s not mentioned anywhere in the credits! Here’s the preview.

Okay, do you recognize that tune? If you do, please write to me. Thanks!
That preview is odd, isn’t it? Nearly every glimpse of nudity in the movie is included in the preview. Lopsided. Gives not the best impression.

Finally, one last mystery: In the scene of a failed sexual encounter, in which the camera is always at a strange angle, a wonderful comical polka is playing full-blast. That polka is not listed in the credits, and it is not included in the soundtrack LP, and it is certainly not by Ennio Morricone, as it reappears in several of Tinto’s later movies (Paprika, L’uomo che guarda, and Monella). But what on earth is it? Who wrote it? Where can I get a nice complete copy of it? If you know, please let me know. Thanks so much!!!!!

And now that I’m asking you three questions, I’ll compensate by answering your question: Arnold Schönberg, “Rosen aus dem Süden,” 1921, an arrangement of Johann Strauss II, “Rosen aus dem Süden,” opus 388, 1880. According to Wikipedia, for this waltz Strauss borrowed themes from his operetta, Das Spitzentuch der Königin (The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief), specifically from Act 1, “Trüffel-Couplet,” and Act 2, “Wo die wilde Rose erblüht”. The book (i.e., script) was by Heinrich Bohrmann-Riegen and the lyrics were by Richard Genée. The operetta premièred at the Theater an der Wien on 1 October 1880. The Schönberg piece was once performed by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and was issued on Deutsche Grammophon 463667, which seems to be out of print. It was also performed by the Opéra National de Lyon and was issued on the Erato label, which is also out of print. And, of course, that leads us to an Internet hoax, which you can read about here and here. Which just goes to show you.

THE LONELINESS OF A WRITER: This is the first film that Brass wrote entirely on his own. Surely, though, he wrote the script in Italian, and hired someone (maybe Frank Finlay? maybe Ted Rusoff?) to brush up the dialogue in the English-language scenes. Brass’s previous films all looked like collaborations — for the simple reason that that’s precisely what they were. This film definitely has the solo look about it. Brass would write solo again for three more movies, which were all, like The Key, freely adapted from literary works: Capriccio, L’uomo che guarda, and Senso ’45. All four have a heavy, but not heavy-handed, emphasis on people’s sexual lives. Beginning with The Key, all of Brass’s films focus on eroticism, and, unlike most of his previous films, they look as carefully and deliberately scripted and crafted as Hitchcock’s films. The old free-style-improv look definitively came to an end.


aro DVD
The above compares two different transfers. The one on the left offers the full image, but it is soft. The one on the right offers a clearer image, but it is cropped. The weathervane sculpture of Fortune astride a golden globe, supported by two Atlases, is atop the 15th-century customs house, the Dogana da Mar. This sculpture was added during the remodeling of 1676–1682 and was the work of Bernardo Falcone. The image of Fortune changing its course in response to outside forces is rather appropriate for this story, I think. Adjacent to the Dogana, and not visible here because it’s behind the camera, is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which the Senate commissioned in late 1630 in an effort to appease the heavens and to stop the plague that had been assaulting the island since the summer of 1629. Browse through the Wikipedia photos (especially Venice31 and Venice53) to get some different views. I think I would find a few years’ stay in Venice most fulfilling. Magari!

And for good measure, let’s compare both of the above to the Cult Epics edition.

The frame grabs below are all from the Raro DVD from 2006.

Eolo Capritti as the fascist military band conductor

Father and daughter

Does the English-language master dialogue
tape for this scene still exist somewhere?
Does any English-language material for this scene still exist somewhere?
If you know where it is located, please write to me right away! Thanks so much!

Missing from every English-language copy

Missing from every English-language copy

Missing from every English-language copy

Memo Longobardi (played by Piero Bortoluzzi) comforts his retarded brother Anania, recently ejected from a mental hospital.

Lulù and Tinta.

Sig.ra Zaira

The priest on the left is played by Gino Cavalieri, who earlier played Bonifacio’s father in In capo al mondo. Memo, reluctantly baptised Catholic to avoid possible persecution, feels awkward and a bit resentful in his new life’s rôle. His discomfort is never emphasized, and you won’t catch on to it on a first or second viewing, but it will register subconsciously. Brilliant acting!

