CineSavant Column

Tuesday September 15, 2020


Don’t look now, it’s Renzo Cesana. Who?  About a week ago I was looking at Kino’s new disc of Joan Tewksbury’s Old Boyfriends (1979) with Talia Shire and John Belushi, and was surprised at what jumped out at me.  Let me backtrack: an ongoing sidebar story by Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller comes up at Noir City festivals whenever the grim noir saga Try and Get Me! is screened. The producer of the 1950 film insisted on having an intellectual character in the movie, a foreign philosopher-busybody who repeatedly lectures the main characters about morality. “Don’t you think,” he purrs, that it’s a deplorable idea to form a vigilante mob and hang two men before they can be tried for murder? (Actually, maybe we need this philosopher-busybody now, to get the public at large to calm the hell down.) Anyway, this foreign-sounding windbag in Try and Get Me! is played by the ultra-calm actor Renzo Cesana. Film students may also know him from Rossellini’s Stromboli, as a priest who advises Ingrid Bergman to relax, even when sulfurous volcanic rocks fall from the sky, something that happens almost every day.

Rode & Muller’s Renzo story:  in 1952 the CBS network picked up Cesana’s odd late-night TV show called The Continental. It consisted only of Cesana, dressed in a tux, in a reality TV sketch: he simply talks to the audience, presumably lonely women, with soothing romantic intimate talk, serving an unseen ‘her’ a glass of champagne, smiling, paying her compliments, etc. It’s truly bizarre. I never saw this in person but Cesana released similar vocal recordings. This one has Cesana reciting song lyrics. Christopher Walken did a spot-on SNL parody of The Continental… but did viewers remember what he was spoofing?

The (tenuous) connection here is that when the lonely Talia Shire turns on a motel TV in Old Boyfriends, up pops our old friend The Continental, to offer her a smile and some comforting small talk, like Pepe Le Pew only more oleagenous. Well, in his own way Renzo is a pretty smooth dude… more seductive than Rossano Brazzi in South Pacific or Yves Montand in Grand Prix. Talia’s character looks like she’s enjoying this particular fantasy… Signor Cesana’s advanced course in ‘Gigolo 101.’ Old Boyfriends was written by Paul and Leonard Schrader — were they fans of ‘The Continental?’ Thanks for pointing this out to us, Alan.

‘News’ flash: contributor Paul Penna adds to ‘Continental Fever’: He sends along a YouTube link to a 1956 Popeye cartoon Parlez Vous Woo, with Bluto impersonating ‘The International.’ Sounds like Jackson Beck, Bluto’s regular voice at the time, does the Cesanaesque stuff as well. Thank you Mr. Penna!


Here’s something inspired by the When Worlds Collide review last Saturday. New correspondent Parfyon Kirshnit directs us to a fascinating website that’s all in Russian: a 1955 Soviet film strip for children made from an article by A. Zhigarev that appeared in the October 1954 issue of the magazine ‘Znanie-Sila.’ The author says that the color is weak because the filmstrip has faded.

The filmstrip lays out a proposition for a U.S.S.R  Rocket to the Moon program. The interesting thing to us is that the 48 +/- illustrated pages display imagery similar to George Pal’s films, and Walt Disney’s Man in Space television shows. The spaceship’s name is ‘Luna-1.’ It takes off from an inclined ramp that vaults up the side of ‘Mount Kazbek,’ assisted by a rocket-sled undercarriage, just like the Space Ark in When Worlds Collide. The ramp even has a snow shield. The ship’s overall design is similar as well; it’s described as a ‘strato-plane.’ The lunar landing gear fold out of the ship’s fuselage, just like Disney’s ‘Rocket to the Moon’ feature at the then-new Disneyland.

The filmstrip’s title card reads “Flight to the Moon, artist K. Artseulov.” The text has more technical detail than the average 1950s ‘space future’ articles and books that were popular here in the U.S.. According to one of the illustrations, the ship’s speed leaving the ramp is supposed to be 600 meters per second … like a skyrocket, I guess. Radar from the ground detects a meteorite and the ship shifts course a bit to avoid it. The final page tells us this is all a prediction of the future and that maybe the young readers will help to make it reality.

Language translators online are indispensable for investigating these things. I imagine that Soviet space researcher Robert Skotak knows all about this filmstrip… I wish he would publish his promised book about Soviet space films.


A fun bit of video from U.K. correspondent Dave Carnegie of some people erecting an inflatable screen for an outdoor movie presentation during quarantine — nothing that remarkable, but I haven’t seen it done before. It’s at somewhere called Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire. I bet the skies aren’t smoky THERE today, cough cough. Dave Carnegie writes:

“A happy band of volunteers set up an open-air cinema to bring people together. 148 viewers turned up for the first show on September 9, 2020. A good evening was had by all. There was a strong wind which did not help but on the second attempt the young lads had the screen up in five minutes. Brilliant display. Picture and sound were more than adequate. It shows what can be done ‘if you have a go’ as Wilfred Pickles used to say.”

It doesn’t look like something you want to do in even a slight breeze, but I thought it was cute, especially the dialogue. I’ll have to ask Lee Broughton about Wilfrid Pickles… ?   Good going, Dave.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson