While previous studies have focused on the Italian strong men and their careers in Italy itself, such as Monica Dall’Asta’s Un cinéma musclé (1992), Gli uomini forti (1983) by Alberto Farassino and Tati Sanguineti and the booklet Maciste & Co. by Vittorio Martinelli (1981), little is known about the careers abroad of these strong men after their films made in Italy. In her recent (2014) publication on ‘Maciste abroad’, Dall’Asta mainly focuses on international reception. While fleetingly mentioning the German productions by Maciste-actor Bartolomeo Pagano and also briefly mentioning the German careers of Luciano Albertini and Carlo Aldini, Dall’Asta calls Albertini and Aldini epigones of Maciste, which to my opinion doesn’t do justice to the quite different characterization of Aldini and Albertini. Neither does it recognize their enormous success in Germany and elsewhere, in contrast to the less successful German productions with Pagano as Maciste.The most extensive study hitherto was Vittorio Martinelli’s older article ‘I Gastarbeiter fra le due guerre’ (1978), though this comprised not only the strong men but also actors and actresses working in the dramatic and comic genres and mostly consisted of long filmographies.
For one decade the Italian action heroes Luciano Albertini and Carlo Aldini made dozens of German films, which catapulted them into international stars and made them household names all over Europe and beyond. This can be traced not only in the context of trade press and historical programming databases, but also in existing film prints in European archives: more films remain than you expect, though still many need to be restored, confirming the same domination of auteur cinema over genre cinema today. The best films of Albertini c.s. had exactly the right combinations. Commenting on Der Unüberwindliche, German press praised its script without improbabilities, the tempo of the action, the surpassing of obstacles, and this all done with smiles and grace: “Few German comedies have the technical perfection, and the filmic art, of this sensation film. Which possesses one ‘fugato’, one continuous flow of moving pictures.”
This gap has made me design the film programme Italian Muscle Abroad for the 2015 edition of the renowned silent film festival Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. In particular at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and the Brussels Cinematek preserved prints are available, while rare and unique prints of other films are e.g. in Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna. Because of restrictions only four feature films will be shown this time, of which one film is a two-part film, the lavish German epic Helena (Manfred Noa, 1924), shot at the Emelka studios in Munch at the time, parallel to Lang’s Nibelungen in Berlin (shown in Pordenone last year), and with impressive cast, set design and special effects. Carlo Aldini, who already had done a quite unimpressive German film, Die narrische Wette des Lord Aldini (1923) – even if with an introduction equaling the Eugen Sandow early displays of muscle – would have his German and international breakthrough with this film as the tormented muscleman Achilles, who is madly in love with Helena, with an affair on the side with his buddy Patroclus, played by a young Carl/Karel Lamac, the future film director and husband of Anny Ondra. Filmmuseum Munich did a terrific job in digitally restoring this film, while Günther Buchwald and Frank Bockius will provide the live music to it. I would have loved to add one or two adventure films with Aldini too, to get an idea of his typology in the adventure genre, but alas we didn’t have room for it. A small comfort is a rare, unique trailer for Aldini’s fast-paced adventure film Der Kampf gegen Berlin (Max Reichmann, 1925). Perhaps in the future we can show the full film in Pordenone too, as it exists and has been preserved. If so, then it would also be nice to show other Aldini adventure films like the Agatha Christie adaptation Die Abenteurer GmbH (Fred Sauer, 1928), in which Carlo is a honest, optimist, poor and strong sailor, mixed up in a sordid spy affair, together with a clever, bright young woman, played by Eve Gray.
Instead, this year’s Pordenone will show three brand new restorations of films with Aldini’s countryman Luciano Albertini. He already had had a long career in circus, vaudeville and Italian silent film before moving over to Berlin in 1921 and getting an even bigger career there. Unfortunately Albertini’s earliest German films lack in Pordenone, such as the preserved films Julot der Apache (Joseph Delmont, 1921) with a fascinating plot element of the apache’s stardom represented by merchandise and a film career, and Die Schlucht des Todes (Albertini, 1923), with Lya de Putti as co-star and involving literal cliffhangers in Germany (supposedly Argentine) but also location shooting in Italy. Instead, three new restorations of films with Albertini are presented: the new colour restoration of Mister Radio (1924) by the Austrian Filmmuseum, the new colour restoration of Rinaldo Rinaldini (Max Obal, 1926/1927) by the EYE Filmmuseum, and the new restoration of Der Unüberwindliche (Max Obal, 1928) by the Bundesarchiv Berlin. All three films with breath-taking stunts and intriguing location shooting in the city centre of Genoa, Berlin, or the Southern-German Alps, but also shot on massive sets such as the circus in Der Unüberwindliche. The latter is a worthy successor to Albertini’s earlier circus film I’d have loved to include, Der Mann auf den Kometen (Alfred Halm, 1925). In return both refer to Albertini’s earlier Italian films Sansone, acrobata del kolossal and the yet unrestored La spirale della morte, but also Albertini’s original career as acrobat and circus artist in circuses like Busch in Germany.
In his 2010 dissertation Der Zirkusfilm Matthias Christen has wonderfully described the representation of the circus in film as microcosm on one hand, but also transgressive alternative to the world outside. Incidentally, the films with Albertini and others are highly self-reflexive and self-promoting, constantly referring not only to former films, but also preceding careers of circus, ‘poses plastiques’, artist models, gymnasts and athletes. In their pedigree, physique and performance, and thus their creation of star personae, they are different from the more robust strong men coming from the worlds of wrestling (Raicevich) or the docks (Pagano/Maciste), as they are romantic heroes, gifted with speed, wit, charm and understatement, not only pecs and biceps. They don’t have to be only go-betweens between lovers, they are lovers themselves. The films in the programme offers additional treats such as some animation shots by Oskar Fischinger, Hans Albers as bad guy, comical sidekicks like ‘factotum’ Herman Picha, the overdressed ‘bad woman’ (delicious Vivian Gibson), and the powerful legs of circus girls.