Our final image of Gino Cavalieri.
This was his last time in front of a movie camera.
He died nine years later at the age of 97

STRONG OPINIONS: This is one of my favorite movies, on par with Buster Keaton’s The General and Tinto’s La vacanza and some other gems along the lines of Flaming Fathers and Feed ’Em and Weep (the Marion Byron version). Why do I regard it so highly? Perhaps I shouldn’t, because it’s not perfect. There are a few clumsy moments and Laszlo is badly dubbed. But I still find it affecting. The highlight of the movie, for me, is certainly toward the end, as Teresa and Nino are in bed together talking about when the Pope arrested Marcantonio Raimondi. For my money, that is the most moving and evocative dialogue I have ever heard in any movie, in any play, in any novel. Not even in real life have I heard dialogue half as good as that. And it was so simple. The little chat about an outside subject reveals that, finally, after 20 years of marriage, the wife and husband have a new understanding of one another, and can relate on a far deeper level than ever before. The superficialities of the past 20 years are all gone, and they can speak now only on a more meaningful level. The mention of timelessness is the height of perfection — and the height of tragic irony. This scene is, I think, the most perfect moment I have ever encountered in any movie. It brings tears to my eyes every time and stirs emotions I don’t know how to describe. More than anything else, that is why I so love this movie. (To my ears the scene doesn’t work as well in the Italian dub. The timing of the two languages is different. A casually delivered line in English needs to be spoken at a mile a minute for a dub. Oh well.) I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen The Key, and I never tire of it. I love showing it to people, largely because I get a kick out of their comments, which are usually similar — namely that, unlike any other films they’ve seen that deal with sex, The Key does not seem as though it was made by snickering adolescents; rather, it deals with the subject in a completely mature and unsensational way.

VARYING OPINIONS: I checked for other people’s opinions on the Internet, and the few I found are all derisive. “Guy Grand” (probably no relation of Terry Southern) of Los Angeles wrote a completely negative review for IMDb. There’s another negative (and hopelessly inaccurate) review published at Elm Video. And a Brit named Edward Higgins publishes a web site called T and A Exhibition: The Films of Tinto Brass, in which he disparages all the Brass films he’s seen, and by implication all those he has not seen. I think I’ve found the common denominators here. The authors of the negative reviews are all fans of exploitation films. My friends and I, on the other hand, detest exploitation films; instead, we’re all big fans of Laurel and Hardy. I would argue that the exploitation buffs who hate The Key are unable to see the wood for the trees. They, of course, could turn that around and accuse me of being unable to see the trees for the wood. So although those who hate The Key and we who love The Key all physically watch the same movie, we don’t actually perceive it as the same movie at all. And there’s another reason for the disconnect, which is at least as deep: everything with the name “Tinto Brass” on it is now tainted by association with Caligula. Many people who seek out Brass’s movies do so only because they’re looking for a Caligula-like sleaze fest — and it’s normal human psychology to see what we’re looking for, rather than what’s actually there. (NOTE ADDED ON 2 DECEMBER 2007: More recent opinions published on the Internet are more varied. Thank goodness! Yet still, no one, but no one, will just go all out and admit that The Key is a great movie. Go for it, people, just admit it, even if the critics dismiss it and even though it never won an award and even though it was never released theatrically in the US. Despite all that, it’s still a great movie.)

NOTE: Tinto Brass dubbed the voice of a minor character at the beginning as well as that of the waiter, and I’m pretty sure he also dubbed the barber for the English version.

QUESTIONS: Who dubbed Osiride Pevarello’s voice? And what about Barbara Cupisti’s and Franco Branciaroli’s voices? I’ve spent too much time trying to identify the actors. I can’t even recognize Gianfranco Bullo. And that looks like Eleonora Rossi Drago as Signora Zaira, but if so, she’s not credited. Can someone help me here?

