I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia

I contrabbandieri di Santa Lucia (Alfonso Brescia, 1979)

aka ‘The New Godfathers’

With the American Mafia families pooling their resources to bring huge quantities of cheap heroin into the country, it’s up to customs official Ivano Radevic (Gianni Garko) to side up with the cigarette smugglers in Naples and gain inside information to allow the authorities to intercept the drugs en route to the USA. Using leads he picks up from children selling contraband tobacco on the streets, Ivano manages to gain the trust of Don Francesco Autiero (Mario Merola), boss of one of the main smuggling gangs in the area. Don Francesco is keen to help Ivano, as keeping drugs off the streets is something he’s more than pleased to help out with, even if it means co-operating with the law. He suggests a meeting with Don Michele Vizzini (Antonio Sabato), another local crime lord with even greater connections. All seems well at first as Vizzini agrees to the plan, but as soon as the meeting is over Vizzini is revealed to be the mastermind behind the huge heroin shipment and Ivano and Don Francesco soon find themselves looking down the wrong end of a gun barrel.

THE NEW GODFATHERS is a fairly decent film from Alfonso Brescia; a director with over 50 films to his name covering a diverse range of subject matter from Sci-Fi trash ‘classics’ (THE BEAST IN SPACE, WAR OF THE PLANETS, STAR ODYSSEY), gialli (NAKED GIRL KILLED IN THE PARK) super heroes (THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN) and Crime (KNELL: THE BLOODY AVENGER, NAPOLI SERENATA CALIBRO 9). It must be said that many of Brescia’s films that were made with obviously small budgets, but even in those cases the enthusiasm for filmmaking shines through and there is usually something present that entertains. THE NEW GODFATHERS certainly has its entertaining moments; seeing Antonio Sabato playing a greasy bad guy – who’d have his own mother sent to sleep with the fishes if it meant furthering his ‘career’ – is always entertaining and Mario Merola always commands an engaging onscreen presence.

Utilising a whole host of actors that regularly appear in Brescia’s films, Jeff Blynn, Lucio Montaro, Sabrina Siani accompany Sabato and Merola from some of the director’s previous work and not forgetting the loveable duo of engaged pre-schoolers Marco Girondino and Letizia D’Adderio who return as Gennarino and Stellatella. Familiar locations appear throughout including the same set of steps seen in NAPOLI SERENATA CALIBRO 9 where the kids are again seen selling their packs of cigarettes, and as usual what appears to be actual local contraband smugglers are seen speeding their powerboats in formation, showing off for the movie cameras.

As well as using cast, crew and locations previously used in his own films Brescia didn’t bat an eyelid when it came to borrowing footage from other director’s films in order to pad out his creations. Notable cinematic thievery includes the use of car chase sequences from Ferdinando Baldi’s AFYON OPPIO (1972) and the entire sequence of the car driving along the top of the moving train from Massimo Dallamano’s QUELLI DELLA CALIBRO .38 (1976). All are used to good effect though, with the helicopter/car chase sequence particularly effective, though juxtaposing the bizarre choice of a disco tune will either delight or drive you around the twist with its mind numbingly repetitive chorus.

Released on DVD in Italy by Cecchi Gori Home Video, with sadly only the original Italian audio for the language options, we see the film get a marginally better transfer than previous home video versions but with a lot of room left for improvement. It’s obvious that an old 35mm theatrical print has been used for the DVD master as reel ends are literally battered to within an inch of their lives, with speckling and green emulsion damage appearing throughout the print. The anamorphic enhancement is welcome though the image does suffer from some cropping on both sides of the frame (see image comparison below) when compared to the old letterboxed transfer featured on the UK VHS released by Intermovie (and later then re-released by Diamond Films; both of which feature the English dubbed version).

Green is the VHS frame area, purple area is the DVD frame.

For all of the prints shortcomings the DVD is an improvement over the previously available VHS releases and interestingly, it includes extra footage not found in the English dubbed versions wherein Gianni Garko and Marco Girondino’s characters are seen looking at a cinema poster for film called LO SCUGNIZZO and mentioning that it stars Gianni Garko and Marco Girondino; Garko even says that the film must be good as it stars Gianni Garko! As the two walk away a portly, bearded man steps towards the poster and asks who the hell the director Alfonso Brescia is as he turns to the camera to reveal that it is indeed Brescia himself. Obviously an in joke that the distributors of the English language version deemed out of place for the English speaking audience and admittedly one that would fly over the heads of most casual film viewers, but a nice touch for the Euro Cult film fan and makes the DVD a worthy purchase.

(Jonny Redman)

Katrin Talks to Mario Merola


 Katrin Talks to Mario Merola

This interview was first published in Katrin magazine No. 54 October 1979. It is reproduced here translated from the original Italian text.

Love will always be in fashion:

An interview with Mario Merola – Rome: October

For a number of years there has been a phenomenon that has interested both sociologists and the art house crowd in the world of the cinema.

While successful characters like Renato Zero and Amanda Lear, actors deeply rooted in costume drama, return to the fashion of the ‘Sceneggiata’ (see notes), a genre born out of the theatre of the ‘café chantant’. The ‘Sceneggiata’ is a representation of an ancient Neapolitan song in a particular form, where song and recital were founded. It also presents themes of reality, the sceneggiata usually recount stories of love and death which stem from crimes of honour, jealousy and passionate follies.

The most noted interpreter of this musical genre is Mario Merola who last year, with “Zappatore”, managed to affirm himself in the North of Italy where his film broke box-office records. But this is not enough; the popular ‘guappo’ from the sceneggiata is the star of two films centred on the Camorra in Naples. “L’ultimo guappo” and “Il mammasantissima” which have been appreciated by even the toughest of critics. The sceneggiata therefore, isn’t an outdated form, but can also draw in the attention of younger audiences, albeit with some reservations.

