Photographed by legendary Vittorio Storaro just after he completed Bernardo Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and starring Laura Antonelli at the peak of her beauty, director Salvatore Samperi’s 1973 film MALIZIA (MALICIOUS) is one of the more human and subversive of all the Italian sex comedies of the seventies.
Screenwriter Ottavio Jemma had just worked with Antonelli on the equally rewarding Lucio Fulci sexual satire THE EROTICIST and his script for MALICIOUS follows similar themes of awkward class division and the overwhelming corruptibility of the rich. Jemma script, concerning a maid who cares for a family of men after the woman of the house has died, was fleshed out even more by Alessandro Parenzo (whose future APPASSIONATA would mine similar terrain) and Samperi himself.
Samperi was born in Italy towards the end of World War Two. One of his earliest screen credits isn’t as a director or writer, but as an actor in Bertolucci’s underrated PARTNER in 1968. Samperi immediately began to distinguish himself in Italian films with a series of serio-comic films that would all focus, at least partially, on the everyday battles between classes that so characterized Italian society in this period. His career would really take off in 1972 when he made the great LOVERS AND OTHER RELATIVES with a young Italian actress who was on the cusp of international stardom named Laura Antonelli.
Antonelli, just past her thirtieth birthday in 1972, was already a veteran of well over a dozen productions, including films by Mario Bava and Claude Chabrol, when she met up with Samperi. At the time she was mostly viewed as just an Italian sex star who was more well known for her voluptuous and breathtakingly beautiful face rather than her acting chops, but Samperi saw something else in her though and with LOVERS AND OTHER RELATIVES and MALICIOUS she would show herself as an actress with much more than just a beautiful face and body. It was, after all, MALICIOUS that would garner Antonelli the Italian best actress award in 1973, the one major one she would win in her distinguished and undervalued career.
Joining Antonelli in MALICIOUS is a superb cast featuring some of the great faces of the period. The great character actor Turi Ferro is very funny as the bumbling widower who spends the running time of the film obsessing over Antonelli while thinking that his wife’s ghost is spying on him. Also very good as the young Nino is Alessandro Momo, a very talented and handsome young actor who would be killed tragically just a year after MALICIOUS proved to be a worldwide hit. Other actors fleshing out the film are Lilla Brignone as the delightfully bemused and judgmental Grandmother and the unforgettable Angela Luce who is probably best remembered for her work in Pasolini’s DECAMERON in 1971. Many other familiar to genre fans faces pop up including future BURIAL GROUND (NIGHTS OF TERROR) actor Gianluigi Chirizzi, who is seen here in a very early performance.
Most notable of all the co stars though has to be the appearance by beautiful and iconic Tina Aumont as the flirtatious sister of Nino’s best friend. Aumont was already a significant figure by 1973 so her small almost cameo like appearance is a bit surprising. Still she makes quite an impression in just a couple of scenes, including an unforgettably sexy and funny take on a bicycle about halfway through the film.
One key to the film’s success is the winning score that plays throughout the piece. Composer Fred Bongusto supplies a very memorable soundtrack that would be quite a hit on its own upon its Italian release in the seventies. The delightful score was such a success that a single was also released to compliment the soundtrack and it is currently a highly prized collectible among Italian film fans. The award winning Bongusto had previously scored two other winning scores for Antonelli, on the aforementioned Fulci comedy THE EROTICIST and Samperi’s own LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS. The still popular singer and composer has an official website that is well worth a visit, and it can be found here.
Of course the photography of Oscar winning Vittorio Storaro has to be mentioned and it alone would make the film worth seeing. Storaro was just slightly older that Antonelli when he shot her in MALICIOUS, and under his lense she becomes one of the great screen beauties…warm, unassuming, refreshing and natural like a sweet walking dream. As photographed by Storaro there is never any question as to why everybody in the film falls completely under the spell of Laura Antonelli. MALICIOUS also features his trademark lighting and shadow effects and it is a gorgeous production to look at, even in the faded full frame VHS version that is most commonly seen here in the States.
MALICIOUS works as a funny and erotic sex comedy but there is a lot more to the film than that. Like a lot of Italian productions from this period, it has some real insight into the unfortunately common collapses of communication between the classes, captured here wonderfully by Samperi in a series of awkward encounters between Antonelli and the family she is caring for. The film is also framed extremely well with a funeral and a wedding, two time honored traditions that Samperi delights in casually ripping apart.
In our politically correct climate MALICIOUS would be an easy work to pick apart, but the intelligence of Samperi’s direction and Jemma’s script combined with the apparent ease at which Laura Antonelli shows us a woman who is in total control at the expense of both class and sex makes the film particularly resonate. Antonelli herself felt so connected to Samperi, Jemma and film that she would choose a slightly misguided sequel in 1992 as her career swansong. Laura Antonelli made better films than MALICIOUS but it might be the one that most perfectly combines her early sex kitten work with her later art house productions for directors like Visconti.
MALICIOUS was a big hit when it came out in Italy in the spring of 1973, and it was one of the top box office draws of the year. It would also be a critical hit and would garner not only Antonelli the previously mentioned best actress award but also got Samperi a Golden Bear nomination at the Berlin Film Festival. The film would prove to be a popular hit all over the world as well and its release in the summer of 1974 in America would make Laura Antonelli one of the most popular Italian exports since Sophie Loren.
Samperi’s film was available on VHS here for a time, but it has long slipped out of print and used copies fetch pretty high prices. No longer a late night television staple and with no domestic DVD release in sight, MALICIOUS is a bit lost in this country right now. The recent release though of Fulci’s THE EROTICIST is a good sign, although the fact that the notoriously unkind to their back catalogue Paramount pictures holds the rights to MALICIOUS makes it doubtful we will see a release anytime soon. Thankfully Xploited does carry a nice import widescreen copy of the film, although it doesn’t contain an English dub or subtitle option.
Samperi would continue studying the rather humorous effects that differences in class and sex can cause in modern society with actors ranging from Franco Nero to Sylvia Kristel throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties.
He would work just two more times with his greatest star Laura Antonelli though, in 1981’s CHASTE AND PURE and finally MALICIOUS 2000 in 1992. Neither are a more than a shadow on the great work they did together in LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS and especially MALICIOUS though.
MALICIOUS remains one of the shining examples of the Italian sex comedy. While not the funniest or most erotic, it is one of the most intelligent and the talent in front of and behind the camera all deliver some of their best work with it. Seek it out…