How I Found The Classic Film series:Don Camillo

Don Camillo talking to Christ

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California

In the late 1950’s I went to California to take part in my brother Lyle’s wedding. At the time, he was living in Hollywood with several other young professionals who shared the rent on a Spanish type house located above the Hollywood Bowl. Among those in the house was my cousin Phil who told me about the Don Camillo films. Phil was a bit older than me and younger than Lyle. Lyle was getting ready to settle down; Phil was looking for new adventures

California Life

In a way, though, both men were products of those times. The World Wars were over and California was the new paradise. Lyle had been discharged from the Navy, went to school on the GI Bill and then moved to Los Angeles where he became an engineer for the water department. Phil was facing the draft and wanted to be drafted from California. I forget the exact reasoning but I believe it was so that when he was discharged it would be in California. Lyle was getting established in a career, whereas Phil was looking for new worlds. At the time we were there, he was a salesman for a company selling drafting tools. He later became a free-lance photographer. The cousins shared some interests and attitudes, however. They were both interested in photography, music, Hi-Fidelity sound (known as Hi-Fi back then). Lyle liked classical and band music, Phil liked modern Jazz.

I guess Hi-Fi was a bit of a fad back then. Lyle and Phil were working to build a cabinet for their sound equipment using heavy plywood. When I asked what the point was, Lyle explained that the goal of Hi-Fi was for sound to be played as close as possible to the original sound—not enhanced. As such, they were making a cabinet that would dampen any extraneous vibrations or other sounds not inherent in the recordings.

Phil was closer to my age than Lyle was and Lyle was absorbed in preparing to get married, so Phil showed me around LA. From all I hear, it was nicer back at that time than it is now. Phil liked to go to the beach where he indulged in a poor man’s version of surfing. Instead of surf boards we went into the surf with inflated rubber mattresses. These we held under our chests and waited for a wave to come. It was fun until I miscalculated a wave and got tumbled about. I remember Phil leading out of the water and a lifeguard insisting that I rest. I went out on the warm sand and lay down and did not go back in the water.

Don Camillo statue

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Foreign Films

I was already a fan of foreign films, especially of Alec Guinness, whose films Lyle had made me aware of sometime earlier. Minneapolis, where I lived at the time, had about three Art theaters. Back then they showed films that had artistic value, not the kind of things they later became known for. When I was in California, Phil told me what a really funny movie “The Little World of Don Camillo” was. He was right. That film and others like it are classic. The films are based on a character in books written by Giovannino Guareschi (1908-68), according to Wikipedia. A series of books was written on the same characters as in the movies. I just ran across a reference to a TV show in the 1980’s of which I was unaware.

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Don Camillo

The protagonists in the stories are Don Camillo, a priest in an Italian town after WWII and Peptone, the mayor of the town who is a communist. The action and much of the humor in the stories come from the conflict between these two characters. Both men are tough minded and tough physically. Some of the humor is derived from the fact that people expect a priest to be gentle. This priest is not.

A crucifix in the town church acts a sort of a conscience to Don Camillo. Jesus on the crucifix talks to the priest and they have conversations, mostly about how the priest must improve his behavior.

Despite conflicts between the priest and the mayor both men, although they would not admit it, have a grudging respect for each other.

The acting of Fernandel as Don Camillo adds a great deal to the character.

I forget when I first saw the Don Camillo films, but when I did I became as enthused about them as Phil had been. The producers had an excellent sense of timing, the acting was great and the humor was integral to the plots.

Lyle died some years ago and I have not seen Phil for many years. I am grateful that he led me to some interesting films.

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