Tullio Pinelli: Fellini's long-standing screenwriter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tullio Pinelli was one of Italy's best-known screenwriters and he worked with many of the great directors. He will be best remembered, however, for writing all of Federico Fellini's films up to the mid-1960s and garnering four Oscar nominations in the process.

Pinelli, who was born in Turin in 1908, came from a noble family; after Italian unification in the mid-19th century, a great-uncle quashed a Calabrian revolt. In 1952, Pinelli recreated this incident in Il Brigante di Tacca del Lupo ["The Bandits of Tacca del Lupo"].

Pinelli initially worked as a lawyer and wrote in his spare time, but the success of his play The Etruscan Fathers led to a contract with Lux Film. Then, in 1946, he had a career-changing encounter at a news kiosk in Rome, when he found someone reading a different page of the same newspaper. It was Fellini. The meeting was "a creative lightning bolt" and the two men immediately discussed writing a fantasy film, totally at odds with the then prevalent neo-realism.

That idea came to nothing but Fellini was involved with Roberto Rossellini's L'Amore ["Love"] (1948), which began with an adaptation of Jean Cocteau's La voix humaine ["The Human Voice"]. Rossellini asked Fellini and Pinelli to add a second, cheap-to-film story. They came up with Il Miracolo ["The Miracle"] in which a homeless woman mistakes a passer-by for St Joseph (reluctantly played by Fellini, in return for a sports car). For the woman, pregnancy confirms the miracle; the locals, however, leave her to give birth alone in a cowshed.

In 1949, Fellini and Pinelli adapted Bacchelli's novel Il Mulino del Po ["The Mill on the Po"] for Alberto Lattuada. Fellini read volume one, Pinelli read volume two and they ignored volume three. Pinelli also adapted Chekhov's The Steppe for one of Lattuada's forays into Russian literature (La Steppa, 1963). Pinelli worked with Lattuada for the last time in 1985, on the star-studded mini-series Christopher Columbus.

In 1950 Fellini embarked on his own debut, Luci del Varieta ["Lights of Variety"], about sexual jealousy among a troupe of vaudevillians. It was co-directed with Lattuada and co-scripted with Pinelli who, over the next 13 years, wrote 11 Fellini films, including I Vitelloni (1953); La Strada (1954); La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 (1963). Relations soured after Juliet of the Spirits (1965) but they got back together for the bittersweet Ginger and Fred in 1986 and again four years later for the director's swansong, The Voice of the Moon. Though Pinelli never won an Oscar, he was one of several uncredited writers on Vittoria De Sica's Oscar-winner The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970).

Pinelli and Fellini complemented each other, the former bringing a solid dramatic background to the deal, the other a propensity for fantasy. Together they expressed the director's obsessions, his problematic relationship with women and his fascination with performance coming together in a semi-surrealistic dream world.

Their films covered subjects like the early days of a marriage (The White Sheik, 1952); adolescent posturing (I Vitelloni); a group of swindlers who disguise themselves (Il bidone, 1955); and marital strife (Juliet of the Spirits). Nights of Cabiria (1957), their story of an indomitable prostitute's doomed search for true love, was adapted by Neil Simon as Sweet Charity and filmed by Bob Fosse in 1969.

In the early 1950s Pinelli was at the top of his game. As well as Fellini's projects, he scripted Voice of Silence (1953), a morally probing late film by G.W. Pabst, the director of Pandora's Box. That year Pinelli joined the writing team for the portmanteau film L'Amore in città ["Love in the City"] though the end result did not match the talent involved, which included Michelangelo Antonioni, Fellini, Lattuada and Cesare Zavattini. Another such project was Boccaccio '70 (1962), for which Pinelli wrote Fellini's "The Temptation of Dr Antonio".

Pinelli also worked with Pietro Germi, their eight films divided between tense dramas and light comedies. La Città si difende ("Four Ways Out", 1951) interweaves the separate escape routes of a group of bank robbers, while the divorce-comedy Alfredo, Alfredo (1972) is a lesser-known entry in Dustin Hoffman's filmography.

Mario Monicelli, another director with whom Pinelli worked, was best known for his comedies, including the incredibly popular Amici miei ("My Friends", 1975). Pinelli also worked on two sequels to that film (directed by Nanni Loy), in 1982 and 1985. After his retirement from screenwriting in the mid-1990s, Pinelli wrote a novel, The House of Robespierre. Viaggio a Tulum ["Journey to Tulum"], a Pinelli-scripted autobiographical project by Fellini which floundered while the director was alive, is currently in production.

Tullio Pinelli, screenwriter, novelist, playwright: born Turin 24 June 1908; married Maria Cristina Quilico, (deceased 1987; four children), 1988 Madeleine Lebeau; died Rome 7 March 2009.