Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia: the record pair. The secret of their success Part 2

By Domenico Palattella

The most important partnership they had however, was with the director Lucio Fulci, who directed them perhaps in their best films: from the hilarious  "00-2 secret agents"  to  "I due evasi di Sing Sing" , passing through  "Il lungo, il corto, il gatto" and  " 00-2 Operazione Luna ", all films that easily exceeded one billion lire in receipts. In 1966, at the height of their golden age, it is the amusing film "Come svaligiammo la Banca d’ItaliaHow", considered by many to be the couple's best film. The film in question, was directed by Lucio Fulci, the director who best managed to understand and exploit the undoubted, enormous abilities of the couple, and was also the director who best understood their first level comic potential. It is no coincidence that the 20 films directed by Fulci, who came from a long apprenticeship as assistant director in several films with Totò, are considered among the best of the famous couple. Besides, Franco and Ciccio were very comfortable working with the Roman director. Other films worth mentioning include "Ma chi t’ha dato la patente?(1971),  "I due vigili (1967),  "Per un pugno nell’occhio (1964),  "Due bianchi nell’Africa” (1970), "I due deputati" (1969), "I barbieri di Sicilia"  (1967), "I due sanculotti"  (1966),  "Franco e Ciccio on the warpath"  (1971),  "I due pompieri"  (1968),  "The Two Craziest Beetles in the World"  (1970) and countless other hit films, never a flop! Even "The Primitive Love" of 1964 is considered, by an authoritative critic like Marco Giusti, "a stracult of fearful strength with magnificent colors".

It is said that it was a pleasure to work on the set with both, they were very disciplined, kind and available to everyone. Franco and Ciccio, who had suffered from hunger in the years of their apprenticeship, were always very generous with friends, helped many people to live and made many old characters and actors of the unemployed a chance to work: like Enzo Andronico, Ignazio Leone and a very young Lino Banfi, which shortly thereafter would break through in the cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Even the committed cinema, however, noticed them: Steno directed them in the film "A Monster and a Half" (1965), and Pier Paolo Pasolini wanted them alongside Totò in the episode of "Capriccio all'italiana", "What are the clouds?" 1968. But above all Franco and Ciccio interpreted a free, but delicious reduction of the "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza" from Cervantes. The film is from 1968, and the two actors outdo each other, respectively Ciccio in the role of the errant knight, and Franco his faithful squire. It is the most beautiful Italian film inspired by the legendary work of Cervantes, clean, linear, fun, conceived with a certain libertarian spirit that leaves its mark (Sancho / Franks who becomes governor and legislator in favor of the people, the final incitement of Don Quixote / Ingrassia to "fight against the wind" as the inevitable fate of an unapproved life, but the public showed, in any case, to prefer them, in their unleashed farces, where, albeit in a repetitive way, they had the opportunity to express their potential comedy, freely, with a free rein. To date, by critics, a certain process of reassessment in the historical-cultural field of their artistic production has begun, a well-deserved reassessment. Between various quarrels, the 1973 division, reconciliation and other various vicissitudes, theirs was a fraternal friendship, indeed more, a bond that went beyond friendship, a blood bond, an indivisible bond even after death, a divine bond. We both knew it very well, and we who are the public also knew it very well, in this regard I quote a moving phrase by Franco Franchi which testifies, without a shadow of a doubt, their indissoluble bond: a blood bond, an indivisible bond even after death, a divine bond. "We are the couple! See also separate, we are always together. Where I am there is also Ciccio and where there is Ciccio you always look for me. Like Stan and Ollie. When Ollie made those films with John Wayne he wasn't laughing, because you always thought of Stanley. Franco and Ciccio are one of those indivisible photographs, which cannot be torn apart. God made us like this, united, and united we must remain”. 

Yet both Franco and Ciccio, in the few years of artistic separation, have shown that they are both very valid actors, even taken individually. Franco continued to reap hits in popular cinema, and above all stand out "The Midday Executioner" and "Last Tango in Zagarol", two precise parodies of two very successful films: "The Executioner of the Night"  with Charles Bronson, and  "Last tango in Paris” by Bernardo Bertolucci. Franco's two parodies were, and it is a remarkable novelty, much appreciated by critics as well as by the public. In the meantime Ciccio was discovered and employed by committed directors, Federico Fellini above all, who directed him in the famlous  "Amarcord" (1974), which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1975. But there is no shortage of heights in popular cinema as well, in 1975, in fact, Ciccio Ingrassia directs and interprets the film "The exorcism" , with Lino Banfi also in the cast. The film, which had great success then, has become today, a real "cult movie" of popular vintage cinema. It is certain that Franco Franchi is not entirely wrong: albeit very good as always, it has a certain effect to see in the few films they have played separately, Franco alone without Ciccio, or vice versa.

And yet, after yet another reconciliation, it is with their last coupled film, in 1984, that Franco and Ciccio verge on perfection. The icing on the cake to a great career, with the film  "Kaos", by the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, in the episode "The jar", taken from the most beautiful novel by the writer Luigi Pirandello. It is in these 40 minutes, of their episode, that for the length is a full-length medium-length film, that Franco and Ciccio overcome themselves by showing off an applause, poetic, dramatic, composed, poignant interpretation, which even moves the critics. It seemed almost that Pirandello, in writing the story, had thought of Franco and Ciccio, to make the deeds of Zi Dima and Don Lollò live: absolutely perfect. A fabulous interpretation that earned him thunderous applause at the Venice Film Festival, for both, and the failure to win the Golden Lion, as best actors ex-aequo, just because the critics, giving the prize to Franco and Ingrassia, would have seen his credible credibility collapse. "Never was the most effervescent and perfect couple seen in the frequent staging of the famous Pirandellian novel". And for the same Franco and Ciccio it was a moment of revenge and great pride: "at best there is never an end, it fascinates me, it moves me to have played Pirandello, and paired with Franco, a unique emotion"  (Ciccio Ingrassia ); "I never thought I would be invited one day, here to the Venice Film Festival, and to receive thunderous applause, and I would never have imagined playing Pirandello one day" (Franco Franchi).

Franco and Ciccio, in conclusion, really represented Italy and the Italians in their daily vicissitudes to survive, to keep going, and they are also a symbol of friendship, the real one, the one that even if you fight, lasts for the whole life, the deep one, which survives death. They were, not one of the couples of Italian cinema, but probably "the couple of Italian cinema" , their myth is alive more than ever today, perhaps even more than then, and they are by right among the greats of our cinema as bearers of that noble and ancient art of making people laugh that has its roots, far away, in the mists of time.

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