Writer of Italian screen satire
Tuesday 27 December 2005
Agenore Incrocci, known as Age, was one half of the most celebrated writing team in Italian cinema. Together with his colleague Furio Scarpelli, he helped create the commedia all'italiana style of film-making which satirised contemporary Italian life during the economic boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Signing their work as Age and Scarpelli, the pair were particularly associated with the films of the directors Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi, Pietro Germi and Ettore Scola, while at the same time providing actors such as Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi and Alberto Sordi with many of their most resonant and emblematic roles.
Their talents were recognised outside Italy as well: they were engaged by Alfred Hitchcock to write a Hollywood caper film (regrettably, never filmed), and their screenplays for Monicelli's I compagni (The Organizer, 1963) and Casanova '70 (1965) both received Oscar nominations.
Agenore Incrocci was born in Brescia in Lombardy in 1919, and spent a peripatetic childhood travelling around Italy with his parents, both of whom were actors. In 1935, he undertook dubbing work on Mario Monicelli's first film, I ragazzi della via Paal ("The Boys of Paal Street"), and began working in radio and variety shows while at the same time studying law, which he abandoned before graduation. During the Second World War, he fought in the French army and was captured by the Germans; he managed to escape and spent the duration of hostilities serving in the US Army.
Following the Liberation, he returned to radio work and wrote sketches for satirical magazines such as Marc'Aurelio and Basilio, as well as collaborating on the screenplay of I due orfanelli ("The Two Orphans", 1947), a comedy starring the hugely popular Neapolitan comic Totò. It was during this period that he first met Furio Scarpelli, a young Roman (born the same year as Age) who was employed as an illustrator on many of the same periodicals.
In 1949, Age and Scarpelli collaborated with Monicelli on Totò cerca casa ("Totò Seeks a Home"), a film which contained the first glimmer of the future commedia all'italiana themes, with its use of broad farce to illustrate the very real housing shortage problem then afflicting the country.
The pair continued to work together on a number of Totò vehicles over the next few years, including Totò cerca moglie ("Totò Seeks a Wife", 1950), which featured Age's actress sister, Zoe, in the cast, as well as on several swashbucklers, such as the Emilio Salgari adaptation The Three Pirates (I tre corsari, 1952).
In 1958, the team enjoyed their first world-wide success with Monicelli's I soliti ignoti (shown in Britain as Persons Unknown and in America as Big Deal on Madonna Street), a charming comedy about an incompetent bunch of crooks starring Gassman, Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, and the seemingly ever-present Totò. Speaking in 1999, Monicelli recalled,
We would begin by talking about everything but the film. We would talk about what happened that day, newspaper items, books and films we had seen.
And then, bit by bit, we would get to the film. We would begin by talking about specific scenes, work scenes out, take notes, and then divide things up. You write this scene and I write this scene. We would then get back together, exchange our scenes, and make comments. Then go back to do rewrites and go through the process again until we arrive at the final script.
It was the success of I soliti ignoti which led to Hitchcock's offer, and the duo travelled to Hollywood to discuss a project concerning a gang of crooks who run an hotel. The idea was later abandoned, with Hitchcock noting that, "It got too complicated . . . and there was a language barrier."
Nothing daunted, Age and Scarpelli returned to Italy to write one of their biggest hits, Monicelli's La grande guerra (The Great War, 1959), a thinly veiled attack on the till-then taboo subject of Italy's involvement in the First World War, featuring Gassman and Sordi as a pair of hapless oafs caught up in the conflict.
Age and Scarpelli were now at their creative peak, and over the next few years collaborated on such classics of commedia all'italiana as Dino Risi's Il mattatore (1960, shown in America as Love and Larceny), La Marcia su Roma ("The March on Rome", 1962), and I mostri ("The Monsters", 1963), Pietro Germi's Divorce - Italian Style (1961) and Seduced and Abandoned (1964), and Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso (1962).
The team's run of success was interrupted, if only briefly, by their involvement with Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in 1966. Leone, who admired La grande guerra and was developing his script with Age and Scarpelli's co-writer on that venture, was horrified by their contribution, claiming it was "a disaster. There were jokes and nothing else. I couldn't use a single thing they'd written." None the less, the pair were still credited in the final version.
In the 1970s, they worked on Ettore Scola's highly regarded C'eravamo tanto amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much, 1974), which featured Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman and Stefania Sandrelli, and, in 1980, the same director's La terrazza ("The Terrace"), in which Age made a cameo appearance as a psychiatrist.
In 1985, Age and Scarpelli decided to work on separate projects, an apparently amicable decision which happened to coincide with the seemingly terminal decline of the Italian film industry which they had done so much to embellish.
Age's last credit was on the three-part film Boom, made in 1999. In later years, he was also an active member of Anac, the Italian Authors' Guild.
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