12 September 2020

The World of Rizzoli, Part 4: 1939

The Milanese company Rizzoli & C. in Milan was one of the most prominent publishers of film star postcards in Italy between 1936 and 1942. Through the years, Ivo Blom collected many of the wonderful Rizzoli cards with their glamorous portraits of famous actresses. In a series of posts, Ivo chooses his favourite Rizzoli cards and describes what happened in Italy in this turbulent period. Today, Part 4 about the year 1939.

Germana Paolieri
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939-XVIII. Photo: Ghergo. Sent by mail in 1940.

In 1938, Germana Paolieri acted in five films in 1938, including Giuseppe Verdi/The Life of Giuseppe Verdi (Carmine Gallone, 1938), starring Fosco Giachetti and also with e.g. Gaby Morlay and Maria Cebotari, and Luciano Serra pilota/Luciano Serra, Pilot (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1938), starring Amedeo Nazzari. The film was crowned at the 1938 Venice film festival. Paolieri played in three films in 1939: Traversata nera/Black crossing (Domenico Gambino, 1939) with Camillo Pilotto, Il sogno di Butterfly/The Dream of Butterfly (Carmine Gallone, 1939) starring Maria Cebotari and Fosco Giachetti, which was shown at the 1939 Venice film festival, and Torna, caro ideal!/Return Most Beloved (Guido Brignone, 1939), starring Claudio Gora and Laura Adani. Paolieri always had substantial supporting parts.

Elsa De Giorgi
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, 1939.

Elsa De Giorgi played in two films in 1938: La mazurca di papà/Daddy's mazurca (Oreste Biancoli, 1938) with Vittorio De Sica and La sposa dei re/The Bride of the Kings (Duilio Coletti, 1938). In the latter she was Désirée Clary opposite Augusto Marcacci as Napoleon and Mario Pisu as Bernadotte. In 1939 De Giorgi acted in four films: La voce senza volto/The faceless voice (Gennaro Righelli, 1939), La grande luce – Montevergine/The great light - Montevergine (Carlo Campogalliani, 1939), Due milioni per un sorriso/Two million for a smile (Carlo Borghesio, Mario Soldati, 1939), and – the often adapted - Il fornaretto di Venezia/The Fornaretto of Venice (Duilio Coletti, 1939). In the latter, a period piece on an unjustly condemned bakery worker, she was Annetta opposite Roberto Villa as Piero, the ‘fornaretto’.

Maria Denis
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, Milano, 1939, for Orologi e Cinturini Delgia. Photo: Venturini.

Maria Denis acted in three films opposite Vittorio De Sica in 1938: the nostalgic Napoli d’altri tempi/Naples in the past (Amleto Palermi, 1938), Partire/Departure (Amleto Palermi, 1938), and Hanno rapito un uomo/They've Kidnapped a Man (Gennaro Righelli, 1938). The latter was shown at the Venice Mostra in 1938. In 1939 Denis acted in four films: Le due madri/The Two Mothers (Amleto Palermi, 1939) again with De Sica, Chi sei tu?/Who are you? (Gino Valori, 1939) with Antonio Centa, Belle o brutte si sposan tutte.../Pretty or Plain They All Get Married (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1939) with Umberto Melnati, and Il documento/The Document (Mario Camerini, 1939). The latter was a comedy by Mario Camerini, also with Ruggeri Ruggeri, Armando Falconi and Maurizio D’Ancora.

Laura Solari
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, Milano, 1939, for Orologi e Cinturini Delgia. Photo: Emanuel.

Laura Solari debuted in 1937 on screen and had her first substantial part in the mystery L'orologio a cucù/The Cuckoo Clock (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1938) with Vittorio De Sica and Oretta Fiume. In 1938 she also played Désirée Clary’s sister in La sposa dei re/The Bride of the Kings (Duilio Coletti, 1938), starring Elsa De Giorgi. In 1939 she acted in four films: the Pirandello adaptation Terra di nessuno (Mario Baffico, 1939) with Mario Ferrari and Nelly Corradi, Una moglie in pericolo/A Woman in Danger (Max Neufeld, 1939) with Marie Glory, Bionda sotto chiave/Blonde under lock and key (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1939) with Vivi Gioi, and Eravamo sette vedoveWe Were Seven Widows (Mario Mattoli, 1939) with Antonio Gandusio.

