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Vittorio Gassman (1922-2000)

  1. Robert Taylor, The Valley of the Kings, 1954.    He was in  town as Shelley Winters’ second husband and,  momentarily, MGM was going to send the Italian to Egypt as an Indiana Jones prototype -  until playing safe with Taylor as the  adventuring archaeologist searching for the tomb of the 18th dynasty pharaoh Ra-Hotep. Never happy in, nor with Hollywood - playing Hungarians, Mexicans, etc, in "the most dreadful" B-movies - Italy’s Laurence Olivier preferred touring his homeland as Hamlet.
  2. Rossano Brazzi, Three Coins in the Fountain, 1953.    Noting the opportunity missed by Paramount with Roman  Holiday, Fox decided to shoot this Rome-com  in colour and, for the first time outside the US, in CinemaScope.  Gassman had been the earlier black-white choice for Prince Dino de Cessi. And Brazzi stole the film… and Jean Peters! 
  3. James Mitchell, The Prodigal, 1954.     Prodigal means “recklessly wasteful and extravagant.”  Exactly.  Change of Asham, the runaway slave who is befriended by the titular Edmund Purdom. Fortunately, Asham was a mute because Mitchell was a dancer not an actor and indeed, he had been sacked by director Wild Bill Wellman from Battleground in 1949  for moving more like dancer than a tough drill sergeant! He later made good (?) as Palmer Cortlandt in 437 episodes of the daytime TV soap, All My Children, 1979-2010. 
  4. Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur, 1958.     For  the MGMighty $5m epic re-make, the favourite for the hero was the disinterested  Brando. Director William Wyler (of the original’s 1924 crew) also studied  Italians  Gassman and Cesare Danova. Plus Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Van Johnson (no, really!), Burt Lancaster  - and Edmund Purdom, who had picked up another epic dropped by Brando, The Egyptian, 1953.  Judah Ben-Heston  won his Oscar on April 4 1960. 
  5. Carlos Thompson, The Valley of the Kings, 1954.    Never happy in Hollywood - playing Hungarians, Mexicans, etc, in "the most dreadful" B-movies - Italy's Laurence Olivier preferred touring his homeland as Hamlet.
  6. Alberto Sordi, La Grande Guerra (US: The Great War), Italy-France, 1959.    Gassman  and Sordi switched roles  - odd,  as they’re both cowards - in the great Mario Monicelli film.
  7. Walter Chiari, They’re A Weird Mob, 1966.     UK director Michael Powell felt duty-bound to talk to Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis about a possible co-production of the book with Gassman as the Italian hero in Australia - although Powell always felt   Chiari was better.
  8. Yves Montand, La guerre est fini, France-Sweden, 1966.    Third on realisateur Alain Resnais' list after Montand and Paul Newman. "I can," said the French star, "never thank Alain Resnais enough   for giving me this part. Diego's loyalty to an ideal despite his doubts coincided with my thinking." And obviously lead to his Costa-Gavras trio: Z,   State of Siege, L'Aveu.
  9. Yves   Montand, La Diable par le queue, France, 1968.     Comedy by the old firm - scenarist Daniel Boulanger and director Philippe de Broca (and their script doctor, realisateur Claude Sautet).   Gassman suddenly backed out and Montand came in.   "If you make the film with that singer," said Sautet, "I'll never talk to you again."   He soon changed his mind and found his own César for César et Rosalie. 1972, when Gassman left that one, too. De Broca praised Costa-Gavras for revealing Montand's comedy side in Compartiment   tueurs, except Montand did that first in his celebrated one-man stage shows.   Then, he was   in charge of his act; he was scared of being ridiculous under someone else's control.

  10. Yves Montand, César et Rosalie,France, 1972.
    French réalisateur Claude Sautet first planned his slice of autobiography tale in 1962, for his favourtie actors fromhis great 1960 thriller, Classe tous risques.: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo. When Ventura balked, Sautet talked to Gassman, while script-doctoring in Italy (after two big French flops). By then, Belmondo was too big to be the third lead to Gassmann and, no longer Bardot, but Deneuve as Rosalie. Montand was then announced as the third César, fresh from his new, light comedy persona in the triumph of De Broca's Le Diable par la queue, 1969 (as a guy called César in a script co-written by... Sautet).  After nightmarish rewrites, complex shooting (Montand and Samy Frey were rivals on-set and off) and Sautet's most painful editing process, “that singer” made it his own - indelibly. Eventhough he had originally refused for the same reason as Gassman  -Cornuto? Impossibile.”   They had no wish to play a cuckold.Montand saw reason - and a great success. “There are roles like that liberate you and enrich you.

  11. Donald Sutherland, Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Casanova), 1975.   With his second producer Andrea Rizzoli (son of La Dolce Vita producer Angelo Rizzoli) in 1974, Fellini shot tests of certain actors as the older Casanova - before settling for one actor  as young and old. The testees were Alain Cuny (from La Dolce Vita), Ugo Tognazzi - and Vittorio Gassman, a previous Italian screen Casanova in Il Cavaliere misterioso, 1948. But never Marcello Mastroianni - who was later rewarded with an older Casanova in La nuit de Varennes, 1981, directed by his (and Fellini’s) old friend, Ettore Scola. Gassman’s (nervy) test was seen in Scola’s wondrous film about Fellini, Che strano chiamarsi Federico, 2013.
  12. Ben Kingsley, Bugsy, 1991.    Being Meyer Lansky was part of New Wave ikon Jean-Luc Godard's casting (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charlotte Rampling, Diane Keaton) for what would have been a tres Godardian version of the Bugsy Siegel story in 1979.
  13. Sean Connery, Der Name der Rose/The Name of the Rose, France-Italy-West Germany, 1986.   Réalisateur Jean-Jacques Annaud was not keen on 007 as Umberto Eco’s medieval monk turned detective.  Columia Pictures even refused financing if Connery was involved as his post-Bond star was imploding. Naturally, Brando topped Annaud’s further 14 ideas. Six Americans: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Frederic Forrest, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Roy Scheider; four Brits: Michael Caine, Albert Finney, Ian McKellen, Terence Stamp; plus the Italian Gassman, Canadian Donald Sutherland, French Yves Montand, Irish Richard Harris and Swedish Max von Sydow. Connery’s reading was the best and his career exploded anew. Two years later, he won his support Oscar for The Untouchables.
  14. Raf Vallone, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
  15. Philippe Noiret, Rossini!   Rossini! France-Italy, 1991.    US director Robert Altman spent six months prepping the opera composer’s biopic before bowing out. Mario Monicelli made the film in Italy. Noiret resembled Giacchinio Rossini rather more than Gassman or (Altman’s choice for the younger man) Richard E Grant. And Gassman stayed aboard as... Beethhoven.
  16. Bernard Fresson, Clash, France-Yugoslavia, 1983.  French horrorsmith Raphael  Delpard tried to get the Italian… by the simple expedient of asking Gassman’s girlfriend to give him a copy of the script.  She was Gassman’s make-up artist on the film he was making for Alain  Resnais... But one French film that year was enough, merci beaucoup.






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