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24 October 2013

Ugo Tognazzi

Ugo Tognazzi (1922-1990) was an Italian film, TV, and theatre actor, director, and screenwriter. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the most renowned stars of the Commedia all'Italiana. He worked with such major directors as Marco Ferreri, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luigi Comencini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Ettore Scola, but his greatest hit was the gay comedy La cage aux Folles (1978).

Ugo Tognazzi
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Successful TV Comedy Duo


Ugo Tognazzi was born Ottavio Tognazzi in 1922 in Cremona, in northern Italy. He spent his youth in various localities as his father was a traveller clerk for an insurance company. After his return to his native city in 1936, he worked as a bookkeeper in a salami production plant, and performed in local amateur theatricals.

During World War II, he was inducted into the Army and returned home after the Armistice of September 1943. During the conflict he organized shows for his fellow soldiers. According to IMDb, he joined the army of the Italian Social Republic of Salò. After the end of the war, he spent a few months in prison for collaborating with the fascist regime.

In 1945, he moved to Milan, where he was enrolled in the theatrical company led by Wanda Osiris. A few years later, he formed his own successful musical revue company.

At age 28, Tognazzi made his cinematic debut in the comedy I cadetti di Guascogna/The Cadets of Gascony (Mario Mattoli, 1950) starring Walter Chiari. Other early films were the comedies Auguri e figli maschi!/ Best wishes and sons! (Giorgio Simonelli, 1951) with Delia Scala, Una Bruna indiavolata/A devilish brunette (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1951), and La Paura fa 90/Fear makes 90 (Giorgio Simonelli, 1951) starring Silvana Pampanini.

In 1951, he met Raimondo Vianello, with whom he formed a successful comedy duo for the new-born RAI TV (1954–1960). Their shows, sometimes containing satirical material, were among the first to be censored on Italian television.

At the end of the 1950s, Tognazzi returned to the cinema in Neopolitan comedies like Totò nella luna/Toto in the Moon (Steno, 1958) with Totò and Sylva Koscina, and La cambiale/The bill (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1959) with Totò and Peppino de Filippo.

Ugo Tognazzi
Italian postcard by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 705.

The Ape Woman


Ugo Tognazzi had his breakthrough in the cinema with his successful role in the satire Il Federale/The Fascist (Luciano Salce, 1961). Another huge success in Italy was the political comedy I mostri/15 from Rome (Dino Risi, 1963).

In the following decade he became one of the most renowned characters of the Commedia all'Italiana (Italian comedy style). He worked with many major directors of the genre. His comedies of the 1960s include La marcia su Roma/March on Rome (Dino Risi, 1962) with Vittorio Gassman, I fuorilegge del matrimonio/Outlaws of Love (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani,Valentino Orsini, 1963), L'ape regina/The Conjugal Bed (Marco Ferreri, 1963) with Marina Vlady, and La vita agra (Carlo Lizzani, 1964).

He worked again with director Marco Ferreri at the drama La donna scimmia/The Ape Woman (1964), inspired by the real-life story of Julia Pastranam a 19th-century Mexican woman.

Hal Erickson at AllMovie: “Tognazzi stars as a charming ne'er-do-well who happens upon young Annie Girardot, who outside of the fact that she is covered with hair from head to foot is a normal woman with normal desires and dreams. Tognazzi inveigles her into the European carnival sideshow circuit as ‘The Ape Woman’, securing her cooperation by making love to her. She dies in childbirth; though overcome by grief, Tognazzi has not lost his cheapjack showman's touch, and he mummifies the bodies of both mother and daughter and continues to tour with them!”

Later Tognazzi worked again with Ferreri on Marcia nuziale/The Wedding March (Marco Ferreri, 1965) opposite Shirley Anne Field.

Tognazzi also directed some of his films, including Il fischio al naso/The Seventh Floor (1967) with Tina Louise.

Roger Vadim cast Tognazzi as Mark Hand, the Catchman, in the French-Italian Science Fiction film Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968). Mark Hand rescues Barbarella (Jane Fonda) from the biting dolls she encounters, and after her rescue, he requests payment by asking her to make love with him.

A great popular success in Italy was the comedy Straziami ma di baci saziami/Torture Me But Kill Me with Kisses (Dino Risi, 1968) with Nino Manfredi. The film parodies the popular Italian photo novels.

One of his most remarkable films was Porcile/Pigsty (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969) starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Marco Ferreri, and Pierre Clémenti.

Ugo Tognazzi
Italian postcard, no. 362.

