At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Alberto Sordi - actor

Comic genius who appeared in 190 films


Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi with Sophia Loren in the 1954 film
Due notti con Cleopatra (Two Nights with Cleopatra)
Alberto Sordi, remembered by lovers of Italian cinema as one of its most outstanding comedy actors, died on this day in 2003 in Rome, the city of his birth.

He was 82 and had suffered a heart attack.  Italy reacted with an outpouring of grief and the decision was taken for his body to lie in state at Rome's town hall, the Capidoglio.

Streams of his fans took the opportunity to file past his coffin and when his funeral took place at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Leterano it was estimated that the crowds outside the church and in nearby streets numbered one million people.

Only the funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died two years later, is thought to have attracted a bigger crowd.

Sordi (right) in a scene from his 1954 film An American in  Rome, which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi (right) in a scene from his 1954 film An American in
 Rome, which established him as a comic character actor
Sordi was the Italian voice of Oliver Hardy in the early days of his career, when he worked on the dubbing of the Laurel and Hardy movies.  He made the first of his 190 films in 1937 but it was not until the 1950s that he found international fame.

He appeared in two movies directed by Federico Fellini - The White Sheik and I vitelloni.  In the latter, he played an oafish layabout, something of a simpleton but an effeminate and vulnerable character to whom audiences responded with warmth and affection due to Sordi's interpretation.

It was Sordi's eye for the foibles of quirks of the Italian character that identified him as an actor of considerable talent.  His films often had the simple titles of the Italian stereotypes he was sending up, such as The Seducer, The Bachelor, The Husband, The Widower, The Traffic Cop and The Moralist.

Some were black comedies, some slapstick farces, others more serious dramas. Along with Vittorio Gassman, Ugo Tognazzi and Nino Manfredi, he made up a quartet that has been described as Italy's equivalent of the Ealing comedy school.

Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Alberto Sordi in the 1962 black comedy Mafioso
Born in Rome in June 1920 in the working class Trastevere district, Sordi came from a musical family. While his mother was a schoolteacher, his father played the tuba in the orchestra at the Rome Opera House.

His father encouraged an interest in music and by the age of 10 Sordi was singing in the Sistine Chapel choir. At 16 he went to Milan to study at drama school but was told he would never be successful unless he shed his thick Roman accent.  In the event, the accent and distinctive voice became part of his popularity.

Back in Rome, he became popular in radio shows and as a music hall act before landing the voice-over part for the Laurel and Hardy films, employing the bogus English accent he had used in a music hall sketch.

Eager for more work in the burgeoning movie industry, he hung around the cafes in Piazza di Spagna, where he befriended Fellini and his fellow director, Vittorio De Sica.  After working as an extra, he landed his first important role was as an air force cadet in Tre Aquilotti (Three Eaglets) in 1941.

Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
Sordi (in the foreground) lounges outside a cafe in I vitelloni
The two Fellini movies brought him to the attention of the movie world as an actor of potential but it was his performance in An American in Rome (1954), directed by Stefano Vanzina - usually known as Steno - that established his brilliance in exaggerating the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his fellow Italians.

Poking fun at Italy's obsession with things American, Sordi played Ferdinand 'Nando' Mericoni, a young Roman who is so in awe of the American lifestyle he tries to make his room look like a Hollywood set, pretends he is from Kansas City and lives out everyday situations as if he were an actor in an American film. He makes up for his inability to speak English by making American vocal sounds.  Sordi would return to the theme years later, in 1968, with an Italian in America, which he directed himself.

In the opinion of the critics, the most accomplished performance of his career was as a middle-class Italian in Mario Monicelli's hard-hitting 1977 film Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo (A Very Small Petit Bourgeois), who takes vengeance after seeing his child killed in a robbery.

Sordi never married but was the long-time partner of the actress Andreina Pagnani. Later in life, he lived quietly with his dogs and his two sisters in a splendid villa near the Baths of Caracalla, indulging his interests in opera, collecting antiques and supporting his football team, AS Roma.

Over a career that spanned five decades, he won seven David di Donatello awards for best actor - the most won by anyone in that category - and four awards from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. He also received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 1995.

Less than a week after his death, the mayor of Rome announced that the gallery of shops opposite the Palazzo Chigi would be renamed Galleria Alberto Sordi in his memory.

The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
The Isola Tiberina adjoins the Trastevere district
Travel tip:

The Trastevere district has evolved from its working class routes into one of Rome's most fashionable neighbourhoods, certainly among young professionals, who are attracted by its pretty cobbled streets and the wealth of inexpensive but chic restaurants.  There are interesting attractions for visitors, too.  Apart from some fine churches, the area boasts the Botanical Garden of Rome, the lovely Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the river on which is built an old hospital and a church, and the lively Porta Portese Sunday market.

Hotels in Rome from Expedia

Travel tip:

Numbering John Keats, Mary Shelley and Casanova among its fans, the Piazza di Spagna is a beautiful square noted for the famous Spanish Steps leading up to the Trinità dei Monti church. Keats had a house next to the steps on the right looking up from the square. The steps tend to be crowded with tourists during the day but thin out after 10pm, when the square still looks glorious under the street lights. Leading off the square, Via Condotti has become home to Rome’s most exclusive shops, including Prada and Gucci. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around the square, although they can be expensive. However, inexpensive beer, ice creams and roasted chestnuts can be bought from street vendors.

Rome hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:


Giulietta Masina - Fellini's muse and wife of 50 years

Otto e mezzo - the greatest Fellini movie of them all?

How tough-talking Roman actress Anna Magnani became an Oscar-winning star

Also on this day:


1873: The birth of the brilliant tenor Enrico Caruso


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