THE SAME OLD TIRESOME STORY: Golan-Globus licensed the US distribution rights for The Key. But then, presumably because the MPAA’s tiresome Ratings Board awarded it an X for whatever reason, GG decided against distributing it. Is that an example of censorship? Well, it’s not exactly censorship, because GG could have gone ahead, but with an X in the mid-1980s almost no cinema anywhere in the US would have run it. So though the MPAA isn’t a censor board in the traditional sense, the end result is the same: if they don’t like a movie, chances are that it won’t get shown.

“I Turned Down The Godfather,” Stefania Sandrelli, Actress, 4 July 2001

POINTLESS MUSING: After the project to film the Marquis De Sade’s La philosophie dans la boudoir fell apart, is it interesting that Brass chose to name the two maids Giulietta and Giustina?

The only Tinto Brass-authorized edition, which is several minutes longer than any previously released edition. This is the artwork as originally advertised, but it was rejected in favor of the design below. Nonetheless, Raro Video continues to use this artwork on its web site. And I can understand why. I love that font, and I love the blue-bordered red against the blue-filtered blue background. The design that was actually released is a bit too busy for my tastes, and it doesn’t communicate much. The best design, of course, was the French poster, which I reproduced above. It’s most evocative, and captures the mood and feeling of the film beautifully, but nobody else seems to like it at all.

The same as the one above, but this time with the revised artwork, which is what was actually issued in 2006. No subtitles. Italian dub only, no English. Includes a 30-minute interview with Tinto, which is one of the best interviews he’s ever given. The back cover correctly states an aspect ratio of 1.67:1 (actually 1.668403:1), and, as you can see from the frame captures in the comparisons below, you’ll understand why I really wish they had gone the extra mile and transferred the entire image, which was slightly larger than a 1.66:1 projector aperture. The running time is given as 112 minutes. Actually it is 110 minutes and 37 seconds (at PAL speed, 25 frames/second). If it could be slowed down to cinema speed (24 frames/second), that would come to 115 minutes, 13 seconds, and 11 frames, which would be the approximate running time of the original film, though the original might have a few more seconds at the reel changes and it certainly had an intermission which is deleted from all video editions. Also, this DVD edition ends immediately as the credits fade out. That is so wrong. In the original, after the credits end, we hear the sounds of the Grand Canal’s waves breaking against the shore for a good 20 or 30 seconds, and in at least some prints there was one final credit during this sound effect. A minor omission, you say? No, it’s not minor. After nearly two hours of being flooded with unexpected and overwhelming emotions, and after getting completely involved with the main characters, the black screen indicates to us that it is all over, that these characters, who have become a part of our lives, are gone from our lives forever, and all that is left of this profound experience is the hauntingly lonely sound of waves. This is of utmost significance for the emotional trajectory of the story. To deprive the audience of those final few contemplative moments is simply wrong, unfair both to the creators of the movie and to the audience. Chances that anyone in the money side of the business would agree with me are about nil, I suppose. Click here to see Raro’s online listing. (Region-2 PAL DVD, which will not play on most US/Canadian equipment.)

NEWS FLASH! 19 January 2009: This was recently re-released with optional English subtitles! — Even Tinto’s interview is subtitled! The back cover is the give-away, as it indicates English subtitles (SOTTOTITOLI: Inglese). But don’t fret about the stated running time or aspect ratio. It is not 96 minutes, nor is it 1.85:1. The transfer is identical to the one above. This new edition has replaced the earlier Italian-only edition, and you can order it from Raro Video. (Region-2 PAL DVD, which will not play on most US/Canadian equipment.)

The US Region-0 NTSC DVD, with optional English subtitles for the Italian sequences and a nice interview with Tinto Brass in the supplements. The stated running time is 106 minutes. And that’s about right; it is 105 minutes and 22.296 seconds. Since it is converted from PAL, it was run at approximately 25/frames per second. If we could slow that down to the cinema speed of 24 frames/second, we would get about 109 minutes, 45 seconds and 18 frames.

