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The five best Italian film directors ever



Since the end of world war II the Italian cinema has given us some truly amazing directors, most of whom made no concession to Hollywood or anywhere else for that matter. Here then is our pick of the five very best Italian film directors.

Italian Cinema Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves

1. Vittorio De Sica
He was best known as a comedic actor in his native Italy before he turned to directing and his 1948 film Bicycle Thieves would be a huge influence on cinema worldwide spawning a whole “neo-realist” school that would continue to echo for many years and eventually make massive inroads into French and British cinema in the fifties and sixties.

Italian Cinema Stromboli

Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli.

2. Roberto Rossellini
As famous for his personal life (he began an affair with and then married Ingrid Bergman leading her away from Hollywood in the process) as he was for his neo-realist films such as 1949’s Stromboli (which starred Bergman). Rossellini was very much into an almost documentary style utilising as many non-professional actors as he did professional ones. His other key films included Open City and Europa.

Italian Cinema - La Dolce Vita

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

3. Federico Fellini
He may have begun his career making movies (I Vitelloni and La Strada) that were heavily influenced by neo-realism but Fellini soon abandoned the genre for his own particularly personal and some would say exhibitionist movies such as La Dolce Vita, 8 and a half Women and Boccaccio 70. Many of Fellinis films are Proustian memories of childhood or deal with his troubled relationship with the Catholic faith. Always at his best when dealing with human relationships but prone to the overblown.

Italian Cinema - Blow Up

David Hemmings in Blow Up.

4. Michaelangelo Antonioni
It could be said that Antonioni never quite fulfilled his early promise. He made his breakthrough with L’Aventura (1959) before scoring a massive hit with his made in England at the height of the swinging sixties pop-art thriller Blow Up. Starring David Hemmings as a David Bailey style photographer caught up in murder, the success of Blow Up lead to a contract with MGM for whom he made Zabriskie Point. Zabriskie was a massive flop but he did recover somewhat with 1972’s The Passenger which starred Jack Nicholson.

Italian Cinema - Last Tango In Paris.

Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in Last Tango In Paris.

5. Bernardo Bertolucci
Easily the most controversial director on our list both for his left wing views which have coloured many of his films, especially The Conformist and the epic 1900. However it was 1972’s Last Tango In Paris starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider that cemented his reputation for controversy. His Freudian view of sex was still a strong feature of his work as recently as The Dreamers.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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