02 March 2014

Franca Bettoia

Italian actress Franca Bettoia (1936) starred in several Italian films of the 1950s and 1960s. She is best known for the chilling sci-fi/horror tale The Last Man on Earth (1964).

Franca Bettoia
Italian postcard by Rotalcolour, no. 79.

Mao Tse Tung

Franca Bettoia (sometimes written as Bettoja) was born in 1936 in Rome, Italy.

Her first film appearance was in Un Palco all'opera (Siro Marcellini, 1955). The following year she played a supporting part in the Spanish-Italian production Los amantes del desierto/Desert Warrior (Goffredo Alessandrini a.o., 1956), but the lush desert epic wasn't released until two years later. It starred Riccardo Montalban, the beautiful Carmen Sevilla and Gino Cervi.

Next Franca appeared opposite Pietro Germi in L’Uomo di paglia/A Man of Straw (Pietro Germi, 1958), and opposite Macha Méril and Jacques Charrier in the French production La main chaude/The Itchy Palm (Gérard Oury, 1960).

She appeared as a nun in China in Apocalisse sul fiume giallo/The Dam on the Yellow River (Renzo Merusi, 1960), an anti-Communist propaganda film, in which the victory of Mao Tse-Tung's People's Liberation Army is seen through the eyes of an American journalist (Georges Marchal) reporting from the Nationalists' side.

The next year she starred opposite Hollywood star Alan Ladd at the end of his career in Orazi e curiazi/Duel of the Champions (Terence Young, Ferdinando Baldi, 1961), a Peplum (a sword and sandals adventure) set in ancient Rome. The screenplay was written by such prestigious writers as Carlo Lizzani, Giuliano Montaldo and Luciano Vincenzoni (Sergio Leone's usual script writer).

Georges Marchal
Georges Marchal. French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 297. Photo: Charles VanDamme, Paris.

Vampire-like Creatures

In 1964 Franca Bettoia co-starred with Vincent Price in the horror/science fiction film L'Ultimo uomo della Terra/The Last Man on Earth (Ubaldo Ragone, Sidney Salkow, 1964). This is the first screen version of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, later filmed again as The Omega Man (Boris Sagal, 1971) with Charlton Heston, and as I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007), starring Will Smith.

The script was written in part by Matheson, but he was dissatisfied with the result and was therefore credited as Logan Swanson. William Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, and Ubaldo Ragona were the other writers. In the year 1968, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) wakes up to find a world where everyone else has been infected by a disease that turns them into vampire-like creatures. During the day he gathers his weapons and goes out vampire hunting and by night he locks himself inside his house. One day he finds a beautiful woman (Franca Bettoia) who seems disease free and takes her home but he becomes suspicious when he catches her injecting himself with a serum. She then explains that there are others like her trying to rebuild civilization.

Next Franca Bettoia was a princess in distress opposite Ray Danton and Guy Madison in the adventure films Sandokan alla riscossa/Sandokan Fights Back (Luigi Capuano, 1964) and Sandokan contro il leopardo di Sarawak/Sandokan Against the Leopard of Sarawak (Luigi Capuano, 1964).

In 1967 she appeared as Ugo Tognazzi’s lover in the social comedy Il fischio al naso/The Seventh Floor (1967). Tognazzi also produced and directed the film. He plays a successful business man who occasionally develops an unusual physical disturbance: his nose whistles, whenever he breathes. Bettoia and Tognazzi became also lovers in real life and they were married in 1972.

Franca Bettoia would play in only three more films, who were all of interest. In the comedy Riusciranno i nostri eroi a ritrovare l'amico misteriosamente scomparso in Africa?/Will Our Heroes Be Able to Find Their Friend Who Has Mysteriously Disappeared in Africa? (Ettore Scola, 1968) she appeared as the wife of Alberto Sordi, a rich businessman who is fed up with work, family, society, and goes with a friend (Bernard Blier) to Africa, in search of another friend who had vanished there in mysterious circumstances. They find him as a tribal chief, surrounded with topless, shapely wives.

In her next film, Touche pas à la femme blanche/Don’t Touch the White Woman (Marco Ferreri, 1974), the stars were Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastroianni and Michel Piccoli. The film tells a page of shame of American history as General George Custer prepared, and later battled, the Indians in the battle of Little Big Horn that was his last stand as a military man. Director Marco ferreri staged his film in a construction site in the centre of Paris. (The site where the Pompidou Center would be erected).

Franca Bettoia's last film, Teste rasate (Claudio Fragasso, 1993) is a drama about skinheads, in which she played the mother of the lead character played by her son, Gianmarco Tognazzi.

Franca Bettoia and Ugo Tognazzi, who died in 1990, have also a daughter, film director Maria Sole Tognazzi.

Ugo Tognazzi
Ugo Tognazzi. Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.


Matthew Bradley said...

I've seen THE LAST MAN ON EARTH many times, but never knew much about Franca Bettoia. Thanks for sharing some information about her! If you're interested in learning more about the film (and the remakes), check out my forthcoming book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN.

Matthew Bradley said...

FYI, RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN is tentatively due out in early October. Of course, you can always pre-order it. :-)