Carlo Rustichelli

Film composer best known for comedy

Monday 13 December 2004 01:00

Carlo Rustichelli, composer: born Carpi, Italy 24 December 1916; married (one son, one daughter); died Rome 13 November 2004.

Like many others in the Italian film industry, the composer Carlo Rustichelli was enormously prolific, eventually scoring over 250 films plus television work, and like others he occasionally took to using pseudonyms to conceal this, including Jim Murphy, Joan Christian and Evirust.

Rustichelli was born into a musical family in Carpi near Modena on Christmas Eve 1916. There was some pressure for him to enter the Church, but he studied cello, piano and composition at the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, completing his studies at the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome. Upon leaving, he began work in the opera.

Through actor and director friends including Federico Fellini, he entered the film industry in the late 1930s, but was not drawn in immediately and initially wrote scores only intermittently. However, in 1947 he scored the actor/ director Pietro Germi's Gioventù perduta (Lost Youth), beginning the most important collaborative relationship of his career, and over the next 25 years they made nearly 20 films together.

Many were comedies to which Rustichelli brought a light touch, culminating in the ever-popular Oscar-winner Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961), bringing him to international notice, and the darker Sedotta e abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned, 1964), followed by the disappointing Alfredo Alfredo (1971), surprisingly featuring Dustin Hoffman. Their last collaboration was Amici miei (My Friends, 1975) although Mario Monicelli stepped in for the sick Germi.

Rustichelli then scored two sequels (1982 and 1985) with Monicelli and Nanni Loy. As well as light social comedies, Rustichelli raucously scored broader farces. One of his most extraordinary assignments was for the heavily fictionalised Le Pétomane (1983) the story of a man who earned a fortune in belle époque Paris by playing tunes through his flatulence and blowing smoke-rings from both ends at once.

Though best known for comedy, Rustichelli employed a dizzying array of styles for films in every conceivable genre, filling them with drama, sentiment and typically Italian melodies, clothed with harmonicas, guitars and other colours. With I quattro dell'Ave Maria (Ace High, 1968) he wrote one of the funniest scores for a comedy spaghetti western.

By the 1950s Rustichelli had hit his stride, with annual tallies often in double figures, although 1965's 25 films was unusual. Harking back to his days in the opera house, he arranged the music for the biopic Puccini (1952) and when he had to score Il ladro di Bagdad (The Thief of Bagdad, 1961), he produced something reminiscent of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana.

Although he was not overtly political, Rustichelli did work on several political films. Gilles Pontecorvo's Kapò (1960) weighs a Jewish teenage orphan's redemption and self-sacrifice in a Polish concentration camp, and Rustichelli echoes this with twisted baroque music, while Nanni Loy's Detenuto in attesa di giudizio (Why?, 1971) is highly critical of the Kafka-esque Italian penal system. The early 1960s were a particular high point, as he worked with Pasolini, writing original music and adapting the classics for him on Accattone (The Scrounger, 1961), Mamma Roma (1962), his segment of the portmanteau RoGoPaG (1963) and Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St Matthew, 1964).

Pasolini also wrote La commare secca (The Grim Reaper, 1962), Bertolucci's typically Freudian first feature, which Rustichelli scored. Yet, at the same time as working with these politically committed film-makers, he was pseudonymously writing music for Mario Bava's grand guignol-ish films including La frusta e il corpo (Night is the Phantom, 1963), Operazione paura (Curse of the Dead, 1966) and their masterpiece Sei donne per l'assassino (Blood and Black Lace, 1964).

Although his career was primarily in Europe, Hollywood came to him for a couple of comedies: The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968), starring Paul Newman, and Avanti! (1972), Billy Wilder's late, bittersweet romantic farce set in Ischia.

Rustichelli's daughter Alida Chelli became a singer and actress and appeared in or on the soundtrack of several of his films, including L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta (Man, his Pride and his Vengeance, 1968) and Gli l'infirmieri della mutua (Male Nurses, 1969).

He frequently wrote songs for his film scores and "Sinno ne moro" from Un maledetto imbroglio (The Facts of Murder, 1959) was one of those that went on to become a hit. Rustichelli's favourite of these was from L'armata brancaleone (For Love and Gold, 1966). The composer himself followed Alida on to the screen, playing the hillbilly bandleader in Tutti per uno . . . botte per tutti (Three Musketeers of the West, 1973).

In the 1980s the rising interest in soundtrack recordings saw some of his enormous back catalogue released. He continued to work, although in the 1990s illness slowed his output.

John Riley

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