Camerini’s Signor Max is about the friendship between the poor newspaper salesman Gianni and his rich friend Max. Given the physical resemblance of the two characters, both played by Vittorio De Sica, the plot revolves around a series of humorous misunderstandings starting when Max leaves Milan and asks Gianni to look after his villa whilst he is away. Mille lire al mese by Max Neufeld is centred around the mistaken identity of the main character, an engineer who gets a job at a Hungarian Radio station but who unwittingly slaps his new director before his first day. Soldati’s Dora Nelson is also based on a case of mistaken identity, in that a capricious actress abandons the set of her film and is replaced by a humble girl who bears a striking resemblance to the star and who completes the film.
The Legitimization of the Artist/Intellectual's Participation in the Public Sphere
The Role of Cosmopolitanism in the Modernization of the Italian Artistic Field
Citizen’s Media Manipulation: Entertainment, Escapism and Consensus
Il Signor Max, Mille lire al mese, and Dora Nelson are three major examples of the telefoni bianchi genre, which was extremely popular in Fascist Italy. These productions feature simple plots with love stories, humorous misunderstandings, and juxtapose the fate of more humble, simple characters with those of more urbane, excessively complex figures. Films of this genre were frequently set in upper-class environments with white telephones as part of their decor, hence the name. The majority of those movies were produced at the Cinecittà Studios after 1938, the date when a new law imposed a State monopoly on film distribution. Accordingly, these movies might be regarded as responses to the increased demand for light-hearted entertainment in the wake of the withdrawal of American cinema from Italy from Italy.
Narrative tropes such as mistaken identity, comical misunderstandings, and the contrast between a dream-like upper-class atmosphere and the humble origins and spontaneity of some of the protagonists invite conflicting interpretations of the role the telefoni bianchi played within the Fascist cultural system. On the one hand, through their exaggeration of fancy locations and funny situations, the telefoni bianchi genre sought a subtle social and political alienation of the viewer by engendering in him/her the belief that social mobility, personal improvement, freedom, and self-determination were not available unless within fascist precepts. Against this background, such films provided either a caricature of the upper class or, more often, an escapist distraction from the plight of the lower classes, whose private desires of an opulent and fashionable lifestyle could only be satisfied on the cinema screen. On the other hand, these films echoed plots, narratives, and stylistic choices common throughout the international film market, and in doing so they breached the moral fascistization of Italian society and culture that the regime was pursuing. Therefore, by putting the Italian audience in contact with other cinematic cultures (in particular with the Hungarian comedy genre), the telefoni bianchi movies stimulated political alienation and disengagement as well as private desires and space of resistance to the totalitarian myths propagated by the regime. This mix of mass entertainment, disguising of social conflict, internationalism, and glamourous lifestyles did not represent Italian reality: as an involuntary reflex, it encouraged both the development of a neo-realist film style which could more accurately portray/recount Italian society, and some forms of resistance to the Fascist totalitarian project.
Aitken, Ian. 2001. European Film Theory and Cinema. A Critical Introduction. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Gundle, Stephen. 2013. Mussolini’s Dream Factory: Film Stardom in Fascist Italy. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Landy, Marcia. 1986. Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931-1943. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Reich, Jacqueline and Piero Garofalo. 2002. Reviewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922-1943. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.