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  • Ravi Swami

"The Bachelor"/ "Lo Scapolo", Dir: Antonio Pietrangeli, 1955

In my never-ending search for the works of Antonio Pietrangeli, a director whose career was quite-short lived due to an early death, leaving behind a number of remarkable films that are only now being made available via various streamings services, I came across his 1955 "Commedia All'Italiana" film starring Alberto Sordi, an actor most associated with the genre thanks to a string of "sex comedies" through the late 1940's and into the 1960's, on Amazon Prime.

Pietrangeli seems to have been most associated with "Commedia All'Italiana" possibly as a result of his early films like "The Bachelor", though many directors tried their hand at these lightweight comedies.

As his style matured his films demonstrated a very clear feminist angle that reached a peak in two masterpieces, available to view on Criterion Channel : "The Visit" / "La Visita" and "I Knew Her Well" / "Io Conoscevo Bene", both of which train a sharp and sympathetic eye on the dynamics of relationships between men and women in the immediate post-war period.

In "the Bachelor", the focus is very much on the central male character "Paolo Anselmi" (Sordi), a trader in electrical goods and confirmed bachelor who is on the hunt for the perfect partner but is prey to numerous distractions in the shape of various women, that make this difficult.

This was the first Alberto Sordi film that I've seen and the very ubiquitous nature of Sordi in these Italian comedies suggested quantity over quality. In appearance he has the type of sullen hang-dog appearance that has its' counterpart in the British comedy actor Bernard Cribbins, often cast in similar roles to Sordi and in fact I was surprised to discover that the two actors actually appeared in a film together, which suggests how big a star Sordi was at the height of his career.

"The Bachelor" is as good a place as any to start when exploring the comedy dramas in which Sordi appeared and where he began honing his comic persona, especially under the direction of Pietrangeli in terms of reining in exaggeration for comic effect over situations that feel very real but without limiting the actors' innate gift for comedy.

In terms of plot, it's quite lightweight and leans heavily on Sordi's performance as Paolo, reflecting on his indecisiveness in relationships that lead to many casual affairs. When an attractive air hostess - Pietrangelo regular Sandra Milo - moves into a flat in his apartment building he wastes no time in making moves on her but after a brief courtship cut short by the fact that she has been posted to another city, he moves on to other women, sometimes total strangers he passes in the street.

The one constant in his daily life is "Carla Alberini" (Madeleine Fischer) the daughter of one of his customers who manages an electrical goods store with her father and with whom Paolo has a rather difficult love/hate relationship hinging mostly on his sharp business practices when selling refrigerators. On this basis Paolo feels that anything beyond a professional relationship might be impossible.

The film concludes with Paolo's realization that perhaps Carla is the woman for him, and with it the discovery that she secretly admires him, and the film ends where it began as he watched his best friend and confidante Peppino (Nino Manfredi) getting hitched and where he pities the end of his free life as a bachelor and vows never to suffer the same fate.

The closing shot of the film is a freeze frame of Paolo's open-mouthed expression of shock as he and Carla kneel at the church alter to make their vows.

Typically, Pietrangeli never allows the women in his films to be simply the objects of male desire, to be smacked on the bottom endlessly or propositioned, a feature of many of these films and perhaps a reflection of the era, and as if to reinforce a male stereotype of women the film includes a nightclub sequence featuring a guest appearance by the Latin American band leader Xavier Cugat and his real-life wife, the American dancer and singer, Abbe Lane, who performs a sexy number on the dance floor before joining Paolo and his friends at their table.

She invites Paolo to dance with her and this leads to a rather comedic situation where Paolo tries unsuccessfully to get intimate with her, much to the annoyance of Cugat.

As mentioned in an earlier post, a feature of some of these films was to include a popular musician of the day to add commercial value and the potential of reaching a wider audience outside Italy, and here, Cugat was already almost a household name in America, name-dropped by entertainers of the day like Bob Hope etc.

In terms of an entry point into the films of Albert Sordi and also an insight into the direction that Antonio Pietrangeli's films would take, "The Bachelor" is well worth a look.


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