Michèle Morgan
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Alliance-Colosseum. Michèle Morgan in her outfit of Le Quai des brumes/Port of Shadows (Marcel Carné, 1938).

Here you see Michèle Morgan with her classic alpino from the famous film Le Quai des brumes/Port of shadows (Marcel Carné, 1938). Her films of 1939 are lesser known: Le récif de corail/Coral Reefs (Maurice Gleize, 1939) with Jean Gabin, L'entraîneuse/Nightclub Hostess (Albert Valentin, 1939) with Gilbert Gil, and La loi du nord/Law of the north (Jacques Feyder, 1939) with Pierre Richard-Willm.

The tense situation before the war

In the year 1939, the Second World War broke out. On 1 September Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war on Germany. However, Italy would not become belligerent before June 1940. France and Britain did not attack Germany either, so for ¾ years the ‘phony war’ lasted, while the Germans and the Russians made a non-aggression pact in August 1939 by which Poland was split up over Germany and the USSR.

Yet, the situation already had become tenser in early 1939 when Mussolini laid claim on the Mediterranean and the Balkan, referring to the Roman Empire of Antiquity. Explicit links between the First Rome of the Emperors and the Third Rome of Mussolini had already been made clear from the late 1920s onward, with the ‘clearing’ of Roman Antiquity sites such as the Forum and the Tomb of August from later buildings from the Second Rome, that of the papal times.

Mussolini also continued and increased the pre-Fascist era's desires for expansion and colonialism in North Africa. But in 1939 he wanted to break the British and French control of the Mediterranean area and invaded Albania to ease its overpopulation but also as a first step in conquering the Balkan. Italy and Germany signed the Pact of Steel to help each other militarily. However, Italy was way behind Germany’s military preparations for war.

1939 also signed the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in which the Italian army extensively had helped Franco’s Nationalists to beat the Republicans. In hindsight, Italy made several propaganda films to boost morale such as Carmen fra i rossi (1939) and Alcazar (1940). Also, several Spanish actors would work in Italian film productions, such as Imperio Argentina, Conchita Montenegro, and Juan de Landa. Yet, when the war broke out in Italy 1940, and matters became tough, Spain seemed a relatively quiet place to work and live, so several Italian actors and directors went there and stayed until Italy was liberated.

Another country that stood out for its co-productions with Italy was France. Hoping not to be attacked by both Germany and Italy at the same time, the French state promoted co-productions with Italy and sent e.g. French director Jean Renoir to Rome, to make the film Tosca with Imperio Argentina, the Franco-Swiss actor Michel Simon and upcoming Italian star Rossano Brazzi. Shooting would only start in Spring 1940, and soon after the first days, Renoir fled the country when the war broke out. His assistant Carl Koch would take over and finish the film.

French actors such as Junie Astor and Marie Glory, but also Australian actress Betty Stockfeld, British-Canadian actress Rosina Lawrence, Italo-German actor Friedrich/Enrico Benfer, German-British actress Lilian Harvey and German actresses Carla Rust and Lucie English, came to Cinecittà or the Scalera studios to act in Italian films.

Anneliese Uhlig
Italian postcard by Rizzoli 1939. Photo: Ufa. Anneliese Uhlig in Der Vorhang fällt/The Curtain Falls (Georg Jacoby, 1939).

Anneliese Uhlig had her breakthrough in 1937-1938 with the German circus film Manege/Die Stimme des Blutes by Italian director Carmine Gallone. (IMDb lists the two films as separate ones but they are the same one). In 1939 Uhlig acted in four German films, Die Stimme aus dem Äther/The Voice from the Ether (Harald Paulsen, 1939), Der Vorhang fällt/The Curtain Falls (Georg Jacoby, 1939), Das Recht auf Liebe/The Right to Love (Joe Stöckel, 1939), and Verdacht auf Ursula/Suspected Ursula (Karl Heinz Martin, 1939). After having rejected Goebbels' advances in 1940, Uhlig was banned from film acting in Germany and proceeded to act in several Italian films, thanks to the mediation of her friend, singer, and actress Maria Cebotari. Yet, in 1943 she was called back to Germany.