Out-of-print Italian DVD, which had both the Italian and English soundtracks, though the English was rather hissy. The box gives no indication of this, but hit your AUDIO button a couple of times, and there you go! It’s so nice to be able to switch back and forth. But there are no English subtitles. Sadly, this was cropped at about 1:1.78, which lops off far, far, far too much of the image. The running time is stated as 98 minutes. Actually, not including the opening Gaumont logo, it is 98 minutes and 33.474 seconds (at the PAL speed of 25 frames/second). If we could slow that down to the cinema speed of 24 frames/second, we would get 102 minutes and 40 seconds. This edition does, though, contain an image I have not seen in any other edition. After the end credits fade out and as we’re listening to the sounds of the Grand Canal’s waves breaking against the shore, we see this title fade in and out:

(Region-2 PAL, which will not play on most US/Canadian equipment.)

A box set, which was to be released on 6 December 2006. Sadly, plans were changed, and instead we’ll get the box set to the right. (Region-2 PAL DVDs, which will not play on most US/Canadian equipment.)

This is the box set that will actually be released on 6 December 2006. (Region-2 PAL DVDs, which will not play on most US/Canadian equipment.)


The word “KEY,” which registers here as black, is actually gold. This is a miserable and fuzzy transfer from a tired 35mm release print, cropped to full screen. Released in Canada in 1987. NTSC.

The transfer is not too bad, but it is cropped to full screen. The BBFC imposed some absolutely pointless censor cuts, and was probably responsible for the deliberate mistranslations in the subtitles too. Well, they’re paid to do things, and if they just let movies sift through their hands unaltered, then they’re not doing things, and so they’re risking their jobs. So they do things. This is from Heron/Polygram/Avco-Embassy/Channel 5, released in 1985 in England. PAL.

Identical to the above, released by Polygram in 1993. PAL.

One of the numerous Italian VHS releases, this one dating from about 1999. As it was transferred through the Academy aperture, this is the only edition I know of that retains the full height of the 1.66:1 camera aperture. PAL.

Rather good color, but cropped terribly and devoid of any subtitles. The ratio is about 1.67:1, but something else was adjusted somewhere along the way, and far too much of the height is sheared off. The “interview with the director” is something you can skip, as it’s just a very poor copy of the behind-the-scenes docu for TRAsgreDIRE. It is NOT 16×9; it is letterboxed 4×3. Released by Arrow in 2001. PAL.


Variety, 9 February 1983, p. 52:

Producer Giovanni Bertolucci has a March start on the Tinto Brass pic “The Key” — adapted by Brass from the Nippon novel by Junichiro Tanizaki.

Variety, 21 September 1983, p. 44:

Exclusion of the Tinto Brass film “The Key” from the Venice program was commemorated by six tall beauties in bathing briefs and chastity belts on the Excelsior beach front to the delight of fotogs. Flesh exhibition was to climax with presentation of a giant key to the filmmaker but Brass didn’t show. Otherwise the festival was as chaste as baby talcum.

Variety, 19 October 1983, p. 38:

Silent partners with Giovanni Bertolucci in the Tinto Brass pic “The Key” are Vittorio Annibaldi and Giulio Sbarigia, who have two more Brass projects in development. Annibaldi said he is high on “The Key” and expects heavy marketing at Mifed, where the Filmexport Group is handling foreign sales. To everyone’s surprise, Brass quietly accepted censor cuts on “The Key” and the film has been cleared for release as an adult entry (18 years and over).

The above story sounds straightforward, but it isn’t. According to Tinto Brass, in the quote below, he trimmed only one scene. But when we watch all the various videos, from all the various sources (including theatrical release prints), we see that there were numerous small cuts in several scenes. Who was responsible for them? Was the authentic version shown anywhere other than trade screenings? The ANICA site gives the length of the release version, rounded to the nearest meter, as 3,068 meters, which is equivalent to 10,065 feet and 10 frames, which at the cinema speed of 24 frames/second would be 111 minutes and 50.42 seconds. That length would include the intermission’s “part titles” (“FINE PRIMO TEMPO” and “SECONDO TEMPO”), which probably took up about 20 seconds of screentime or thereabouts. So the release version was about four minutes short of the original! Read the below quote and see what you think. Very confusing!

