Will Carla be in hot water with three one time lovers – their wives – and her grown up baby?
Three GIs who have returned for a squadron reunion all believe they are Carla’s daughter’s father, and plan to meet their daughter.
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell – (Original Trailer), Вайнах Лига and photos © United Artists
After my review of Supertrain (1979) ran out of steam before it even left the station, I was stuck for choice. This luckily was short-lived, until I read about the engaging comedy plot of the 1960’s film, Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (1968). On seeing the trailer accompanied by a jaunty Jimmy Roselli musical number, Darlin’ Husband said this was my kind of movie. He was right in so many ways…
The film also has a splendid all-star cast with many of my favourites. This cast included two lovely actresses that I’ve honoured in blogathons, Lee Grant and Shelley Winters. And Telly Savalas! Also a British national treasure, the humourist Denis Norden – yup, the guy who sat in the chair for TV’s It’s Alright on the Night and its spin-offs (1977-2006) – was listed as one of the scriptwriters. These factors made this film a must see and review film.
The film was set (and filmed) in Italy and tells of the much loved San Forino villager, Carla Campbell (Gina Lollobrigida). Carla returns home in her jazzy sports car after some time away. To her surprise, she finds a parade, crowds, flags and buses everywhere.
A squadron of one time GIs has returned to this Italian village for a reunion. Nearly 20 years ago, this squadron was based in her little Italian village during the war. Since then, the men have put money into a fund and are there to see the opening of a chapel that they donated to the town. They’ve brought their wives, and some of them have their kids in tow.
Three of the men – Cpl. Phil Newman (Phil Silvers), Lt. Justin Young (Peter Lawford), and Sgt. Walter Braddock (Telly Savalas) – hope to visit Carla. Back then, these three young GIs had all lodged with her at different times during the same ten day period, then the squadron moved on. These three men had all been intimate with her. Each of them received a letter from Carla after she learned of her pregnancy three weeks later. Gina didn’t know which one of them was the father…
Each of the men is unaware of the other men who were in her life at this time, and believe they are the father of her now 18-year-old daughter, Gia. All three have been voluntarily paying Carla child maintenance cheques since then. This meaning she could afford to send her daughter to a Swiss finishing school, university and live a good life. Carla also was generous with her money, providing jobs at her vineyard for the villagers.
These men are all married and their wives – Fitzi Braddock (Lee Grant), Shirley Newman (Shelley Winters) and Lauren Young (Marian McCargo) – don’t know about Carla and her role in their husband’s lives. The Newmans have three sons. Now the men are back in town, each of these husbands wants to see Carla again and meet “their” daughter…
The girl in question is known to the villagers as Mrs Carla Campbell. She’s a pretty redhead with a temperamental lover, Vittorio (Philippe Leroy). Vittorio takes care of her flourishing vineyard. She told the village when she got pregnant, that her daughter’s father was a rich Army war hero Eddie Campbell.
This to keep her and her daughter’s reputation. They believe that Campbell died in the war shortly after he got married to Carla and his family provided her with money. Carla’s daughter also believes these lies. Carla took her and her child’s surname from the only English word she knew then, and this was a brand of soup.
This name and the lettering of this on the film posters makes you wonder if this blatant product placement or sponsorship from this company. Things get a wee bit complicated when not only the men arrive at her door, but Gia makes a surprise visit. Gia wants to meet her father’s friends and to learn more about her father from them. She also has some big news for her mother…
We learn more about those GIs and their wives… Fritzi and Walter Braddock have a fiery but passionate relationship. They are childless, as he apparently can’t have children as Fritzi regularly reminds him (but he thinks he knows differently).
Lauren and the terribly English Justin Young, have a more frosty relationship. This due to his constant fooling around which she knows about. This annoys her and she constantly makes digs at her husband.
The neurotic and overprotective mother Shirley and her long suffering husband, Phil Newman have three young precocious young boys. Phil never gets a moment to himself, with a child always by his side, as Shirley demands.
All three men phone Carla surreptitiously without their wives present and make plans to see her and her daughter. Carla then makes her plans. These are to visit “an unwell aunt” out of town and leave town with Gia before the men visit. The only people who are aware of her full story, are her housekeeper Rosa (Naomi Stevens) and the very patient, on-off boyfriend, Vittorio.
The men all pack their wives off to the local beauty parlour and then hope to visit Carla while they are otherwise occupied. However, this mission is indirectly thwarted by their wives. Shirley and Lauren, however, meet each other at the beauty parlour. Gia and Carla are also there. Gia chats with Shirley telling her about her dead father. This obviously much to her mother’s concern and worry.
The men see Gia with Carla as they attend a service at the chapel. They are with their wives and she nods in recognition with all three. Gia tells her mother she has a boyfriend, a married man who wants her to go to Brazil with him. At a dance arranged for the GIs, the men all meet and dance with Gia.