Ginger Rogers
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, Milano, 1939, for Orologi e Cinturini Delgia. Photo: Universal.

It is remarkable Rizzoli still released postcards with American stars after the Hollywood majors had withdrawn from the Italian market in early 1939. However, RKO was not among these majors, so the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musicals by RKO could still be shown. Among these, e.g. Carefree (Mark Sandrich, 1938) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (H.C. Potter, 1939). In 1938-1939 Rogers did also various films at RKO without Astaire, such as Having Wonderful Time (Alfred Santell, 1938) with Douglas Fairbanks jr., Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939) with David Niven and Fifth Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava, 1939) with Walter Connolly.

Paulette Goddard
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, Milano, 1939, for Orologi e Cinturini Delgia. Photo: Studio Chaplin.

Paulette Goddard's breakthrough and claim of fame were of course Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), released in Italy in 1937 by United Artists. United Artists was not among the four Hollywood majors that withdrew from the Italian market. So when Goddard continued to act for United Artists in The Young in Heart (Richard Wallace, 1938), this could still be seen in Italy. In 1938 Goddard moved to MGM and afterward to Paramount. In 1940 she returned to United Artists for Chaplin's The Great Dictator. For obvious reasons (the film mocked Hitler and Mussolini), the film was shown in Italy first in June 1945, after the Liberation.

Hollywood absent in Venice

The Venice film festival signalled the tensions of the times. The Coppa Mussolini - the precursor of the Golden Lion attributed to the best national and foreign film between 1934 and 1942 - was given to the Italian propaganda film Abuna Messias/Cardinal Messias (1939) by Goffredo Alessandrini, which legitimised Italy’s war in Ethiopia of the 1930s, by narrating a tale that precedes the war. It portrays the life of Guglielmo Massaia (Camillo Pilotto), a nineteenth-century Italian known for his missionary work in the Ethiopian Empire, and having a good bond with king Menelik (Enrico Glori). The film was shot in Italian Oriental Africa, the then combined colony of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

The Coppa Volpi for best male and female actor were not assigned in 1939. The Coppa della Biennale was given to five films. One was La Fin du Jour (Julien Duvivier, 1939) an homage to stage acting with Louis Jouvet, Michel Simon, Victor Francen, and Madeleine Ozeray. Another was Robert Koch, der Bekämpfer des Todes (Hans Steinhoff, 1939), starring Emil Jannings. A third was the British film The Four Feathers (Zoltan Korda, 1939), with John Clements and Ralph Richardson amidst colonial war in Sudan.

Italian cinematographer Ubaldo Arata won an award for the French film Dernière jeunesse (Jeff Musso, 1939) with Jacqueline Delubac and Raimu, while a bronze medal was given to Es war eine rauschende Ballnacht (Carl Froehlich, 1939), starring Zarah Leander.

While the United States was completely absent in Venice, Germany instead was present with 28 films. These included Willi Forst’s Bel-Ami, with Olga Tschechowa and Forst himself. France had a smaller section but with memorable titles such as La Bête humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938), with Jean Gabin and Simone Simon, Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939), with Gabin and Arletty, and Jeunes filles en détresse (G.W. Pabst, 1939) with Micheline Presle and Marcelle Chantal.

Italy was also well presented this time, with 20 films. These included memorable titles such as Castelli in aria (Augusto Genina, 1939) with Vittorio De Sica and Lilian Harvey, Il sogno di Butterfly (Carmine Gallone, 1939) with Maria Cebotari, and, in particular, the Mario Camerini comedy I grandi magazzini, starring Vittorio De Sica and Assia Noris, and in smaller parts Enrico Glori, Luisella Beghi, Virgilio Riento, and Milena Penovich.

Alida Valli
Italian postcard by Rizzoli, Milano, 1939.