Tinto Brass, interviewed on the supplement to the Raro Video DVD:

When the film was released [in Italy], I went straight to London because I had some things to do. [Producer Giovanni] Bertolucci phoned me after two days, desperate: “I’m ruined; they’ve confiscated the film!” I said, “Oh f__k! Do something!” So from London I dictated a fiery press release against the intervention of this sh_tty country. I appointed my trustworthy lawyer, [Vincenzo] Siniscalchi, who managed to do something really nice. He managed to have only one copy confiscated as material evidence. It’s not written anywhere that they must confiscate all the copies. Then he managed to get a very quick trial. In one week, 10 days, the film was tried, absolved, dismissed — I think it was still a preliminary investigation. Anyway, the plan worked, and as a result it had a huge, free publicity campaign.... Regarding the censor, there was a clever woman at the Ministry, very intelligent, who said to me, “Brass, you must make an act of submission. You must cut something.” I cut the scene in the bedroom with the mirror, when Branciaroli neighs like a horse, pulls his cock out, she’s in front of the mirror, and pulls her petticoat up, he charges, she moves, and he crashes into the mirror and his cock is squashed. No, the cuts were made afterwards when I made the version not suitable for under-14s to be shown on TV. I don’t know if it was ever shown. Then this cut version also came out on home video. This made me really angry, because it doesn’t make sense. You buy a DVD or a cassette to see more, not to see less.

Variety, 7 December 1983, p. 38:

Seizure of the Tinto Brass film “The Key” for violating penal code on common standards of decency was less of a surprise than the sudden deconfiscation last Friday (2). “Key” distrib Gaumont Italia is mapping immediate re-release.

Variety, 18 January 1984, p. 88:

...It is, in effect, the highest-grossing pic of all late fall releases and now ranks third in the full year’s top-10 grossers.

TECHNICAL NOTES: The film was masked in the camera not at the then-usual Italian format of 1.85:1, but at the taller 1.66:1, which was then standard for most of the rest of Europe. As is Tinto’s wont, he and his camera crew made no concession whatsoever for the projector aperture being about 4% smaller than the camera aperture. The only way for a cinema to run this film properly is to project it through the Academy aperture and then bring in the top and bottom masking just enough to meet the image. Of course, that gives video labs major headaches, because their equipment defaults to a cinema’s defaults, and a film that is technically 1.66:1 gets cropped at .825" × .497", regardless of subtle variations from one movie to another, or from one camera to another, or from one scene to another. A proper transfer of The Key would use all the exposed image, .864" × .520" or something like that. What lab is set up to perform such a feat? I have ten or twelve different editions at home — in Italian and in English. The two British VHS releases of the English version crop the width, they have four censor cuts, and they have misspelled, accidentally mistranslated, and deliberately mistranslated subtitles. The British DVD has no subtitles. The Canadian VHS is a miserable transfer that crops both height and width. The original DVD release in the US by Cult Epics was pretty bad, but the more recent issues are worth getting. The VHS of the Italian dub is the only home-video edition that does not crop the height at all, and hence it’s the only one in which we can see all of what Nino writes in his diary. But the picture is a bit soft and a bit too blue and a bit too dark, with some short nighttime sequences almost disappearing. The current uncensored Italian dub available from Raro Video is quite nice, but the color timers at the telecine lab got a bit carried away.

CVC VHS. As you can see, the movie was transferred through the Academy aperture, retaining the full height of the negative. This is the only home video I have ever seen in which you can read the entire diary entry in this scene. (I can’t afford a time-base corrector. If anyone wants to donate one, give me a holler.)

Raro Video DVD.

Arrow Video DVD.

Cult Epics DVD.

All of the above are 1.66:1 or very close to it, but we need to know not only the ratio but also the size of the transferred image. Yes, that’s a difficult and abstract concept, but look at the above and you can see that each is cropped differently, even though they’re all 1.66:1.

Just so that you can compare the widescreen videos with the VHS from Triangle of Canada from 1987. The tearing of the image at the bottom is a sure sign that this VHS derived from a ¾" submaster. Those dratted things....

