September 2, 2014

Directors

Mario Zampi (1903-1963) b. Rome, Italy.

Mario Zampi

For an Italian, Mario Zampi had an amazing grasp of the British sense of humour. In the 1950s he made five tremendously enjoyable romps that had something of the Ealing flavour, although there were signs that, just before his early death, he was beginning to lose his golden touch. Zampi was associated with British film-making for over 30 years, although he had started his film career in his native Rome as an actor at 17. He came to Britain in 1923 and, after some minor acting experience on stage and in films, became more interested in the technical side of movie-making. By 1930, he was working for Warner Brothers’ British arm at their Teddington studios as a film editor. In 1937, Zampi co-founded Two Cities films with his fellow Italian Filippo Del Giudice; the company subsequently enjoyed a distinguished record, among its films being In Which We Serve (1942), The Way Ahead (1944), Henry V (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Hamlet (1948). Zampi’s own directorial career had meantime got under way in 1938, but it was ten years before he made any sort of impact and then it was with an uncharacteristic film, The Fatal Night (1948), only 50 minutes long, but one of the most frightening films ever made, full of horrors not quite or only half-seen, flickering lights and shadows on walls, a triumph, in fact, of the editor’s skill. The comedies began in 1951 and the best of them are Laughter in Paradise (1951), Top Secret (1952), Happy Ever After (1954), The Naked Truth (1957) and Too Many Crooks (1958). Again, Zampi’s editing and directing skills complement those of such comedy stars as Alastair Sim, Terry-Thomas, George Cole and Peter Sellers. And these are also films whose sense of fun and enjoyment is infectious. The best bits in them are absolutely hilarious side-splitting moments of the cinema. This is especially true of Laughter in Paradise (1951) in which an eccentric will forces the would-be inheritors into various uncharacteristic acts, and Happy Ever After (1954), an Irish comedy which drags in practically every known Irish joke and amazingly makes them all seem funny. Like all Zampi’s films until the last, which was perhaps his most disappointing, they move at a tremendous pace, and Too Many Crooks (1958), about a bunch of bungling burglars, has a riotous car chase which owes something to The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), but pre-dates the equally funny one in The Wrong Arm of the Law (1962). Zampi surprisingly missed most of the opportunities presented by the school comedy Bottoms Up! (1959), but if Alastair Sim had played the headmaster, who knows what fresh inspiration Zampi might have found.



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