White Telephone Films

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Table of Contents

Introduction

The white telephone films is a line of Italian films produced in the 1930s and early 1940s, which is characterized by the bourgeois setting, the carefree and optimistic tone, the simple and linear plot, and the use of a conventional and Hollywood.

The term “white telephones” derives from the color of the telephones present in the bourgeois settings of these films, a symbol of well-being and high social status. The genre also takes its name from a 1937 film by Mario Camerini, Il Signor Max, in which the protagonist, a rich industrialist, usually talks on the telephone with his lover in a luxurious living room.

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History of the White Telephone Films

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The cinema of the white telephones was born in a period of great political and social changes for Italy. Fascism, which came to power in 1922, promoted a regime policy that exalted the values ​​of the homeland, the family and the social order. In this context, the cinema of the white telephones offers an escape from the difficult reality of the time, proposing an ideal world in which the bourgeoisie can enjoy well-being and happiness.

The trend developed significantly starting from 1936, with the production of films such as The White Squadron by Mario Camerini and Casta Diva by Carmine Gallone. In 1937, Camerini’s Il Signor Max marks the culmination of the genre, becoming one of the most popular Italian films of the 1930s.

White telephone cinema continued to thrive until the early 1940s, with films such as Riccardo Freda’s Golden Arrow and Alessandro Blasetti’s Four Steps in the Clouds. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, the trend begins to decline, giving space to new cinematographic genres, such as neorealism.

Main features

White phone films have the following main characteristics:

  • Bourgeois setting: the films are set in elegant and refined environments, such as villas, palaces, and fashionable clubs.
  • Carefree and optimistic tone: the films convey an atmosphere of happiness and well-being, in which problems are easily solvable.
  • Simple and linear plot: the plot is often based on a mechanism of misunderstandings or on a daring adventure.
  • Conventional and Hollywood film language: The film language is conventional and Hollywood, with frequent use of close-ups, shots and reverse shots, and action scenes.

Themes and ideas

The most recurring themes in white telephone films are:

  • Love: love is the central theme of many films in the genre, which tell stories of thwarted loves, fortuitous encounters, and happy marriages.
  • Family: Family is an important value in white phone films, which often tell stories of united and happy families.
  • Friendship: friendship is another important value in films of the genre, which often tell stories of male and female friendships.
  • Luck: Luck is a recurring element in white phone films, which often tell stories of people becoming rich and famous through luck.
  • Social Success: Social success is another ambitious goal for white phone movie characters, who often achieve success through their talent and determination.

Narrative Structure and Cinematic Language

The narrative structure of the white telephone films is simple and linear. The plot is often based on a mechanism of misunderstandings or on a daring adventure. The cinematographic language is conventional

The Bourgeois Setting

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The bourgeois setting is one of the most distinctive characteristics of white telephone cinema. The films are set in elegant and refined environments, such as villas, palaces, and fashionable clubs. This choice is in line with the desire of the genre to offer an escape from the difficult reality of the time, proposing an ideal world in which the bourgeoisie can enjoy well-being and happiness.

In some films, the bourgeois setting is so ostentatious that it reaches levels of surrealism. An example is the film Luciano Serra Pilot (1938) by Goffredo Alessandrini, in which the protagonist, a fighter pilot, lives in a luxurious villa with a huge garden and a children’s playground.

In other films, the bourgeois setting is more realistic, but still far from the daily reality of most Italians. An example is the film The White Squadron (1936) by Mario Camerini, in which the protagonists are army officers who live in barracks and barracks. However, even in this film, the setting is always elegant and refined, with particular attention to detail.

The Carefree and Optimistic Tone

The lighthearted and optimistic tone is another defining characteristic of white phone cinema. Films convey an atmosphere of happiness and well-being, where problems are easily solvable. This choice is in line with the desire of the genre to offer an escape from the difficult reality of the time, proposing an ideal world in which the bourgeoisie can forget the daily difficulties.

In some films, the lighthearted and optimistic tone is taken to the extreme. An example is the film Il Signor Max (1937) by Mario Camerini, in which the protagonist, a rich industrialist, lives a life of luxury and frivolity.

In other films, the tone is more realistic, but still positive. An example is the film Three Men of Valor (1932) by Mario Camerini, in which the protagonists are three friends who have to face the difficulties of life, but who in the end manage to achieve success.

