Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MARIO MEROLA IS "CARCERATO"


This is yet another film in a long line of sceneggiate, a very specific genre of films that proliferated in Neapolitan cinemas throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  Like the earlier sceneggiate efforts reviewed here, CARCERATO (1981) once again features all the required elements of amore, onore and vendetta as well as the vocal talents of signor Merola.  However, if you’re not Neapolitan and not weaned of this sort of entertainment, this effort in particular is also lacking a single shred of genuine excitement.

Merola stars as Francesco Improta, a law-abiding citizen that runs a mobile vegetable market who, at one point or another, may have had some mob ties (talk about ‘art’ imitating life).  As he and his son stroll through postcard-pretty Napoli, it isn’t long before he begins to sing, which turns out to be one of four songs he performs in the film.  Naturally, some ensuing tragedy must get our story moving and, this time around, his Mama’s (Regina Bianchi) health begins to wane so he tries to get help from the local underworld figurehead Don Giuseppe Ascalone (Aldo Giuffrè).  When the reprehensible Nicola Esposito (the great Biagio Pelligra) murders Ascalone in cold blood, Francesco is accidentally caught at the scene of the crime and wrongfully carcerato.  Like most of these films, some convenient contrivances help propel the story forward, which in this case results in the imprisonment of Nicola in the very same prison leading to the inevitable climax.  Unfortunately, vengeance comes neither piping hot nor even ice cold, but merely as dull as dishwater.

Set inside some rundown Neapolitan prison (an authentic looking location which had evidently been derelict for years, judging by how overgrown with weeds the place is), CARCERATO unfolds with the same lugubrious pace of serving a triple life-sentence without the possibility of parole.  Perhaps there are some compelling subtleties hidden in the original Italian dialogue, but I somehow doubt it.  As mentioned earlier, Merola contributes four songs which are all performed with typically over-the-top theatrics, which to be honest, is what attracted most local viewers to this type of film anyways.  One of the more memorably hokey numbers involves our hero placed in solitary and, lucky for us, he starts to sing about his unfortunate plight.  In an almost embarrassingly tacky moment, his singing is echoed throughout the prison as many prisoners even shed a tear for him.  As if any of these hard-nosed convicts would be that easily swayed by Merola’s mournful lyrics!  After escaping during a mock play staged by the other cons – including some token cross-dressing courtesy of Brescia regular Lucio Montanaro – Francesco manages to make it back home just in time to attend his cutesy daughter’s first communion.  He strolls into the church singing the climactic number as everyone gathers around in astonishment.  As you can probably guess, it all ends happily ever after as Francesco is given an official reprieve and the film freezes over him and his sniveling kids.

Like most of Brescia’s sceneggiate efforts, CARCERATO was produced on a very meager budget (even for Brescia) and was basically a showcase for Merola’s increased popularity, but as evidenced in this film and, later throughout the ‘80s, many of Merola’s subsequent roles such as Stelvio Massi’s threadbare GUAPPARIA (1983) and TORNA (1984) were venturing further and further away from his earlier polizieschi potboilers despite the Neapolitan underworld still serving as backdrop.   Although supported by a decent cast, this is Merola’s show all the way while much of the recognizable Eurotrash veterans have limited screen time, which amounts to nothing more than extended cameos.  The talented Aldo Giuffrè is killed-off almost immediately while Erika Blanc, as his wife Lucia, is given nothing to do except bawl about Francesco’s unfortunate predicament.  Character actor Giorgio Ardisson also shows up at the tail end of the film as the obligatory commissario who has a couple of brief but mindless lines, but it’s Biagio Pelligra (who was so believable in Umberto Lenzi’s FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN [1979], which also starred Merola) as the token scumbag who is easily the most engaging aspect of the entire film.  He definitely adds some much needed life into the proceedings, but his limited screen time can’t save this typically clichéd and impoverished production.

-Dennis Capicik with additional comments from Steve Fenton.
A table of assorted "stuff" (note the framed photo of Merola) at a small flea market on Via Pellegrini outside the Montesanto funicular station in Naples.
At the Castel dell' Ovo in the Gulf of Naples as seen in many a Mario Merola flick.

1 comment:

  1. "Unfortunately, vengeance comes neither piping hot nor even ice cold, but merely as dull as dishwater."
    Damn! Good line. Wish I'd thought of that one!

    ReplyDelete

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