ANICA — Associazione Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche Audiovisive e Multimediali

Giovanni Bertolucci presenta

The Key / La chiave

Il libro “LA CHIAVE” è pubblicato in Italia da Bompiani
Filmed on location in Venice and at De Paolis Studios, Rome
Copyright © 1983 by San Francisco Film
All rights reserved
Released by San Francisco Film S.r.L. - Rome

Dal romanzo omonimo di
(from the novel of the same name by)
Junichirô Tanizaki
Produced by
Giovanni Bertolucci for San Francisco Film S.r.l. and Selenia Cinematografica
Vittorio Annibaldi [uncredited] and Giulio Sbarigia [uncredited]
Direttore della fotografia
(director of photography)
Silvano Ippoliti
Musiche composte e dirette da
(music composed and directed by)
Ennio Morricone
Edizioni musicali (music publishers)
Tripletime Music, Roma
Operatore alla macchina (camera operator)
Enrico Sasso
Collaborazione al montaggio (assistant editor)
Fiorenza Müller
Amministratore (production accountant)
Mario Sampaolo
Segretaria edizione (continuity)
Carla Cipriani
Organizzatori della produzione
(production managers)
Mario di Biase, Aldo U. Passalacqua
[uncredited in Italian version]
Costumi da bozzetti e disegni di
(costumes created by)
Jost Jakob
Realizzoli da (costumes made by)
Vera Cozzolini, Michela Gisotti
Scenografia e arredamento
(art direction and set décor)
Paolo Biagetti
Scritto, diretto e montato da
(written, directed, and edited by)
Tinto Brass
Colore dello (color by)
Telecolor s.p.a.
Prodution associati
Selenia Cinematografica s.r.l., International Video Service s.r.l.
English-version postproduction
Gene Luotto
Ufficio stampa (publicity)
Lilletta Bertolucci
Aiuto regista (assistant director)
Riccardo Tognazzi
Capo parrucchiere (hair stylist)
Iole Cecchini
Capo truccatore (make up)
Fabrizio Sforza
Fotografo di scena (still photographer)
Gianfranco Salis
Fonico (sound)
Gaetano Carito
Coreografa (choreography)
Gabriella Borni
Montatore del suono (sound editor)
Sandro Peticca
Ispettori di produzione (unit managers)
Massimo Ferrero, Vittorio Fornasiero
Amministratrice /cassiera
(business manager/pay master)
Dorina Mari
Segretario di produzione (production secretary)
Mauro Babini
[uncredited in the English version]
Capo sarta (seamstress)
Angela Silighini
Capo squadra elettricisti (gaffer)
Sergio Spila
Capo squadra macchinisti (key grip)
Renato Cinti
Attrezzista (prop master)
Roberto Magagnini
Assistenti alla regia (second assistant directors)
Pietro Santagada, Domenico Saverni,
Luca Lachin
Consulenza a Venezia
(Venetian legal counsel)
Carlo Montanaro
[miscredited in the English version]
Assistente operatore (assistant cameramen)
Ettore Corso
Aiuto operatore (focus puller)
Andrea Sabatello
Assistenti al montaggio (assistant editors)
Giovanna Ritter, Emanuela Lucidi, Emanuele Cassin
Assistenti scenografa (assistant art directors)
Egidio Spugnini, Nello Giorgetti
Assistente arredatore (assistant set décor)
Luigi Urbani
Assistenti costumista (assistant costumers)
Alessandra Querzola, Marina Frassine
Truccatore (assistant make-up)
Antonio Maltempo
Parucchiera (wigs)
Carla Ruffert
[uncredited in the English version]
Microfonista (boom man)
Marco di Biase
Teatri di posa (sound stage)
De Paolis, Roma
Suono (sound)
Mixage (mixer)
Fausto Ancillai
Effetti sonori (sound effects)
Cineaudio Effects, Alvaro Gramigna, Fernando Caso
Sartoria (wardrobe)
Mario Russo
Gioielli (jewelry)
Nino Lembo, Roma
Parucche (wigs)
Rocchetti - Carboni
Calzature (shoes)
Arredamento (set dressings)
GPR - Dedalo - Rancati
Foreign Sales
Filmexport Group, Rome
Musiche di repertorio (musical excerpts)
by Arnold Schönberg, adapted from Johann Strauss Jr [uncredited]
di Merchetti - Bertini, ediz. National Music
di Bracchi - D’Anzi, Curci - ediz. Melodi
di Consiglio - Panzeri - Publisher Melodi [uncredited in the Italian version]
di Giuseppe Blanc
(Figuring out who all these people are is a lot of fun. Tinto kept winking at us by casting well-known, highly respected stage actors to play the smallest of bit parts and walk-ons. It seems that many of the walk-ons were better-known than Frank Finlay or Barbara Cupisti!)
Professor John Brian “Nino” Rolfe
Frank Finlay (dubbed by Paolo Bonacelli in the Italian version)
Teresa Rolfe
Stefania Sandrelli
Laszlo Apony
Lisa Rolfe
Barbara Cupisti
Armando Marra (in the white suite, on the right)
Maria Grazia Bon
Don Busetto
Gino Cavalieri (the priest on the left)
Memo Longobardi
Piero Bortoluzzi
French guest
Enzo Turrin
[uncredited in the English version]
At long last, I found an image of Enzo Turrin from another movie (below), which helps me identify him as the French hotel guest who, glanced at momentarily from a distance, say across a canal, can look remarkably like Laszlo. In any case, the frame capture below is from a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful movie called Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World), which is four and a half hours long but if it were ten times longer it would still be worth every minute. You think it looks silly? Don’t worry, in context, it’s not silly at all.

