20 April 2012

Oreste Bilancia

Italian stage and film actor Oreste Bilancia (1881-1945) was highly active as a chubby character player in the Italian silent and sound cinema and the late silent German film. He mostly appeared in supporting roles, but occasionally he had the lead.

Oreste Bilancia
Italian postcard by Ed. Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 536. Photo: Scoffone.

Oreste Bilancia
Italian postcard by Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze.

Rotund Bonvivant
Oreste Bilancia was born in Catania, Sicily in 1881. His acting career began in 1902 at the theatre company Galli-Gusti-Ciarli-Bracci, where he acted as comedian. Next he played at the Calabresi-Severi company. In 1910 - 1913 he was manager of the casino of Sanremo, then from 1914 on manager of the Kursaal of Montecatini. Late 1914 the Turin-based film production company Ambrosio engaged him as film actor. The rotund Bilancia, often wearing a monocle, represented the bonvivant and gentleman in many Italian silent films. He was the co-star of Fernanda Negri Pouget and Helena Makowska in Lucciola/Firefly (1917, Augusto Genina), Febo Mari and Helena Makowska in Il fauno/The Faun (1917, Febo Mari), Italia Almirante Manzini in Femmina/Female (1918, Augusto Genina), Hedda Gabler (1920, Gero Zambuto, Giovanni Pastrone) and La statua di carne/The statue of meat (1921, Mario Almirante). In the early 1920´s he was part of the regular cast of the Fert company, which included not only the Italia Almirante films but also some Maciste- and Saetta-films. For the Alba company Fert-actors like Bilancia and Alberto Collo played in films such as Il controllore dei vagoni letto/The controller of the sleeping wagon (1922, Mario Almirante) and Il fornaretto di Venezia/The Scapegoat of Venice (1923, Mario Almirante) starring Alberto Collo and
Amleto Novelli.

Italia Almirante, Oreste Bilancia and Lido Manetti in La statua di carne
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano. Italia Almirante Manzini, Oreste Bilancia and Lido Manetti in the film La statua di carne (1921). Rich but bored Count Paolo (Manetti) and his equally well-to-do friend (Bilancia) pretend to be quite pennyless, in order to stay close to the girls of the flower making atelier, in particular Maria (Almirante). The men even assist in the shop. From the extreme right to the left, this picture shows Manetti, Bilancia and Almirante working in the shop.

Italia Almirante, Lido Manetti and Oreste Bilancia in La statua di carne
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci, Milano. Photo: Italia Almirante Manzini, Lido Manetti and Oreste Bilancia in the closing scene of La statua di carne (1921).

When the Italian film industry imploded, Oreste Bilancia accepted an offer to work in Germany in 1925. Until the end of the silent era he performed in many German films there, such as films with the Italian ‘forzuti’ (strongmen) like Carlo Aldini, Domenico Gambino/Saetta, Luciano Albertini. He also worked with other emigrated Italian stars such as Maria Jacobini and Livio Pavanelli. With Jacobini, Bilancia co-starred in the German-Italian coproduction Der Bastard/The bastard (1925, Gennaro Righelli). In Italy, Bilancia played with French actor Marcel Levesque and Pavanelli in Florette e Patapon/Florette and Patapon (1928, Amleto Palermi). When sound cinema set in, Bilancia definitively returned to Italy where he did something peculiar. Between 1929 and 1931 early American sound films like Morocco (1930, Josef von Sternberg) with Marlene Dietrich, were presented in Italy with inserted scenes in which Bilancia and other Italian actors narrated what just had been said in the original films. At the Paramount sound studios in Paris, he also played in Italian versions of American films, directed by Jack Salvatori. In the 1930's and early 1940's Bilancia acted in many Italian comedies (a.o. with Macario), opera films, historical films and modern melodramas. In 1942 he was also visible – though now without his corpulence of former days – as a pharmacist in the realist tragicomedy Quattro passi fra le nuvole/A Walk in the Clouds (1942, Alessandro Blasetti), starring Gino Cervi. Parallel to his film career, Bilancia had a rich stage career, and performed with such actors such as Anna Magnani. Oreste Bilancia acted in almost 150 films, of which many at the Fert company in Turin. He died in Rome in 1945, a few months after the Liberation. He was 64.

Alberto Collo and Oreste Bilancia
Italian postcard by Ed. Traldi, Milano, no. 68. With Alberto Collo.

Sources: Wikipedia (Italian, German and English), and IMDb.

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