Boccaccio '70 (1962) reviewed by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
I have a special connection to this film. As you probably know if you are reading this, I spend most of my time these days writing about, cataloging, and generally apotheosizing film nudity. This would come as quite a surprise to those who knew me in the twenty five years when I was impersonating a straight-laced corporate executive, but in fact it is a return to my roots. Watching Boccaccio '70 on DVD brings it all around to a full circle for, you see, this movie represents the first time I ever saw a naked woman on screen.
The year was late 1962 or early 1963,
and nobody was naked on screen in American movies
then. Later that year, Elizabeth Taylor showed a part
of her bum in Cleopatra, but I didn't see that movie
then. I don't think I saw any loose flesh in an
American movie until about a year later when The
Pawnbroker truly broke the nudity barrier and received
for its efforts the dreaded "condemned" rating from
the Catholic Legion of Decency. I think that meant you
would go straight to hell if you died between seeing
that film and your next confession.
Boccaccio '70 somehow managed to sneak in under the radar of controversy, perhaps because the nudity was minimal and the audiences small in number, or perhaps because it was an acclaimed foreign film in three unrelated segments, each directed by a screen legend: Luchino Visconti (Obsession), Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita), and Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief).
My friend The Duck heard through the
official teenage guy grapevine that this film had some
nudity in it, so he resolved to see that nudity, and
he persuaded me to join him in his wanton pursuit of
screen flesh. I was happy to oblige. We soon found,
however, that it wasn't all that easy to pull it off.
The theater was out of walking or biking distance, and
we were fourteen at the time and could therefore not
drive ourselves there. The situation required us to
conceive a fairly elaborate plan to dupe my mother
into chauffeur duty. Here's how it worked. There were
two theaters about a block apart. One was screening
Boccaccio '70 while the one around the corner was
showing an innocuous film. My memory tells me that the
decoy was Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and
that's how I've always told the story, but a double
check of the release dates at IMDb doesn't seem to
confirm that. Darby would have been out for four years
at the time Boccaccio '70 came to Rochester. Oh,
well, these events happened 50 years ago, so I guess I
may be hazy on some details. Let
me use Darby in my anecdote, although it was probably
something else. I know for sure
that I had already seen the decoy movie and could
recall it in sufficient detail to pass muster if my
mom pursued an interrogation. She never did.
The drop-off procedure was the easy part. We waved good-bye to my mom, pretended to check our wallets, then walked around the corner as soon as her car disappeared. The pick-up was trickier because our film got out later than Darby, so we told mom we'd get an ice cream or a hot dog or something after the film, and arranged for her to pick us up a full hour after Darby ended. That way there was no reason for her to question why nobody else was coming out of the theater at the pick-up time. Why so long? Our film would get out only a few minutes after Darby, so we might have to stand outside for nearly an hour on a cold Rochester night. Well, that was a price we were willing to pay, but we knew it would not be that long. We had adjusted for the fact that my mom was always early for everything, so we had to consider exactly where we would be when she would first spot us - which would occur a half an hour before she was supposed to be there.
Was it difficult for two snot-nosed
kids to get into the only film in town with bare flesh
and naughty stories? Not at all. In our paranoia and
guilt, we had imagined that there might be problems
with some officious moral guardians, and we were
prepared to go back and watch Darby if necessary, but
there were no hurdles of any kind. The MPAA rating
system (version 1.0) wasn't enacted until 1966, so
there were no specific rules or guidelines about who
could see which movies. Sure, if we had tried to sneak
into a porn film we probably would have been turned
away because the establishment would not risk a charge
for corrupting the morals of minors, but this film was
an award winner at Cannes and some of it was directed
by the guy who did The Bicycle Thief. Moreover, there
had been neither public protests nor outraged
editorials to draw attention to the film. Frankly,
neither the cops nor the theater owner were concerned
about screening out minors. Nobody asked our age. We
simply paid for our tickets and walked in.
Thus it happened that I saw Romy Schneider offer a very brief flash of her breasts in the Visconti segment, the first succulent forbidden flesh I had ever seen. As it turned out, we also liked the movie, although the Visconti portion was memorable mostly for Romy's flesh. That segment was meticulously crafted, artistic, and bittersweet, offering insights into the nature of human relationships and the death of love - in other words a whole bunch of crap to 14 year old boys.
We thought the other two segments were magnificent. Fellini directed a crazed, surreal story about a gorgeous woman (Anita Ekberg playing herself) who comes to life from a sexy poster to torment and tempt the pious censor who forces authorities to cover the poster. I have never forgotten the humor of the story, the bizarre carnival atmosphere of the sights and sounds, and the sight of the zaftig Ekberg rolling around on the ground in a dress which barely contained her monstrous breasts. In those days I didn't know Fellini from Frank Nitti, but I determined that I liked him. We also loved the segment by De Sica. Sophia Loren raffles herself off for one night, but then decides to cut a deal with the winner because she is interested in exploring a new relationship and doesn't want to start it off by prostituting herself to a local douchebag. She strikes a bargain wherein she avoids the sex, the winner gets to keep all the lottery money, and he also gets to say he went through with a wild night of any kind of amour he can imagine, which she will verify. The rest of the men in town are so impressed with his yarn that they hold a parade for the sad, homely fellow, and he ends up both honored and rich with the lottery money. Sophia, in the meantime, gets the hunky guy and all ends well.
The idea behind the film was to bring the ribald spirit of Boccaccio to the screen in modern times, using modern characters and settings. One of Italy's greatest writers would be interpreted by three of Italy's greatest directors, starring three of Europe's sexiest stars. Italians responded warmly. Boccaccio '70 became the all-time box office champ of Italy, outpacing Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and eventually taking in a quadrillion lire (about $1.37). OK, I'm kidding about those numbers. It actually grossed $200,000, but that really was the all-time Italian box office champ as of 1962! It was obviously a good idea then, and the whole concept still seems like a good idea to me, given the fact that Boccaccio was not only a famous writer whose stories featured clever and ironic twists, but he was also funny and obsessed with sex. I'm not sure how well this film really captures Boccaccio, but I don't know if that matters. I liked the Fellini and De Sica segments when I was 14 and, unlike most of the films I re-watch 40 years later, I still like them today. I wasn't the only one turning a thumb up. My significant other just happened to walk by while I was starting to watch the Fellini story on DVD, and she ended up watching that entire episode. And you have to understand that she liked the story even though she had no interest in the fact that Anita Ekberg was falling out of her clothes!
The film was originally conceived as a four-parter, with the additional segment directed by Mario Monicelli (La Grande Guerra). The original four-part film, which ran 210 minutes and was shown with two intermissions, was seen in the Italian theatrical release, but Monicelli's segment was cut from the version screened at Cannes, as well as from the American theatrical release. The DVD has been created from the original Italian print, as digitally remastered from the vault interpositive, so it has all the original Italian credits and titles, and Monicelli's segment has been restored. That segment is a perfectly good story, but I can see why producer Carlo Ponti decided to cut it. It is not especially humorous, and it basically consists of two newlyweds talking together in a single room. At any rate, you can now see the full four-part version of this film for the first time outside of Italy.
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