20 August 2015

Claudio Ermelli

Italian film actor Claudio Ermelli (1892-1964) played bit parts and character roles in more than 115 films, from 1915 to 1962.

Claudio Ermelli
Italian postcard by ASER, Roma, no. 97. Photo: Pesce.

Mad Animals

Claudio Ermelli was born Ettore Foa in Turin, Italy in 1892. He was born into a family of Jewish origin. He followed in the footsteps of his physician father and joined the Faculty of Medicine. Then he interrupted his studies to pursue his true passion: the theatre and acting.

In 1915 he made his film debut in a supporting part as a sacristan in the silent short Silvio e lo Stradivarius/Silvio and the stradivarius (Ugo Falena, 1915), produced by Film d'Arte Italiana. In the 1990s this touching melodrama about an orphan boy (actress Silvia Malinverni) who loses his favourite violin, was discovered in the archive of the Dutch Filmmuseum.

After this film debut, Ermelli returned to the stage and became the manager of his own vaudeville company. After a long interval, he returned to the cinema in sound films like the comedy Zaganella e il cavaliere/Zaganella and the knight (Giorgio Mannini, Gustavo Serena, 1932) with Arturo Falconi and Marcella Albani, and Il dono del mattino/The gift of the morning (Enrico Guazzoni, 1932) with Germana Paolieri. In these films he always played character roles.

Throughout the 1930s, Ermelli played supporting parts in films like the comedy L'antenato/The Ancestor (Guido Brignone, 1936), starring Antonio Gandusio and Paola Barbara, the successful historical drama Il dottor Antonio/Doctor Antonio (Enrico Guazzoni, 1937), and the comedy I fratelli Castiglioni/The Castiglioni Brothers (Corrado D'Errico, 1937), starring Camillo Pilotto and Amedeo Nazzari. He also appeared with Totò in the comedy Animali pazzi/Mad Animals (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1939).

Although of Jewish origin, Ermelli never had problems, even after the racial laws of 1938. He continued playing supporting parts and small roles during the war years. Among his films were the drama La forza bruta/Brute Force (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia 1941) with Juan de Landa and Rossano Brazzi, the comedy L'elisir d'amore (Amleo Palermi, 1941) with Arturo Falconi, and the Totò comedy Due cuori fra le belve/Two hearts among the beasts (Giorgio Simonelli, 1943).

The best known film of this period is Tosca (Jean Renoir, Carl Koch, 1941) in which Ermelli played the composer and director Paisiello, who despairs when Tosca (Imperio Argentina) repeatedly interrupts his repetitions for a royal performance.

Claudio Ermelli
Italian postcard by ASER (A. Scaramiglia Edizioni, Roma), no. 163. Photographer unknown.

Claudio Ermelli
Italian postcard by ASER (A. Scaramiglia Edizioni, Roma). Photo: Fotopan.

Roman Holdiday

After the war, Claudio Ermelli often appeared on stage productions by directors like Luchino Visconti, Luciano Mondolfo and Luigi Squarzina.

On the screen he was seen in Sperduti nel buio/Lost in the Dark (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1947), which starred Vittorio De Sica. This Italian drama, based on a play by Roberto Bracco, was entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival. In 1914, it had already been made into a now lost silent film by Nino Martoglio with sets designed by the futurist architect Virgilio Marchi and with Maria Carmi as one of the stars.

One of Ermelli’s best known post-war films is the delicious romantic comedy Roman Holliday (William Wyler, 1953), with Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own. She is guided by undercover journalist Gregory Peck. The film was shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome. Ermelli played Peck’s Italian neighbour Giovanni. Hilarious is the scene in which Peck lends some money to Hepburn for a taxi while Giovanni looks on, growing more and more convinced that he’s paying her for the night they spent together.

Ermelli played another funny character role in the American romantic comedy It Started in Naples (Melville Shavelson, 1960) with Clark Gable, Sophia Loren, and an Italian cast. His last screen appearance was in the TV series Una tragedia Americana/An American Tragedy (Anton Giulio Majano, 1962) with Virna Lisi.

Claudio Ermelli died in 1964 in Rome. He was 72.

Claudio Ermelli
Vintage photo.

Source: Vittorio Martinelli (Il Cinema Muto Italiana 1915 II - Italian), AllMovie, Wikipedia (Italian and English) and IMDb.

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