Gia talks to the men about her father (leading to some misunderstandings), and the men compliment her mother on “their” lovely daughter. Gia is puzzled why only a few men know her father. Gia’s life story delights Shirley so much, that “with a mouth, all of Italy could fall in” she shares the story with everyone at the dance saying that Gia is seen as a symbol of this reunion.
The men all visit Carla the next day and are impressed by her expensive house and housekeeper on the money they sent every month. Carla manages to see all three men through some extensive juggling of these continuous visits with Vittorio’s help. This shown in wonderfully choreographed, well timed and well written comic scenes. During this time she also meets Fritzi, who invites her to accept a plaque in Eddie Campbell’s honour when the chapel is opened. Fritzi tells her the chapel to be named after Eddie Campbell.
While carrying out some money transactions, Shirley learns her husband has sent monthly cheques to Carla. She however sees this as a noble gesture to this widow. After spotting the other two men’s names in Carla’s bank deposit book, she tells their wives of their inspirational husbands… and praises her husband.
Gia who visited the bank at the same time has also seen the book, but realising the truth confronts her mother. Phil meets with the other two men and the three discuss Carla’s apparent deception believing she has lied to the three of them.. and all revealed in the usual ways as to how things progress… so no spoilers please as there are more twists to this tale.
This film has a fantastic well thought out comedy plot, and the film is cast perfectly with this acting talent. This right down to the casting of the Newman kids. Each of the on-screen married couples had credible actor and actress combinations.
It was in fun moments we met these men. These seen and heard with Gia’s descriptions of the men when she first met them in the past, then these then cutting to scenes with the men as they are in the present. This proving how much they’d changed (or not). These scenes and those with other paternal misunderstandings made this comedy stand out from those who’s the daddy comedy films and TV Shows.
Gia, herself was a wonderfully cast character with Lollobrigida’s feisty and passionate portrayal as a mother trying to protect her daughter – and others – from the truth. Her character’s on-screen rapport with Rosa and Vittorio also a comic treat with a fun scene as she explains the full story to her, with Stevens beautiful deadpan performance.
Margolin also was credible as her daughter. I loved her scenes with her talking with her possible fathers about her father but unaware they could be her father (I hope you can follow me). I also enjoyed the rounded characters of the men in Carla’s life.
Peter Lawford played a terribly classy English cad who hoped he could still keep Carla as a mistress with all the trimmings and keep his wife. He played this unhappily married uptight Englishman extremely convincingly. The couple with their more restrained dancing at the dance and his cuttingly cold conversations with his icy blonde wife (Marion Moses).
Savalas – who Carla described as so “sweet, a little boy” was a loud, larger than life character and this he played in a real over the top performance (complete with cigar). I enjoyed his romantic on-screen chemistry with Lee Grant as his feisty wife, Fritzi. The pair sparred on screen credibly and then passionately. Both Grant and Savalas were pretty good on the dance floor too.
Phil Silvers was a comic delight in his scenes with Lollobrigida. His on screen relationship with Winters as the neurotic Shirley. Winters herself was captivating as she tried to shelter her children from life – and failing miserably – which added to the humour.
This casting of Winters was a welcoming change from those louder characters I’m used to seeing her in such as The Devil’s Daughter (1973) and Alfie (1966). The Newman’s on screen children were beautifully cast and looked like brothers.
The film’s plot ran smoothly with no gaping holes in the story. I loved the inclusion of the wives in this tale, and of Vittorio who was credible as a passionate love interest. The story of this film had so many fun well set up scenes throughout both before and after the men found out they were one of three possible fathers. These fun scenes lead to touching ones…
This film was more recently compared unfairly to Mamma Mia (2008) with three men all believing they may be the father of the same girl. However, despite this similarity, there are more differences than things in common with the 2008 musical film. But I’d urge you to say Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell, to a film which won Gina Lollobrigida a Golden Globe when it’s on the telly. As Shelley Winters character says, “It’s a beautiful story”.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
The First Peter Lawford Blogathon 2020 No 20
This post was added to KN Winiarski Writes’ 1st Annual Peter Lawford Blogathon. Reviews with this cast include Gina Lollobrigida in The Love Boat. Janet Margolin in Columbo and, Murder She Wrote. Lee Grant in Divorce American Style, Voyage of the Damned, Airport 77 and Omen II. Peter Lawford in Fantasy Island and Bewitched. Phil Silvers in Happy Days, Fantasy Island, and Charlie’s Angels. Shelley Winters in Alfie, The Poseidon Adventure, The Devil’s Daughter and He Ran All the Way. Telly Savalas in Return to the Posideon Adventure, The Cartier Affair and Kelly’s Heroes. Both he and Marian McCargo starred in The Man from U.N.C.L.E..