Quentin Tarantino has always considered him to be one of his undisputed “masters” and anyone who knows the great American director’s cinema knows how much he has drawn heavily from the films of Umberto Lenzi. Almost four years after his death, he arrives in bookstores these days The hot cinema by Umberto Lenzi, written by Davide Magnini, Gordiano Lupi and Matteo Mancini for Edizioni il Foglio: a volume that traces the life and very long career of what went down in history – somewhat unfairly – only as the master of policemen from the 60s and 70s and like the father of Er Monnezza, the famous character played by Tomas Milian, symbol of the so-called Serie B Italian cinema.
In reality there is much more in the career of this prolific director, who has touched many genres, from adventure to crime, from detective to erotic, from action to horror, to cannibal films (and for this ostracized for years by critics, who labeled him a “fascist”), always faithful to the idea of an artisanal, material cinema made of flesh and passions. Hot.
The book has the merit of telling all this starting from the precocious fascination of a boy born in the Tuscan province (August 6, 1931 in Massa Marittima) in a petty-bourgeois family where you read a lot. He falls in love with Salgari and the exotic adventures of Sandokan, he watches many films in the second-run cinemas of Massa also pushed by his high school teacher, the cinephile professor from Viareggio Angelo Gianni, who introduces him to the great masters of the seventh art such as Clair and Ejzenstein. Also in Massa he is one of the founders of a cinema club, he begins to frequent Bianciardi and Cassola, he meets Pratolini. He leaves Tuscany after his university studies in Pisa, to arrive at the Experimental Center of Rome, where he graduated in 1956, not before having made a short film of Maremma setting and with social implications, From darkness to the sea (1956). His directorial debut came in 1961, with The Adventures of Mary Read, a swashbuckle with Lisa Gastoni and a very young Fabio Testi, shot on Lake Garda, which kids really like and which marks for Lenzi the definitive farewell to the dream of making auteur cinema. For the director, however, it is an opportunity to return to his great youthful passions, in particular to that for Salgari, from which he draws the diptych Sandokan, the tiger of Monpracem e Pirates of Malaysia. But the fascination for history also resurfaces, which he reinterprets through war films including The great attack, which sees in the cast stars such as Henry Fonda, Helmut Berger, John Huston and a very young Edwige Fenech (“It was imposed on me by the producer,” says the director in one of the interviews that accompany the book).
A first turning point came in the mid-60s, when he made a film inspired by an Italian comic for adults, Criminal, crossing the hard yellow, the American hard boiled and the novels of Simenon. The meeting with his muse, Caroll Baker, a sex-symbol ready to pose without veils, is decisive: «When they introduced her to me we tied up immediately. He was very professional. He agreed to shoot more thrilling scenes for the foreign market, in fact two versions of his films were circulating, the Italian ones are more chaste, while in the others they started with the motto “down your underwear” », Lenzi says in the book. These are the years of films steeped in eroticism and sensuality, right from the titles: Orgasm, So sweet as well wicked e Paranoia, which soon after give way to the yellow Dario Argento, like Seven orchids spotted in red, The ice knife, Spasm.
The seventies are those of the policeman, starting with Violent Naples, a film full of “Lenzi-style” pursuits, one of the most recognizable figures of his style. It’s the genre that makes him famous, with cult titles like Rome at gunpoint e Milan hates: the police cannot shoot, which are one of the ways in which Italian cinema negotiates and recomposes from the bottom the fractures that cross society in the years of lead. In the same years, Tomas Milian is the symbolic protagonist of a sub-genre based on the character of Er Monnezza (The murderer and the cop, The band of the hunchback) which inaugurates a lasting partnership between two fiery and “difficult” temperaments.
The 80s are those of horror, including Nightmare about the contaminated city (one of Tarantino’s most loved) and those of “cannibal” films, such as Eaten alive! e Cannibal ferox, censored and harbingers of a thousand controversies. Italy, however, is changing, cinema is beginning to succumb to the unstoppable advance of commercial TV and home video, while the epic and ramshackle epic of that “popular” cinema of which Lenzi was one of the greatest disappears forever. architects.
Once out of this world, Lenzi devotes himself to writing some detective novels and enjoys the rediscovery of his films, thanks to Tarantino’s lavish praise, before dying, aged 86, in Rome, in October 2017.
29 July 2021 | 09:27