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23 November 2011

Mercedes Brignone

Mercedes Brignone (1885 - 1967) was an Italian theatre, film and television actress. The peak of her career was during the silent era.

Mercedes Brignone
Italian postcard by Varischi Artico & Co, Milano, no. 2052.

Neglected
Mercedes Brignone was born in Madrid, Spain in 1885. She was the daughter of Italian stage actor Giuseppe Brignone. Already as a child she started to perform with her father and became a lively comical actress. In 1903 she married actor Uberto Palmarini with whom she worked in the same theatre company. Probably her first film role was in the short Il marito in campagna/The Husband in the Country (1912, ?), which co-starred Umberto Mozzato. It was an adaptation of the French boulevard comedy Le mari à la campagne by Jean-François Bayard and Jules de Wailly. From 1914 she had a steady career in the Italian cinema, first in shorts but soon in feature-length films. Brignone starred in these films, which in 1914 were all Milano productions, often directed by Baldassarre Negroni and often co-starring Livio Pavanelli and her husband, Uberto Palmarini. Examples of these films are La corsa all’abisso/The Pace That Kills (1914, Attilio Fabbri), La dote del burattinaio/The Puppet’s Dowry (1914, Baldassarre Negroni), and Il re dell’Atlantico/The King of the Atlantic (1914, Baldassarre Negroni). Brignone left Milano and worked for several other companies. In 1915 she played in Mezzanotte/Midnight (1915, Augusto Genina) and in the adaptation of Salvatore Di Giacomo’s play A San Francisco/In San Francisco (1915), directed by her co-star Gustavo Serena. San Francisco refers here to the former prison in Naples. In 1916 Brignone again played with husband Palmarini in Medusa velata/Veiled Medusa (1916, Ugo De Simone), and played with her brother Guido and his wife Lola Visconti-Brignone in Espiazione/Penitence (1916, Mario Corte). Brignone acted opposite Helena Makowska and Umberto Mozzato, the actor of her first film in La Gioconda (1916, Eleuterio Rodolfi). This film, based on Gabriele D’Annunzio’s play, narrates the bizarre story of a sculptor (Mozzato) who neglects his wife (Brignone) for his femme fatale-like model (Makowska). When the wife tries to save her marriage, the model wants to crush the sculpture for which she modelled. The wife tries to save the statue, but looses her hands in doing so. The film is considered lost now, although if it was widespread at the time. Happily, the postcards of the film still exist.

Mercedes Brignone and Umberto Mozzato in La Gioconda (1916). Italian postcard by ICA CT, no. 3670, 1916. Photo: Ambrosio

Monstre Sacré
In 1917, Mercedes Brignone played in La flotta degli emigranti/The Fleet of the Emigrants (1917, Leopoldo Carlucci) co-starring Ileana Leonidoff, Il delitto dell’opera/The crime of the work (1917, Eleuterio Rodolfi), and Amleto/Hamlet (1917, Eleuterio Rodolfi), which starred the monstre sacré of the Italian stage Ruggero Ruggeri as Hamlet opposite Brignone as Gertrud and Makowska as Ophelia. Some years ago the film was found and restored. Rodolfi had started his own company for which Brignone starred in various films: after Amleto followed Un dramma di Vittoriano Sardou/A Play by Victorien Sardou (1918, Eleuterio Rodolfi), La signora Rebus/Mrs. Rebus (1918, Eleuterio Rodolfi), Il buon Samaritano/The Good Samaritan (1919, Eleuterio Rodolfi), a remake of Il marito in campagna/The Husband in the Countryside (1920, Mario Almirante), and Il privilegio dell’amore/The Privilege of Love (1921, Eleuterio Rodolfi). In the film Il perfetto amore/The Perfect Love (1918), Mecedes Brignone was directed for the first time by her brother, Guido Brignone. From 1916 on, he had been active as a film director for the Cines company. Their next film together was Il quadro di Osvaldo Mars/The Portrait by Osvaldo Mars (1921, Guido Brignone). In Mercedes Brignone plays a countess in this film who discovers that a daring painting will be exposed of her in a Salome outfit and nothing much more. She cuts the painting to pieces but is also accused of the murder of the painter. The film was recently found in South-America by the Bologna film archive and restored. Il quadro di Osvaldo Mars intriguingly shows the double nature of the countess: restrained and violent, but Brignone also plays a double role of the lookalike of the countess, a farmer’s wife who leaves husband and child to climb the social ladder. After Il quadro di Osvaldo Mars Guido Brignone directed his sister again in Le campane di San Lucio/The Bells of San Lucio (1921). After that, Mercedes Brignone became the co-star of Il segreto del morto/The Secret of the Dead (1922, Luigi Romano Borgnetto) with Carlo Aldini, I due sergenti/The Two Sergeants (1922, Guido Brignone) with Giovanni Cimara – the film was based on a popular French novel that was often filmed in Italy - and Maciste e il nipote d’America/Maciste and the American Cousin (1924, Eleuterio Rodolfi), with Bartolomeo Pagano as the legendary strongman, of course.

Helena Makowska in La Gioconda
Helena Makowska at the Forum Romanum in Rome in La Gioconda (1916). Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3654, 1917. Photo: Ambrosio.

Napoleon
After an interval of six years, Mercedes Brignone returned to the cinema as a governess in the first Italian sound film, La canzone dell'amore/The Song of Love (1930), starring Dria Pola. By now Brignone had to be satisfied with smaller parts, as in Nerone/Nero (1930, Alessandro Balsetti), La stella del cinema/The Film Star (1931, Mario Almirante) featuring Leda Gloria, Corte d’Assise/Before the Jury (1931, Guido Brignone) with Marcella Albani, Vivere/To Live (1938, Guido Brignone) with opera singer Tito Schipa, and the comedy Il marchese di Ruvolito/The Marquis of Ruvolito (1939, Raffaello Matarazzo) with the Napolitan brothers Eduardo and Peppino De Filippo. In Sant’Elena, piccola isola/Saint Helen, Little Island (1943, Umberto Scarpelli, Renato Simoni) Brignone played Madama Letizia vs. Ruggero Ruggeri as Bonaparte. Other films she appeared in during the war period were La primadonna (1943, Ivo Perilli) starring German actress Anneliese Uhlig, and Il fiore sotto gli occhi/The Flower under the Eyes (1944, Guido Brignone) with Claudio Gora. In the postwar era Mercedes Brignone worked for several theatre companies. She often played in comedies with Ruggero Ruggeri and Tino Carraro. She only incidentally appeared in films. Her last (bit) parts were in Lorenzaccio (1951, Raffaello Pacini) and Vacanze d’inverno/Winter Holidays (1959, Camillo Mastrocinque, Giualiano Carnimeo) starring Michèle Morgan. For RAI radio she acted in Aurelia (1949, Enzo Ferrieri), while on television she could be seen in two stage plays, Romanticismo/Romanticism (1954), and Pane altrui/The Other's Bread (1957) and had a guest role in the series Le inchieste del commissario Maigret/The Investigations of Commissionar Maigret (1965), starring Gino Cervi. Mercedes Brignone died in 1967 in Milan. She was the aunt of actress Lilla Brignone, the daughter of her brother Guido.

Mercedes Brignone, La Gioconda
Mercedes Brignone in La Gioconda (1916). Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3660, 1917. Photo: Ambrosio.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano), Wikipedia (Italian) and IMDb.

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