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Simple and Linear Plot of White Telephone Films

The plot is often based on a mechanism of misunderstandings or on a daring adventure. This type of plot is in line with the desire of the genre to offer an escape from the difficult reality of the time, proposing fun and engaging stories.

In some films, the plot is very simple and straightforward. An example is the film Come le leaves (1934) by Mario Camerini, in which a young woman must choose between two men in love with her.

In other films, the plot is more complex and full of twists. An example is the film Golden Arrow (1942) by Riccardo Freda, in which a group of Italian aviators must face a dangerous mission in Africa.

Conventional Cinematic Language

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The cinematographic language is conventional and Hollywood-style, with frequent use of close-ups, shots and reverse shots, and action scenes. This choice is in line with the genre’s desire to offer a cinematographic product that is captivating and accessible to the general public.

In some films, the cinematic language is very elaborate. An example is the film Luciano Serra Pilot (1938) by Goffredo Alessandrini, which features spectacular flight scenes and very engaging action sequences.

In other films, the cinematic language is simpler and more immediate. An example is the film Three Men of Valor (1932) by Mario Camerini, in which there are realistic and familiar scenes of daily life.

Themes and Ideas of White Telephone Films

The most recurring themes in white telephone films are:

  • Love: love is the central theme of many films in the genre, which tell stories of thwarted loves, fortuitous encounters, and happy marriages. Love is often represented as a pure and romantic feeling, which conquers every obstacle.
  • Family: Family is an important value in white phone films, which often tell stories of united and happy families. Family is often represented as a safe haven, where characters can find love and protection.
  • Friendship: Friendship is another important value in white phone films, which often tell stories of male and female friendships. Friendship is often represented as a strong and lasting bond, which overcomes any difficulty.

In some films, friendship is central to the plot. An example is the film Three Men of Value (1932) by Mario Camerini, in which three friends help each other to overcome life’s difficulties.

In other films, friendship is a secondary element, but still important. An example is the film Luciano Serra pilot (1938) by Goffredo Alessandrini, in which the protagonist, a fighter pilot, finds the friendship and support of his flight companions.

Luck

Luck is a recurring element in white phone films, which often tell stories of people becoming rich and famous through luck. Luck is often represented as an unpredictable element, which can change a person’s life in an instant.

In some films, luck is a central element in the plot. An example is the film Casta Diva (1938) by Carmine Gallone, in which a young woman becomes famous as an opera singer thanks to luck.

In other films, luck is a secondary, but still important, element. An example is the film The White Squadron (1936) by Mario Camerini, in which a group of army officers achieve victory thanks to luck.

Social Success

Social success is another ambitious goal for white phone movie characters, who often achieve success through their talent and determination. Social success is often represented as a goal to be achieved, which confers prestige and respect.

In some films, social success is a central element in the plot. An example is the film Il Signor Max (1937) by Mario Camerini, in which a rich industrialist achieves success thanks to his talent and determination.

In other films, social success is a secondary, but still important, element. An example is the film Three Men of Valor (1932) by Mario Camerini, in which three friends manage to achieve success thanks to their talent and determination.

Characters and Interpersonal Relationships

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The protagonists of white telephone films are often young, beautiful, and from good families. They are often depicted as positive and idealized characters, embodying the values ​​of the bourgeoisie.

Interpersonal relationships are often complex and full of conflict. The protagonists often have to face difficulties and obstacles before they can achieve happiness.

In some films, the role of women is central. Female protagonists are often represented as strong and independent figures, who are not limited to being the complement of male protagonists.

An example of a strong and independent female protagonist is the character of Maria in Three Men of Valor (1932) by Mario Camerini. Maria is an intelligent and enterprising woman, who is not afraid to face life’s difficulties.

In other films, the role of women is more traditional. Female protagonists are often depicted as fragile figures in need of protection.

An example of a traditional female protagonist is the character of Lidia in Luciano Serra Pilot (1938) by Goffredo Alessandrini. Lidia is a woman in love with Luciano, who supports him in his endeavors.

Historical and Cultural Significance

The white telephone films are a product of their era, and reflect the aspirations and illusions of the Italian bourgeoisie of the fascist period.

In a time when fascism promoted a nationalist and militaristic ideology, the white telephone films offer an idyllic image of the Italian bourgeoisie. The films propose an ideal world in which the bourgeoisie can enjoy well-being and happiness, without having to worry about the difficulties of life.

