Un americano a Roma

David Ellwood discusses America's cultural take-over of Europe in a seemingly innocent Italian 1950s comedy called "Un Americano a Roma". The comedy features a hapless hero whose attempts to Americanise himself mirror Italy's struggle to handle a clash of cultures after World War II.

1954 and 1955 were the most golden of all the golden years of post-war Italian cinema. Over 800 million tickets were sold in 1954, 819 million in 1955, a peak never to be reached again. Purpose-built picture-houses continued to open in their hundreds each year, and there was a constant stream of new talent and home-grown film sensations. 'If 1954 was Gina Lollobrigida's year, 1955 will be Sophia Loren's', the popular newsweekly Epoca predicted in its Christmas edition. Immortal classics of European cinema reached the screen for the first time in these months: Visconti's historical epic Senso and Fellini's Oscar-winning La Strada, were masterpieces and celebrated as such from the start of their careers.

But it was the extraordinary vitality of film comedy which kept the studios working and the box-offices busy. Cheap, snappy, often using hordes of ordinary folk and improvised locations, the commedia all'italiana was a genuine new contribution to popular film culture and made the fortunes of actors like Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassman, of directors like Luigi Comencini, Mario Monicelli and Dino Risi.

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