Tuesday, January 02, 2018


The Italian (actually, Sicilian) comedy duo of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia were a huge presence in Europe in the 1960’s, churning out 10 films a year and doing parodies of various successful film genres of the day. They are best known to North American audiences, if they are known at all, for two films they made with American stars which were released in the US dubbed in English: PRIMITIVE LOVE with Jayne Mansfield, and WAR ITALIAN STYLE with Buster Keaton. They are often described as “two Jerry Lewises,” and there IS some truth in that, but it’s a bit more complex. Franco (the shorter and more manic one) is like Jerry Lewis after five energy drinks, but beyond that general shtick he also plays upon the Italian stereotypes of Sicilians and he is the one who usually initiates the duo’s interactions with others. He has a rubbery face and is a wild physical comedian, going well beyond Lewis or Lou Costello. Ciccio (the taller and less manic one) is to some extent filling the role of a Bud Abbott or an Oliver Hardy, in that he thinks he is the smart one of the pair and to some extent he bullies his partner, but when put under pressure he seems to be even more out-of-it than Franco.

I would not claim to be an expert on their dozens and dozens of films....I’ve seen probably 7 or 8 of them....but as with comedy teams from The Three Stooges to Abbott and Costello, you can pretty much put these guys into ANY setting and just let them do their thing....think of Bud and Lou on the high seas, in the army, in the West, in the Revolutionary War, you name it! THE AMAZING DR. G. is Franco & Ciccio’s parody of James Bond-style spy films (and they did more than one of those). Of course, many Eurospy films WERE parodies themselves, and many that weren’t outright parodies were played somewhat tongue-in-cheek, so the “plot” here is no more ridiculous than in the typical Eurospy film. It has a superb musical score by Piero Umiliani which has the wordless female vocalizing and the Latin trumpet solos one expects of the spy soundtrack but also supports the comedy well. And the cast is excellent--the great Spaniard Fernando Rey (see pic), best known to Americans for THE FRENCH CONNECTION, but one of the busiest and most versatile actors in Europe, plays the criminal mastermind GOLDGINGER; a young George Hilton (before his big spaghetti western fame) appears briefly as 007; the Peruvian strongman Dakar, well-known to sword and sandal film fans, plays Molok, a mostly-silent (except for the occasional grunt) enforcer character not unlike Harold “Odd Job” Sakata did; and Rosalba Neri graces the film with her presence.

If you’d like one detail from the film to give you a taste of what it’s like, Franco carries around a seductive female mannequin leg with a bit of sexy dress attached to its top, keeps it in a cello case, and uses it for hitch-hiking and to entrap others to stop and check it out. The film is played out on THAT level.
This was picked up by American International TV for one of its US television packages, dubbed in English and retitled as THE AMAZING DR. G. (the original title was DUE MAFIOSI CONTRO GOLDGINGER (see posters). Those who watch a number of 60s European dubbed films know the pool of voice actors who dub the majority of these films, and it’s enjoyable to hear voices you know from Italian westerns or sword and sandal films playing various spy parts and also doing exaggerated comedy.

Lowbrow comedy never really gets the praise it is due. The Bowery Boys or Larry The Cable Guy or Jim Varney will never get any industry awards. In a way, the Terence Hill and Bud Spencer duo films picked up the baton from Franco and Ciccio in Italian cinema, and carried it through the 70’s and 80’s , and other than here at BTC and among their legions of fans, you don’t see THEIR films getting much acclaim either. And the comedy of one culture does not often translate well into another culture which is not familiar with the regional and cultural subtleties which are being lampooned. However, for me the comedy of Franco and Ciccio does still entertain because their ridiculous personas and the extreme physical comedy transcends culture and foreign dubbing. If you like Jerry Lewis at his most extreme or Huntz Hall at his most wired (as he was in the films after Leo Gorcey left the Bowery Boys and was no longer there to keep him in check), then you’d probably also love this film. And if you are a Eurospy film fan on top of that, THE AMAZING DR. G. may well be a dream come true for you the way it is for me.

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