Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Cycling Cinema: Toto' al Giro d'Italia

Being more or less stuck indoors "sheltering in place," there's lots of time to watch movies. As I was searching YouTube for some classic bicycling-themed movies, I happened on one that really sparked my interest: Toto' al Giro d'Italia, an Italian film from 1948.

Though not well known here in the U.S., Toto' was the stage name of a popular Italian film comedian (some would rank him among that country's most popular) who made dozens of films through the 1940s and '50s. His "proper" name was (get ready for it) Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneo Porfirogenito Gagliardi de Curtis di Bisanzio. Or more commonly, Antonio de Curtis. Since many of the films were showcases for his performing talents, they often featured his nickname "Toto'" in the titles. As the title of this film would suggest, Toto' al Giro d'Italia has di Curtis' Toto' character racing in the Giro d'Italia alongside many of the greatest racing cyclists of the era, including Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Louison Bobet, Ferdi Kubler, Fiorenzo Magni, and more. It's a very impressive cast!

There was only one problem. The film is only available in Italian with no English subtitles. OK- so, in YouTube, it is possible to get subtitles (in Italian) - then through the settings, one can get those Italian subtitles "auto-translated" into English. Unfortunately, these "twice-translated" subtitles are only just barely better than useless. If you want to watch this film, you have to work for it!

Some examples:

"instead print I would like to work this bicycle"
"I do not see it badly so I move forward but I go up the hair apples but you're done"
See what I mean?

Still, between the actions and inflections and the mostly ridiculous subtitles, I was able to get enough of the gist to enjoy the film, even though I probably missed a lot of the best gags. If anyone out there wants to take a stab at the film, here's a bit of a synopsis that might help give some context.

The film opens with a scene in heaven (at least, I assume it's heaven) where the emperor Nerone and Dante are watching the goings on down on earth, as well as commenting on the film's opening credits.
We soon meet Toto' - or Professor Casamandrei - who is in love with the beautiful blonde Doriana (Isa Barzizza).
As the professor tries to win over Doriana, she tells him "I will marry you when you win the Giro d'Italia" (or at least, that's the best sense I could get from the tortured subtitles). In other words - never.
The professor is then determined to race the Giro, but there's a problem (well, multiple problems really, but this first one is pretty major) -- he can't ride a bike.
He tries lessons - but it obviously isn't going well.
Discouraged at his prospects, the film takes a cue from Faust, and the professor is visited by a devil who makes him a deal: I'll help you win the Giro d'Italia if you sign your soul over to me.

There was literally a direct reference here (assuming I was deciphering the subtitles properly) to the 1946 Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life. The demon refers to a second-class angel who earns his wings by helping an unfortunate human. The demon explains that he is a second-class devil, and can only become a first-class devil by delivering a human soul to hell.
The professor is won over by the demon's promises and signs the contract. Suddenly, he's able to ride like a pro.
I could be mistaken, but I think this really is Toto' doing the stunt riding in this scene. If so, it's pretty impressive.

At the sign-in for the Giro, the professor is mocked for thinking he can race with the pros. In this shot, you can see Toto' flanked by Magni, Coppi, and Bartali.

There's lots of footage of the great racers on the road.

Effortlessly, the old bearded professor zips past them all.  Or "goes up the hair apples" if you follow the subtitles.

Flanked by beautiful girls (including Doriana) the old professor pulls on the Maglia Rosa and leads every stage.

All the great racers as well as the reporters try to figure out the secret to the professor's racing success. For instance, when they discover that the professor smokes cigars, suddenly all the racers are puffing away on cigars at the starting line.

Coppi comes in puffing like mad on a massive foot-long stogie.

Later in the race, with the professor holding a commanding lead, the demon reminds him of their contract, and tells him that he plans to collect as soon as the race is over (something about reading the "fine print"). Suddenly the professor doesn't want to win and starts looking for a way to get out of the deal. He tries getting arrested. Tries getting disqualified. But with the demon pulling all the strings, nothing works and his victory (and death) looks assured. I won't give away the end, but ultimately, Toto's salvation comes down to a plan cooked up by his devoted and doting mother.

Toto, Doriana, and all the great racers celebrate after the race with a fun lip-synched operatic chorus.

It took a lot of effort, and I know I was missing a lot, but I liked this movie enough that I'd love to find a properly translated version. There are lots of copies on DVD out there, mostly from European sellers (on eBay, for instance), but it isn't clear if any of those have English subtitles, and regardless of whether they do or not, they all seem to be Region 2 discs which don't work on U.S.-market DVD players (U.S. is Region 1). I'm going to keep looking.

If you're up to the challenge (or maybe you actually speak Italian!) I'd recommend giving Toto' al Giro d'Italia a try. You can see the full movie on YouTube, or right here:


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