Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell
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A fun example of Hollywood's attempt to cater to an older, mature audience, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968) successfully merged elements of the emerging sixties counterculture (i.e., The Graduate, 1967) with a traditional sex farce in an effort to lure that still formidable 30-something audience into theaters. The plot device of a beautiful Italian widow collectively duping an American trio of ex-G.I.s/former lovers into each thinking that he fathered her illegitimate daughter was an expert blend of the risque and the old-fashioned.
Of course, this was no accident, but rather the result of some insidious planning on the part of director/co-writer Melvin Frank (1913-1988). Frank, who along with fellow University of Illinois student Norman Panama created one of the most bankable director-writer-producer teams in motion picture history, began by penning snappy dialogue for Broadway revues in the late 1930s. Catching the attention of Bob Hope, the duo went to work for the radio comedian, who helped them get their foot in the Paramount door. The studio welcomed the Panama/Frank combo - having become known as the creative haven for many an aspiring writer-producer-director, including Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. Within a year, the writers managed a double coup for Hope - scripting two of his classic movies, Road to Utopia (considered to be the best of the Road series) and Monsieur Beaucaire (both 1946). The brilliant use of anachronistic bits in Monsieur Beaucaire and hilarious "impromptu" wisecracks in Road to Utopia (which nevertheless were carefully scripted) put them on the map, paving the way for such later triumphs as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and, most prominently, Knock on Wood (1954) and The Court Jester (1956), two Danny Kaye comedies which the team co-directed.
After Strange Bedfellows (1965), one of the better Rock Hudson Universal sixties sex romps, the duo called it quits - splitting amicably and going their own separate ways. Frank, who would produce and co-adapt A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), seemed to adapt to the changing decade far better than his partner, and remembered the underrated comic abilities of Gina Lollobrigida (Rock Hudson's previous co-star in Strange Bedfellows and the similarly saucy Come September, 1961). Even earlier, Lollobrigida had demonstrated a flair for humor in her legendary non-Italian debut, Beat the Devil (1953) - all the more astonishing as she spoke no English at the time, reciting Truman Capote's witty dialogue phonetically! So Frank set out to find her a starring vehicle - striking gold with the Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell project, which got the green light from UA in 1967.
Carefully constructing the script with Denis Norden and Sheldon Keller (the latter also a songwriter whose bizarre brief credits include Stanley Donen's Movie Movie, 1978, and the cult fave Cleopatra Jones, 1973), Frank amazingly managed to keep the amusing plot complications going nonstop while spicing the proceedings with more subversive elements of deception, adultery, illegitimacy and poverty - not your standard comedy ingredients.
The outstanding handpicked supporting cast featuring couples Peter Lawford and Marion Moses, Phil Silvers and Shelley Winters, and, most effectively, Telly Savalas and Lee Grant as the ugly Americans times six, deliciously mouth the salty asides and one-liners with great aplomb - obviously enjoying every minute even though Winters' one memory of the picture was a ferocious battle with Grant - the culmination being that "...we didn't speak to each other for a number of years."
The excellent performance of Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell at the box office prompted UA to commission yet another all-star European on-location knock-off, If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, released in 1969. It should also be noted that the lush, gorgeous Technicolor photography of Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell was by Gabor Pogany (who lensed Luc Besson's stunning The Big Blue in 1988) and received much praise, as did the sprightly Riz Ortolani score - the title song becoming a Top Ten Easy Listening Single.
Producer: C.O. Erickson
Director: Melvin Frank
Screenplay: Sheldon Keller, Denis Norden
Art Direction: Arrigo Equini
Cinematography: Gabor Pogany
Costume Design: Morton Haack
Film Editing: William Butler, Robert Lawrence
Original Music: Riz Ortolani, Andrew Frank, Melvin Frank
Principal Cast: Gina Lollobrigida (Carla Campbell), Shelley Winters (Shirley Newman), Phil Silvers (Phil Newman), Peter Lawford (Justin Young), Telly Savalas (Walter Braddock), Lee Grant (Fritzie Braddock), Janet Margolin (Gia Campbell).
C-113m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
By Mel Neuhaus