Both in 1938 and in 1939 Alida Valli could be seen in comedies and romantic dramas: L’ha fatto una signora/A lady made it (Mario Mattoli, 1938), L’amor mio non muore!/A Night in May (Giuseppe Amato, 1938), and La casa del peccato/The house of sin (Max Neufeld, 1938), and Mille lire al mese/One thousand lire per month (Max Neufeld, 1939), Ballo al castello/Ball at the Castle (Max Neufeld, 1939), and Assenza ingiustificata/Absence Without Leave (Max Neufeld, 1939). Mille lire al mese not only launched a popular song, but it was also one of those late 1930s Italian films reflecting on the upcoming medium of television. Yet Valli’s recognition as a dramatic actress would come first with Piccolo mondo antico/Old-Fashioned World (Mario Soldati, 1941).

Vivi Gioi
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Venturini.

After two small parts in Mario Camerini’s films Il signor Max/Mister Max (Mario Camerini, 1937) and Ma non è una cosa seria/But It's Nothing Serious (Mario Camerini, 1936), Vivi Gioi had her first lead in the comedy Bionda sotto chiave/The Locked In Blond (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1939) on an American director looking for the right type for his film. Gioi acted in two more films in 1939: Frenesia/Frenzy (Mario Bonnard, 1939) with Dina Galli, Armando Falconi, and Betty Stockfeld, and Mille chilometri al minuto!/A thousand kilometers per minute! (Mario Mattoli, 1939) with Nino Besozzi and Antonio Gandusio.

Elsa Merlini
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Pesce.

Elsa Merlini acted in three films in 1938: L’albero di Adamo/Adam's Tree (Mario Bonnard, 1938) with Antonio Gandusio, Amicizia/Friendship (Oreste Biancoli, 1938) with Nino Besozzi, and La dama bianca/The White Lady (Mario Mattoli, 1938), again with Besozzi. In 1939 she was in only one film Ai vostri ordini, signora..., with Vittorio De Sica as a man who poses as the lover of a rich widow (Merlini, of course).

Isa Pola
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Pesce.

Isa Pola acted in two films in 1939. She starred in La vedova/The Widow (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1939) with Leonardo Cortese, while she played Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana (Amleto Palermi, 1939), also with Cortese as Turiddu, Doris Duranti as Lola, and Carlo Ninchi as Alfio. Pola didn’t act in film in 1938.

Rubi Dalma
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Luxardo.

After her breakthrough in Il signor Max/Mister Max (Mario Camerini, 1937), Rubi Dalma (or D'Alma) acted in 1938 in L'argine/The Dyke (Corrado D'Errico, 1938) and L’allegro cantante/The Merry Singer (Gennaro Righelli, 1938), and in 1939 in Uragano ai tropici/Hurricane in the tropics (Pier Luigi Faraldo, Gino Talamo, 1939) and Camerini’s Batticuore/Heartbeat (Mario Camerini, 1939). The latter was, just like Mille lire al mese, a comedy in which the early stage of television is mocked. In Batticuore the leads were for Assia Noris (the female star from Il signor Max), playing a spying pickpocket involved in diplomatic scandals, and American actor John Lodge, who did various film in Europe in the 1930s and was married to actress Francesca Braggiotti.

Annie Vernay
Italian postcard by Rizzoli & C., Milano, 1939. Photo: Pesce.

After her debut in a supporting part in Le mensonge de Nina Petrovna/The Lie of Nina Petrovna (Viktor Tourjansky, Hanns Schwarz, 1937), French actress Annie Vernay went to Italy to star in the Franco-Italian co-production La principessa Tarakanova/Betrayal (Fyodor Otsep (as Fedor Ozep), Mario Soldati, 1938), costarring Pierre Richard-Willm and Suzy Prim. This postcard may well refer to that role. In 1938 Vernay also acted in the French film Le roman de Werther/The Novel of Werther (Max Ophüls, 1938), again with Richard-Willm, and in 1939 she performed in Les otages/The Mayor's Dilemma (Raymond Bernard, 1939), with Saturnin Fabre.

To be continued. 

Also check out Part 1,  Part 2, and Part 3.

Sources: Wikipedia (Italian and English).

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