Corpulent, sympathetic, with the air of a successful man, Mario Merola is a singular personality who is worth getting to know, even if his records probably won’t get played on the hit parade. A man like this doesn’t need to explain himself in intellectual circles, as many critics have tried to do. According to us, to comprehend the world of the ‘king’, who faithfully respects the spirit of the sceneggiata; it’s better to just listen to him. Here is how he responded to our questions:

Do you think the sceneggiata is a genre which has superseded the theatre?

Merola : Are you kidding? People run to see my films all over Italy, this means they like sceneggiata . On the stage people still act out stories of love and death which will never fall out of fashion. The sceneggiata is life: You just have to turn the pages in a newspaper and read the crime reports to realise this is reality. Men who kill their rivals out of jealousy, women being cheated, injustices left unpunished. I am not an intellectual. I speak with a Neapolitan dialect, but I understand “Pammore” (amore/love) is an eternal sentiment that can push us to commit foolish actions. I don’t know how to say it in English, but I think the person who wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ also thought like me.

Apart from love, what other themes occur in sceneggiata?

Merola: My films also talk about important social problems, like the drama of the immigrants living in strange countries who cannot adapt the problem of the exploitation of prostitution, contraband and violence in general. Too often, and in particular in the south, there is born a disinterest and ignorance.

You speak well for someone who doesn’t consider themselves an intellectual.

Merola: I am not an intellectual, but I am also not stupid. I didn’t go to university, but I went around the world and I learnt many things from experience that are worth far more than hundred thousand books. Sure, I’ve walked a long path! When I was a boy I used to load up the ships at the port. I remember, I used to wash the hold and I saw the world from reverse while I swabbed the decks. I was so poor I was engaged to my wife for thirteen years.

How did you become successful?

Merola: I knew how to sing, so, one day, I built up the courage and presented myself to an impresario. I re-launched the sceneggiata with a song called “A ciurara” (La Fioraia/The Florist) It was appreciated straight away, without any false modesty I think I know why. On the stage I live the emotions of my characters. The tears that come out are real and so pure and so authentic the emotions I feel in certain moments. I give my audience all of myself.

Do you appreciate your Neapolitan colleagues who don’t work in the same genre, like Peppino Di Capri and Massimo Ranieri?

Merola: Yes, but they don’t seem to express the true Neapolitan spirit. They follow the trends and are successful. I am happy for them. I am close to Ranieri because I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He comes from a poor family and he would often come and eat in our home. When I got married he gave a (wedding) packet to my wife. Even Ranieri has tackled the sceneggiata in “Napoli notte e giorno (Naples night and day) for Viviani and the director Patroni Griffi. They were all good but Naples is something else.

Who is the most extraordinary person you have met in your career?

Merola: I remember, with some emotion, my meeting with Toto. He came to assist my production and then he came home with me, begging me to sing my songs for him in private. He was a good man, aside from being a great artist.

What do you think of Sofia Loren, another celebrity from Naples?

Merola: To be honest, Sofia Loren was born in Pozzuoli. However, it is around these parts. What can I say? She’s a great woman.

Do you like young women?

Merola: You should ask them yourself! However, many of them come to see my films. A girl told me once; “Mario…” She said, “To get to the theatre, I had to pawn my gold bracelet because I didn’t have enough money to pay for the ticket.”

What do you think of feminism?

Merola: I mind my own business, and I don’t criticise others. In my mind, however, men and women are different and they can’t exchange ideas, let alone clothes.

Are you knocking women wearing trousers?

Merola: If a woman is beautiful, then she’s beautiful even with tights, but I prefer skirts. If she has good legs then they should be covered up. In Naples they say “A roba bella s’ha da fa’ vedere” (Good things don’t need to be seen…)

Don’t you feel a little old fashioned?

Merola: No, I live a happy life with my wife and our children. We have six in all because I adopted three orphans. My films are successful and I travel the world always collecting new experiences. I don’t feel like I am living the life of an old man.

Could you allow us one indiscretion: Are you a faithful man?

Merola: Certain questions shouldn’t be asked to a married man.

Would you forgive your wife if she betrayed you physically or spiritually?

Merola: Absolutely not. I believe in absolute faith. I don’t make a distinction between the physical and the spiritual. There’s no point talking about it, it’s all just talk.

(Translated exclusively for lovelockandload by ‘The Weeble that wobbled and fell down’ 16th August 2008)

*Notes explaining the ‘sceneggiata’ – excerpt from ‘Crime Naples Style: The Guapparia Movie’ by Roberto Curti, the full text of which can be found at the link at the bottom of the page.

The roots of the new hybrid (which could be roughly translated as “guapparia movie”) lie in the so-called “sceneggiata”, a form of play that belongs in the Neapolitan tradition and is characterized by a strong melodramatic component as well as a tragic fatalism: both lead to a final, emotionally powerful catharsis. Songs are an integral and binding part of “sceneggiata,” and constellate the narration in its various parts, while the social environment in which stories take place is that of the “guapparia,” the Neapolitan underworld. The hero is the “guappo,” a good gangster with strong moral values (family and honor) while the villain (“’o malamente” – literally “he who [acts] badly”) is a grim, unfair adversary who tries to seduce the protagonist’s woman or to soil his reputation. “Sceneggiata” is an enclosed universe, where love and hate seem to be part of a natural order not unlike life and death: always absolute, complete, desperate.