24 February 2015

Carmen Boni

Italian silent film star Carmen Boni (1901-1963) had a successful career in the Italian cinema of the early 1920s, before moving to Germany where she made one film after another till the sound era.

Carmen Boni
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci Editore, Milano, no. 535-A.

Carmen Boni
French postcard by Europe, no. 300. Photo: Cineromans / Films de France.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3034/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Oertel, Berlin.

The European Clara Bow

Carmen Boni was born as Maria Carmela Bonicatti in 1901 in Rome, Italy. She was the sister of cinematographer Mario Bonicatti.

In 1919, she made her first film appearance under her own name for Nova Film in La pecorella/The sheep (Pio Vanzi, 1920) with Ignazio Lupi.

Then she played in the Italian silent drama Ave Maria (Memmo Genua, Diana Karenne, 1920). For this film, she was still credited with her birth name. Diana Karenne suggested her to change her name, so enter Carmen Boni.

That year, the young actress also played leads in Miss Dorothy (Giulio Antamoro, 1920) with Lia Formia and Diana Karenne, Il fiore del Caucaso/The flower of the Caucasus (Augusto Camerini, 1920), and Monella di strada/Monella Street (Umberto Fracchia, 1920) opposite Romano Calò.

In the early 1920s, Boni had a successful career in the Italian cinema. She worked with director Guglielmo Zorzi at La preda/The prey (1921), La piccola ignota/The little unknown (1923), and Il riscatto/The redemption (1924) opposite André Habay and Lido Manetti.

A success was the comedy La dama de Chez Maxim's (Amleto Palermi, 1923) in which she co-starred with Pina Menichelli. It is an adaptation of the 1899 play La Dame de chez Maxim by Georges Feydeau.

With director Augusto Genina, she made La moglie bella/The beautiful wife (1924) with Ruggero Ruggeri, Il focolare spento/The hearth turned off (1925) with Lido Manetti, her international breakthrough L'ultimo lord/The last lord (1926) with Oreste Bilancia and Addio giovinezza!/Goodbye Youth (1927).

Addio giovinezza!/Goodbye Youth was adapted from the 1911 play of the same name by Nino Oxilia and Sandro Camasio. The film is set in Turin at the beginning of the Twentieth century, where a student (Walter Slezak) begins a romance with a seamstress Dorina (Boni). However, he is lured away by a sophisticated older woman (Elena Sangro) leaving Dorina distressed. Genina had previously directed an earlier version of the play in 1918. It was remade as a sound film of the same title in 1940.

These films were produced by Genina Film. Genina was both her Pygmalion and her husband. Together they moved to Germany when the Italian film industry got in a crisis in the mid 1920s and there were no possibilities anymore for Genina Film.

Carmen Boni in L'ultimo Lord
Italian postcard by Ed. G.B. Falci, no. 480. Photo: Film Genina. Carmen Boni in L'ultimo lord/The last lord (Augusto Genina, 1926).

Carmen Boni
Italian postcard, no. 242. Card mailed in Italy in 1930. Photo: FotoEbung. Probably a publicity still for L'ultimo lord/The last lord (Augusto Genina, 1926).

Carmen Boni
Italian postcard by G.B. Falci Ed., no. 688. Photo: Films Genina. Probably a publicity still for L'ultimo lord/The last lord (Augusto Genina, 1926).

Carmen Boni
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 953. Photo: Verleih Engel & Welter.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1783/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Arthur Ziehm, Berlin.

Suicide Attempt

Berlin was the European film capital at the time and Carmen Boni made one film after another during the late 1920s. Her German films include Venus im Frack/Venus in Tails (Robert Land, 1927) with Georg Alexander and Henri de Vries, Gehetzte Frauen (Richard Oswald, 1927) starring Asta Nielsen as Boni's mother, and Scampolo (Augusto Genina, 1928) in which she played a young Roman orphan.

Reviewer Luke-28 at IMDb: "An unpretentious but amazingly witty little comedy, Scampolo confirms Genina's special 'touch': a mix of subtle irony and social satire akin to Lubitsch's own bittersweet vision of the world. Scampolo also serves as a perfect vehicle for Carmen Boni's verve and comic skills."

With her verve and comic skills, Boni managed to switch from big laughter to genuine emotion with uncommon natural ease. Carmen Boni had a modern type of beauty, and she became the European equivalent of Hollywood stars like Clara Bow, Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks.

The last postcard in this post mentions the Karl Grune Film. This company only made one film with Carmen Boni: Katharina Knie (Karl Grune, 1929), based on the 1928 play of the same title by Carl Zuckmayer. Carmen Boni played the title role as the circus princess, with Eugen Klöpfer as her father. It was her last film in Germany.

After some more films in Italy, La Grazia/The Grace (Aldo De Benedetti, 1929), she moved to France where she performed in several Italian versions of Paramount films in the early 1930s, shot at the Paramount studio's in Joinville.

These films included the dramas Il richiamo del cuore/Appeal of the Heart (Jack Salvatori, 1930) and La vacanza del diavolo/The Devil's Holiday (Jack Salvatori, 1931).

In France, she also made with her husband the comedy La femme en home/The Woman Dressed As a Man (Augusto Genina, 1932) with Armand Bernard, and Ne sois pas jalousie/Don't be jealous (Augusto Genina, 1934). When Genina divorced her, she tried to commit suicide.

Then she focused on other things instead of cinema. In 1938 she married the French actor Jean Rigaux .

She returned in only two more French films. The first was the Swashbuckler Le comte de Monte Cristo, 2ème époque: Le châtiment/The Count of Monte Christo, Part II (Robert Vernay, Ferrucio Cerio, 1943) featuring Pierre Richard-Willm, and based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas père. Her final film was D'Homme à homme/Man to Men (Christian-Jaque, 1948), about the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, played by Jean-Louis Barrault.

In 1963 Carmen Boni was killed in Paris by a reckless car driver, while crossing a zebra path. She was 62.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3610/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Ernst Schneider, Berlin.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3696/1, 1928-1929. Photo Lichtenstein, Berlin / Greenbaum Film.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4185/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin.

Carmen Boni
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4344/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Orplid Messtro Film.

Carmen Boni, Walter Rilla
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5351. Photo: Gaumont-Film. Publicity still for Prinzessin Olala/Princess Olala (Robert Land, 1928) with Walter Rilla.

Carmen Boni
French postcard by Europe, no. 717. Photo: Karl Grune Film. Publicity still for Katharina Knie (Karl Grune, 1929).

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Le dive del silenzio - Italian), Luke-28 (IMDb), Wikipedia (English and Italian) and IMDb

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