Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Dolce Vita

This was a book I had wanted to read since reading a review of it in Video Watchdog shortly after its 2004 publication.

Mickey Knox, for those unfamiliar with him, is the American actor who, finding himself greylisted by the McCarthyite witch hunts relocated to Europe to ultimately spend 35 years as an expat in Rome, where he came to present a key point of contact between the host and expatriate film communities.

He was the man whose dialogue coaching of Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo helped the Italian actress win an Oscar for her performance in a Hollywood film, and who was behind the English-language version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Covering over half a century from the 1940s in short, easy to read chapters centred around a particular year and occasion, what it comes down to is mass of fascinating name-dropping anecdotes about both international names and films like Orson Welles and Once Upon a Time in the West and local and cult heroes such as Duccio Tessari, Damiano Damiani and Fabio Testi – the last one character in a particularly scurrilous story involves Andrea Occhipinti and an apparent rash of herpes cases during the production of John Derek's vehicle for his wife Bo, Bolero.

While it's sometimes difficult to know how representative Knox's experiences of a particular individual were or whether someone might just have had an off-day or film – if Tessari was a party-hearty drunk, as he implies, this doesn't appear to have negatively impacted upon the director's other films too far from what I've seen, suggesting that Knox's negative evaluation of Turn the Other Cheek might also be attributable to his unhappy and expensive venture into production on the film with the otherwise unidentified 'Luigi' – his picture of Sergio Leone as a great filmmaker but something of a manipulative son of a bitch in business and personal matters has a longer-term basis and accords with that painted by almost all his other collaborators.

Those whose interests are more narrowly Eurocult may find that the balance of the book isn't quite what they would ideally want, with more on Hollywood and Broadway in the 1940s and nothing on the making of Stagefright, for instance, but it's easy going, entertaining and certainly leaves you wanting to know more.

If only Nick Alexander had written his memoirs as well...

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