Vittorio Gassman

  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.   
    Sword and sandal epics were in.  And producer Sam Zimbalist, who’d made one of the biggest – Quo Vadis, 1950 – was back in Rome in charge  of the better (well, William Wyler was directing) re-make of the 1923 silent Ben-Hur, racing chariots and all.  Sam even considered retaining his Vadis trio: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger. Friendly rivals Marlon Brando and Paul Newman were up for the titular Judah –  still smarting from his 1954 debut, The Silver Chalice, Newman hated  ancient Rome costumes, or cocktail dresses as he termed them. Sam also short-listed Richard Burton (from The Robe, 1953), Montgomery Clift, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson (furious with Universal refusing to loan him out), Van Johnson (no, really!), Burt Lancaster (an atheist with no interest in Christianitycommercials, although he had earlier tried to mount his own version), true Brit Edmond Purdom, who had picked up another epic dropped by Brando, The Egyptian, in 1953.… plus Italians, known and unknown: Vittorio Gassman  and Cesare Danova.  MGM voted Heston, CB De Mille’s Moses in The Ten Commandments, 1954. According to “contributing writer” Gore Vidal, Willie Wyler called Heston wooden. Brando, for one, would not disagree. Yet, Judah Ben-Heston won the 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. Peter Sellers, After the Fox, 1965.  First and final film from Peter Sellers and John Bryan’s Brookfield company. A linguistic nightmare after Sellers invited Vittorio De Sica to direct the Italian heist comedy somehow co-scripted  by Broadway king Neil Simon and De Sica’s favourite scenarist, Cesare Zavattini. And Mrs Sellers, Britt Ekland, played his sister (!) – looking as Italian as most Swedes do. Neil Simon had wanted a Latin star. Vittorio Gassman or Marcello Mastroianni. Apparently, the mess became a later cult. Can’t think why. 
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. David Hemmings, The Best House in London, 1968.   In Victorian times, the government tries to take the whores off the streets and into  the world’s #1 brothel. That was  the Italian  government when Carlo Ponti’s production was Best House in Milan for his wife, Sophia, opposite either Marcello Mastroianni or Vittorio Gassman. (Like who else?) Ponti switched it to London with a lower budget and lesser stars: Joanna Pettet and David Hemmings. In the first MGMovie to get (laughable) X rating.
  12. Yves Montand, César et Rosalie, France, 1972. 
    Two guys in love with the same woman… Oskar Werner  refused the  younger guy. Well, he’d been here before and saw little reason to modernise Jules et Jim, the French classic  that made  him a  star in ’62..  (Besides he was the same age as his possible César, Vittorio Gassmann, a year younger than Yves Montand French réalisateur Claude Sautet first planned this slice of autobiography in 1962, for his favourite actors from  his 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. Even  though 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.”  Sautet’s greatest box-office triumph, – the most cherished by the French public. (BB and Ventura made Boulevard du rhum, 1971, and did not get on).

  13. 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.
  14. 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. 
  15. 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. Five Americans: , 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, Canadians Christopher Plummer and Donald Sutherland, French Yves Montand and Irish Richard Harris.   Connery’s reading was the best and his career exploded anew. Two years later, he won his support Oscar for The Untouchables.
  16. 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.
  17. Raf Vallone, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
  18. Philippe Noiret, Rossini!   Rossini! France-Italy, 1991.  During his Euro-period, Robert Altman worked on the project, scripted by the great adapter Andrew Davies, and selected Richard E Grant and Gassman (from Altman’s A Wedding, 1977) as the younger and older opera composer Gioacchino Rossini. Altman moved on, letting Italian maestro Mario Monicelli make it his way. With Italy’s  Sergio Castelitto and  French star Noiret as the young and old Rossini… and Gassman having an uncredited stroll-on as Beethoven.   
  19. Michaël Youen, Iznogoud (Iznogoud – Caliph Instead of the Caliph), France, 2004.   The Grand Vizir of the Caliph of old Baghdad was co-created in French comicbooks by René Goscinny (of Asterix fame). He also co-wrote the first movie script with auteur Pierre Tcherina in 1972 – “no deal – just for fun” – aimed at top French screen comic Louis de Funès, Vittorio Gassman, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. This 2004 version aimed much lower. 






 Birth year: 1922Death year: 2000Other name: Casting Calls:  19