Cinema of Italy: The Italian comedy movies

In the second half of the 1950s, comedy begins to develop as a new genre, often known as commedia all'italiana (Comedy Italian style), a definition taken from the title of a movie by Pietro Germi: "Divorzio all'italiana" ("Divorce Italian style", 1961) with Marcello Mastroianni and Stefania Sandrelli, two of the most important actors of Italian cinema.

The movie won an Oscar in 1963 for best original screenplay. In this new genre, we can recall names of the main Italian actors of the times, from Alberto Sordi to Ugo Tognazzi, from Monica Vitti to Claudia Cardinale, from Vittorio Gassman to Nino Manfredi, not to mention Totò and Sophia Loren, in addition to the already mentioned Mastroianni and Sandrelli.

In general it is believed that Mario Monicelli (with Ettore Scola, Pietro Germi and Dino Risi) was the progenitor and best exponent of the Italian comedy, by inaugurating the new genre with “I soliti ignoti”, in 1958, followed by memorable movies under his direction, such as “La grande Guerra”, “L’armata Brancaleone”, “Amici miei” and “Un Borghese piccolo piccolo”.

The 1960s are the years of the economic boom and the movie-making somehow reflects these new changes in the Italian society. Among the many films of this decade it is important to remember “Il sorpasso” by Dino Risi, a movie that perfectly blends the comedy and the seriousness of the subject, featuring Vittorio Gassman in the leading role. The dramatic end combined with the soundtrack, featuring songs by Edoardo Vianello (Guarda come dondolo) and Domenico Modugno (Vecchio frack) are two more elements that contribute to make this a great movie of those years.

Among the latest masterpieces of the Classic Italian comedy we must remember also “Lo scopone scientifico” by Luigi Comencini, “C’eravamo tanto amati” and “La terrazza” by Ettore Scola, the latest being produced in 1980 and, according to some, the last movie to be categorized in that genre.

In fact, at the end of the 1970s, the tone of comedies becomes darker and more existentialist: the optimism of post war appears, year after year, only like a fading memory. In this period, the genre quickly declines until it reaches the end, except for movies like “Amici miei atto II” at the beginning of the next decade.

In the meantime more or less sexy comedies begin to surface. These genre, produced since the early 1970s, will become very popular between the mid 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s (commedia sexy all’italiana or Italian sexy comedy).

Finally we must note that often the usual elements of the Italian comedy were mixed artfully with different genres, giving birth to unclassifiable genres. Luigi Comencini was a master of this technique: after achieving celebrity in the 1950s with some light comedies, he gave us works like “Tutti a casa”, the already mentioned “Lo scopone scientifico”, the TV series “Le avventure di Pinocchio”, and “Il gatto”, movies in which different styles and genres blend masterfully.

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