Ornella Muti>
Ornella Muti. French postcard by Travelling Editions, Paris, no. CP 190.

La Grande Bouffe


During the 1970s, Ugo Tognazzi turned in another number of powerhouse character studies. He excelled as bon vivants, adulterous husbands and other suave gents in comedies as well as dramas.

He reunited with director Dino Risi and co-star Vittorio Gassman for the comedy-drama In nome del popolo italiano/In the Name of the Italian People (Dino Risi, 1971), a reflection about the crisis of the Italian judiciary and the growing phenomenon of corruption.

He also worked again with Ferreri at L'udienza/Papal Audience (Marco Ferreri, 1973) with Claudia Cardinale.

Other critical successes were the comedies Vogliamo i colonnelli/We Want the Colonels (Mario Monicelli, 1973), La proprietà non è più un furto/Property Is No Longer a Theft (Elio Petri, 1973) and the atypical commedia all'italiana film La mazurka del barone, della santa e del fico fiorone/The Mazurka of the Baron, the Saint and the Early Fig Tree (Pupi Avati, 1975).

Controversial was La grande abbuffata/La Grande Bouffe (Marco Ferreri, 1973) in which Marcello Mastroianni, Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret gather in a villa for the weekend with the express purpose of eating themselves to death. Ferreri won the FIPRESCI Prize given by the International Federation of Film Critics at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.

Tognazzi worked again with Ferreri on Touche pas à la femme blanche!/Don't Touch The White Woman! (Marco Ferreri, 1974), an absurd Western set in Paris featuring Catherine Deneuve.

He worked with director Mario Monicelli on the comedy dramas Romanzo popolare/Come Home and Meet My Wife (Mario Monicelli, 1973) with Ornella Muti, and Amici miei/Friends (Mario Monicelli, 1975). The latter made it to number one on the Italian box-office, in front of Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975).

Another hit was the comedy Telefoni bianchi/The Career of a Chambermaid (Dino Risi, 1976) with Agostina Belli. Other films include the Giallo comedy Il gatto/The Cat (Luigi Comencini, 1977), the comedy drama Primo amore/First Love (Dino Risi, 1978) with Ornella Muti, and the drama L'ingorgo - Una storia impossibile/Traffic Jam (Luigi Comencini, 1979).

Ugo Tognazzi
Swiss postcard by Musée de l'Elysée, no. 55607. Photo: Laurence Sudre.

La Cage aux Folles


Ugo Tognazzi had his greatest international hit with the comedy La Cage aux Folles/Birds of a Feather/Il vizietto (Édouard Molinaro, 1978), an adaptation of the 1973 play La Cage aux Folles by Jean Poiret. Tognazzi played one-half of an aging homosexual couple which operates a drag club in Saint-Tropez. Michel Serrault played Zaza, his star attraction and other half.

With its sight gags, uproarious complications, and a tender and touching conclusion, the film won over international audiences and was one of the most successful foreign films ever released in the US.
Tognazzi also appeared in the sequels La Cage aux Folles II (Édouard Molinaro, 1980), and La cage aux folles 3 - 'Elles' se marient/La Cage aux Folles 3: The Wedding (Georges Lautner, 1985).

He was also among the all-star cast of La terrazzo/The Terrace (Ettore Scola, 1980), which won two awards at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1981, Tognazzi won the Best Male Actor Award in Cannes for La tragedia di un uomo ridicolo/ Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1981) the tale of a near-bankrupt factory owner who attempts to use the kidnapping of his son (played by his real-life eldest son Ricky Tognazzi) to his financial advantage.

Other films include the comedy Scherzo del destino in agguato dietro l'angolo come un brigante da strada/A Joke of Destiny (Lina Wertmüller, 1983), Le Bon Roi Dagobert/Good King Dagobert (Dino Risi, 1984) with Coluche, and Ultimo minute/The Last Minute (Pupi Avati, 1989).

Ugo Tognazzi died of a brain hemorrhage in Rome in 1990, although rumours persist to this day that his chronic depression led to suicide.

Since 1972, he was married to actress Franca Betttoia. His sons Ricky Tognazzi (1955) and Gianmarco Tognazzi (1967) are both cinema actors.

He was also the father of the Norwegian film director and film producer Thomas Robsahm (1964), relationship with actress Margrete Robsahm. His daughter Maria Sole Tognazzi (1971) is, like Ricky, a film director.


Trailer Porcile (1969). Source: Friday13th1 (YouTube).


Trailer La Cage aux Folles (1978). Source: OldHollywoodTrailers (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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