Shadows of Ferrara

Written by  Paolo Micalizzi
Films, roles and characters featuring some famous Ferrara actors, past and present
In the panorama of Italian cinema, many actors from Ferrara stand out. During the 1920s, one of the major Italian stars was Livio Cesare Pavanelli (Copparo 1881 - Roma 1958). Vigorous, expressive, elegant in his white tie and tails, the embodiment of the belle époque, he was the Clark Gable, the Bob Taylor of his time. He personified the typical cinema lover of the period, bringing to life the character of an elegant bon viveur.

He played with all the most celebrated stars of the era: Hesperia, Lyda Borelli, Francesca Bertini, Pina Menichelli Elena Sangro, Maria Jacobini, Leda Gys. He acted in some eighty films from 1913 onwards, after a lively career in the theatre, where he played alongside Eleonora Duse in all the capital cities of Europe and America.

Born in Quacchio (1919) Adriana Benetti played the central role in the film "Doctor Beware" ("Teresa Venerdì", 1941) directed by Vittorio De Sica. She played a simple and honest young girl, wrapped in gentle melancholy.

A character which she played in most of her films. With Vittorio De Sica, Benetti also acted in "Four steps in the Clouds"("Quattro passi fra le nuvole"). She made around thirty films in total, in Italy and in Spain and Argentina.

Gualtiero Tumiati (Ferrara 1876, Roma 1971) came to film from the theatre, where he had a number of famous performances to his name. His first film was Mario Soldati's "Malombra"(1942).

He later played minor roles, all finely portrayed, in around thirty films. Outstanding were his interpretations of the miserly old vineyard owner Felix Grandet in Mario Soldati's "Eugenia Grandet" (1946); the father of the Romagna brigand Stefano Pelloni (Rossano Brazzi) in Duilio Coletti's "The ferryman" ("Il passatore", 1947); a priest in "I figli di nessuno" (1951) and in "Chi è senza peccato" (1952), both directed by Raffaello Matarazzo, and starring the famous couple Amedeo Nazzari and Yvonne Sanson. He retired, by now blind, in 1958.

But in 1969, aged 93, he returned to the stage at la Scala to play the part of the blind Teiresias in "Oedipus Rex".
At the age of eighty-eight, Arnoldo Foà, born in Ferrara in 1916, is still an actor of the first rank, in the theatre and for poetry recitals.

He has acted in around fifty films. Had he listened to the director Alessandro Blasetti he would never have become an actor. When he moved to Rome, aged almost twenty, to attend the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, he tried every means to dissuade him, because he did not think he had the necessary abilities to become an actor. Arnoldo Foà would not give up, and responded staunchly to this judgement.

His position gained him the sympathy of the director who subsequently lent strong support to his application to the Centro. However, another obstacle remained. This was 1938, and the Centro's director Luigi Chiarini informed him, with much regret, that he would have to expel him for racial reasons, because he was Jewish.

Once again he would not be bested, and became the number one understudy in Italy. Whenever an actor became ill, died unexpectedly or was injured, the young Arnoldo rushed to save the day using false names or dressed to suit the requirements of the script.

He moved to Naples, where he was employed as a radio presenter: it was he, on the morning of 8 September 1943, who gave millions of Italians the news of the armistice. Foà worked not only in the cinema, but also on radio and television and in dubbing.

The singer Milva, born in Goro, also played leading roles, particularly as an interpreter of the songs and operas of Bertolt Brecht. She played a number of cinema roles, made films in France and Switzerland and worked with the Polish director Kryzstof Zanussi.

Among those who did not play leading roles, Ferrara can celebrate three actresses in particular. Pina Gallini played interesting parts in around ninety films. She resembled Tina Pica, with a brusque, authoritative manner, full of verve.

In genre films, from mythology to thrillers, José Greci stands out: from her 1959 debut in William Wyler's "Ben Hur" until 1974, she made around thirty films. Rosy Mazzacurati is also Ferrara-born. She worked with Alberto Lattuada, Mauro Bolognini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Antonio Battistella (Ferrara 1912, Roma 1980) played a number of fringe parts in the cinema but had great success in television.

We should also mention Franco Pelegatti for his performance as the young tough in Mario Soldati's film "The River Girl" ("La donna del fiume", 1955), and Lola Bonora, seen in particular in Pupi Avati's films. She also acted in "The long night of '43" ("La lunga notte del '43", 1960) directed by Florestano Vancini, and in the televised versions of "The Mill on the Po" ("Il mulino del Po", 1971) and "The Brothers Karamazov" (1969), both directed by Sandro Bolchi.

Outstanding new faces from Ferrara in the world of cinema include Gianni Fantoni, Giuseppe Gandini and Elena Felloni. The comic note which he brought to high-profile television programmes has also made his appearance in the cinema in a number of films.

There have been somewhat serious roles, albeit with a touch of humour, for Giuseppe Gandini. Elena Felloni has made strong appearances in several shorts.