German Nurse
Irma Veithan
Gianfranco Bullo
[uncredited in the English version]
I’ve searched and searched and searched and searched, but for the life of me I don’t see him anywhere in this movie
Military Band Leader
Eolo Capritti
Marina Cecchetelli
[uncredited in the English version]
Maria Pia Colonnello
Milly Corinaldi
Luciano Crovato
[uncredited in the English version]
Edgardo Fugagnoli
I can’t identify him in the movie (unless, maybe, he played Commendator Cosulich?), but above is a photo I just found on the Internet
Dottor Davide Fano
Giovanni Michelagnoli
I can’t identify him in The Key — unless maybe he played the barber? Anyway, here’s a photo I just found on the Internet
Arnaldo Momo
[uncredited in the English version]
Sara Tagliapietra
Mirella Zardo
Tithe collector
Antonio Salines (He’s not credited, and nobody anywhere at any time has ever mentioned or noticed that he’s in this movie. As a matter of fact, for years and years, every time I saw his momentary scene, I thought to myself, “He looks so familiar. Where have I seen him before?” And then finally it clicked: “That’s Antonio Salines!” He and Tinto had worked together in the 1970s in Roberto Lerici’s play, Family Lunch, which, judging from the few publicity stills I’ve seen, looks stunningly surreal. He went on to become one of Tinto’s regulars. For more photos of this prominent stage actor, click here and here and here and here.)
According to IMDb and other sources, a sculptor by the name of Pietro Lorenzoni also made an appearance in this movie, but I don’t know what he looks like and so I can’t identify him. I would hazard a guess that he played Radoničić, but that’s only a guess and I’m probably wrong like I usually am. Click here to see one of his sculptures.
??? (Is it Arnaldo Momo? There seems to be some vague resemblance, but I really can’t tell to save my life.)
Housewives whose names Nino would recognize were he to hear them
Widower who can pay for his kicks

VIPs at the gallery
Two more VIPs at the gallery
Commendator Cosulich
Anania Longobardi (on the left)
Street urchins
The waiter who is forbidden by law from speaking any language other than Italian
(He looks a little bit like Paolo Stoppa but I’m sure he’s not)
A clumsy pedestrian
Street vendor who enjoys watching clumsy pedestrians
A guy who’s always around and regularly taunted by street urchins
Tavern folk
More tavern folk
Voglio morire

One of Zaira’s regulars
Approving guy on the street
Young couple

Original research and commentary copyright © 2009 by Ranjit Sandhu. All rights reserved.

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