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10 August 2016

I promessi sposi (1941)

I promessi sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941) is sometimes called the Italian Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939). It's a lavishly produced historical love story, set against a turbulent social background of war. Stars of the film are Gino Cervi and Dina Sassoli. The latter was found after a well publicised competition for the lead role, yes, just like how David O. Selznick found Vivien Leigh for Gone With the Wind.

Gino Cervi in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 2. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Gino Cervi as Renzo Tramaglino.

Dina Sassoli in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 2. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941) with Dina Sassoli as Lucia Mondella.

Giacomo Moschini in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 3. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Giacomo Moschini as doctor Azzeccagarbugli.

Luis Hurtado in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 4. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Luis Hurtado as Padre Cristoforo.

Enrico Glori in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 5. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Enrico Glori as Don Rodrigo.

A Love Story Jeopardised


Alessandro Manzoni's novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) is to Italian literature what Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is to Russian literature. This Italian historical novel, set in Lombardy, Italy, in the seventeenth century, belongs to the most famous and widely read books of the Italian language.

The two betrothed are Renzo Tramaglino and Lucia Mondella. Their love story is jeopardised by Don Rodrigo, the lord of the domain, who is infatuated with Lucia. His 'bravi' menace the local priest Don Abbondio to refuse Renzo and Luciana to marry, with some legal excuse. On behalf of the couple the godly brother Don Cristoforo visits Don Rodrigo to mediate in the affair but is brutally kicked out. Lucia goes to a convent where the scheming nun of Monza plots with Don Rodrigo. Renzo searches for Lucia and while in Milan visits the fraudulent lawyer doctor Azzeccagarbugli to get his papers right. The character called l'Innominato or 'the unnamed' is sent by Don Rodrigo to abduct the girl and give her once and for all to Don Rodrigo, but in a startling change of heart, inspired by a visit of Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, he undergoes a religious conversion and does the right thing by liberating her. Brother Cristoforo frees her also from her vow of chastity she had made in the hope of being relinquished from the clutches of the Innominato. In the meantime the Great Plague of Milan breaks out. Renzo meets again Don Cristoforo who helps the dying masses and discovers Don Rodrigo is one of the victims. Rodrigo dies, the Plague stops and Renzo and Lucia return to their village, where they can finally marry.

Manzoni's novel has been filmed several times, including an early silent version by the Ambrosio company, I promessi sposi/The Betrothed (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1913), about which we earlier did a post on EFSP. Nine years later followed another silent adaptation: I promessi sposi (Mario Bonnard, 1922).

Our post today is about the first sound version, I promessi sposi (Mario Camerinni, 1941) with the English title The Spirit and the Flesh. This production was a lavish affair for its time. After the Camerini adaptation followed a Spanish-Italian version I Promessi Sposi (Mario Maffei, 1964), starring Gil Vidal and Maria Silva as Renzo and Lucia.

There were also various television versions. In 1967 Nino Castelnuovo starred as Renzo in the TV series I promessi sposi (Sandro Bolchi, 1967). Later followed a 9-hour adaptation for Italian TV I promessi sposi (Salvatore Nocita, 1989), which featured an all-star cast including Danny QuinnAlberto SordiFranco NeroF. Murray AbrahamBurt LancasterHelmut BergerValentina Cortese and Fernando Rey. Finally there was the TV film Renzo e Lucia/Renzo and Lucia (Francesca Archibugi, 2004) with Stefania Sandrelli as Agnese, Laura Morante as the Nun of Monza and Gottfried John as the Innominato.

Armando Falconi in I promesi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 6. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Armando Falconi as Don Abbondio.

Franco Scandurra in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 8. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Franco Scandurra as Count Attilio.

Carlo Ninchi in I Promessi Sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 9. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941) with Carlo Ninchi as L'Innominato.

Ruggero Ruggeri in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 10. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Ruggero Ruggeri as Cardinal Federigo Borromeo.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 1. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Don Abbondio (Armando Falconi) menaced by the 'bravi', hired by Don Rodrigo.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 3. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Don Abbondio (Armando Falconi) warns Perpetua (Ines Zacconi) to take the menace seriously and keep her mouth shut.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 4. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Left to right Dina Sassoli as Lucia, Gino Cervi as Renzo, on the back Gilda Marchiò as Agnese, and Luis Hurtado as Padre Cristoforo.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 6. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Don Rodrigo (Enrico Glori) chases Padre Cristoforo (Luis Hurtado) from his house. He refuses to allow Renzo and Lucia to marry, because he wants Lucia for himself.

An Outbreak of Pestilence and a Miracle


I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (1941) was directed by Mario Camerini, who began his long career already in the silent era. He is probably best known for his Telefoni Bianchi films of the 1930s, the typical Italian sophisticated 'white telephone' comedies, starring Vittorio De Sica. Camerini later directed the enjoyable international film version of Ulisse/Ulysses (Mario Camerini, 1954) with Kirk Douglas and Silvana Mangano.

Camerini did a good job on I Promessi Sposi. The director himself wrote the screenplay and according to Mario Gauci at IMDb, Camerini brought the elaborate plot "meticulously to life and the good performances enhance the film's every mood through romance, drama, comedy and action."

However, contemporary reviews complained that the film was compromised by a too-condensed second half, although the film's length is nearly 2 hours. There are numerous characters and the story is set in several cities over a period of years, covers court intrigues, the persecution of two lovers, the renunciation of love, an outbreak of pestilence and culminates in a miracle. It's all set against a turbulent social background of war that makes the film a kind of Italian Gone with the Wind.

Leading man is Gino Cervi, now best-known as the Communist antagonist to Fernandel's Don Camillo in the popular comedy series of the 1950s. Here he is a young and handsome hero, worlds apart from mayor Peppone.

The female lead was played by Dina Sassoli. The film's producers had organised a competition to select the lead actress which was modelled on the hunt for Scarlett O'Hara by the American producer David O. Selznick for Gone With the Wind. The film made a star of Sassoli and she would have a long career.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 7. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Don Abbondio (Armando Falconi) refuses to marry Renzo (Gino Cervi) and Lucia (Dina Sassoli).

Gino Cervi and Dina Sassoli in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 8. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Dina Sassoli (Lucia), Luis Hurtado (Fra' Cristoforo), Gino Cervi (Renzo), and Gilda Marchiò (Agnese, Lucia's mother).

Dina Sassoli in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 9. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Dina Sassoli as Lucia Mondella and Eva Maltagliati as the Nun of Monza.

Gino Cervi
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 10. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941) with Gino Cervi as Renzo.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 11. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Enzo Biliotti as Antonio Ferrer and Gino Cervi as Renzo. Antonio Ferrer is a sweet talking Spanish chancellor in Milan, making false promises on 'bread and justice'.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 13. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). The abduction of Lucia (Dina Sassoli).

Dina Sassoli in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 14. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Dina Sassoli as Lucia Mondella. Lucia avowes chastity to the Madonna if she can be saved from the evil menacing her.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by SA Grafitalia, Milano (Milan). Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Ruggero Ruggeri as Cardinal Federigo Borromeo offers solace to the repenting Innominato (Carlo Ninchi).

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 16. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). The Innominato (Carlo Ninchi) lets Lucia (Dina Sassoli) go.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 17. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Ruggero Ruggeri as Cardinal Federigo Borromeo.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 18. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). The Great Plague of Milan.

I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 19. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Luis Hurtado as Padre Cristoforo and Gino Cervi as Renzo Tramaglino during the Plague in Milan.

Dina Sassoli in I promessi sposi (1941)
Italian postcard by S.A. Grafitalia, Milano (Milan), no. 20. Photo: Film Lux. Publicity still for I Promessi Sposi/The Spirit and the Flesh (Mario Camerini, 1941). Dina Sassoli as Lucia Mondella.

Sources: Gerald A. DeLuca (IMDb), Mario Gauci (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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