White telephone films have had a significant influence on Italian cinema. The trend contributed to spreading the values ​​of the Italian bourgeoisie, and influenced the Italian cinematographic language.

The genre also contributed to shaping the taste of the Italian public, and influenced Italian film production in the following years.

Top White Telephone Films

Like the Leaves (1934)

Plot:

A young woman must choose between two men who are in love with her.

Analyses:

Like the Leaves is a romantic and dramatic film, which explores the theme of the conflict between love and duty.

The film begins with the introduction of the protagonist, Maria, a young woman from a good family. Maria is in love with a young man of humble origins, Antonio.

Maria’s parents, however, do not approve of the relationship between the two young people. Maria’s parents want Maria to marry a rich man from a good family.

Maria is torn between her love for Antonio and her duty to respect her parents’ wishes. Ultimately, Maria chooses to marry the man her parents chose.

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The Three-Cornered Hat (1934)

The Three-Cornered Hat is a 1934 film directed by Mario Camerini, inspired by the novel of the same name by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón.

The film tells the story of Don José María, a young and rich bourgeois who falls in love with Carmencita, a beautiful and lively girl of humble origins. Don José Maria and Carmencita get married, but their union is destined to fail. Carmencita is a free and independent woman, who does not accept the rules of bourgeois society. Don José Maria, on the other hand, is a conservative and traditionalist man.

The story takes place in Spain, in the 19th century. The film is set in a series of evocative locations, such as the city of Madrid and the Spanish countryside.

The Three-Corned Hat is a romantic film, but also a satirical film. The film criticizes bourgeois society, showing its most ridiculous and contradictory sides.

The film starred Eduardo De Filippo, Peppino De Filippo, Leda Gloria, Luigi Almirante and Enrico Viarisio.

The Three-Corned Hat is one of the most important films of the white telephone genre. The film was a great success with audiences and critics, and helped consolidate Mario Camerini’s fame as one of most important directors of Italian cinema.

The White Squadron (1936)

The White Squadron is a 1936 film directed by Augusto Genina, based on the novel L’Escadron blanc by Joseph Peyré.

The film tells the story of a young Italian officer, Lieutenant Giovanni de Stefani, who joins the army to forget a disappointment in love. De Stefani is assigned to a cavalry unit in Tripolitania, where he must fight against the Libyan tribes who rebel against Italian domination.

In the desert, De Stefani finds his redemption. The Italian officer proves himself to be a valiant soldier, and earns the respect of his fellow soldiers. De Stefani also falls in love with a young Libyan woman, Aicha, and the two get married.

The film was a great success with audiences and critics, and was awarded the Mussolini Cup at the 1936 Venice Film Festival.

Casta Diva (1938)

Plot:

A young woman becomes famous as an opera singer through luck.

Analyses:

Casta Diva is a musical film, which explores the theme of the dream of becoming famous.

The film begins with the introduction of the protagonist, Maria, a young woman who dreams of becoming an opera singer. Maria is a talented girl, but she is also very shy and insecure.

Maria takes part in a singing competition, and wins. Winning the competition gives her the chance to start her career as an opera singer.

Maria becomes famous quickly, but success also leads her to lose her innocence and purity. Maria realizes that success isn’t everything, and that it’s important to also have a happy private life.

Casta Diva is a film that celebrates the dream of becoming famous, but also the difficulties that this dream can entail.

Luciano Serra Pilot (1938)

Plot:

An Italian fighter pilot fights in the Spanish Civil War.

Analyses:

Luciano Serra Pilot is a patriotic film, which celebrates the courage of Italians in the fight against fascism.

The film begins with the introduction of the protagonist, Luciano Serra, an Italian fighter pilot. Luciano is a courageous and determined young man, who is ready to do anything to defend his homeland.

Luciano is sent to Spain to fight in the civil war. Luciano participates in numerous battles, and stands out for his courage and determination.

Luciano is killed in action, but his sacrifice is a symbol of the courage of Italians in the fight against fascism.

Luciano Serra Pilot is a film that celebrates the courage of Italians in the fight against fascism. The film is also an allegory of the struggle between freedom and oppression.

Don Cesare di Bazan (1942)

Don Cesare di Bazan is a 1942 film directed by Riccardo Freda, in his debut as a director, adapted from the French drama in five acts Don César de Bazan, written in 1844 by Adolphe d’Ennery and Dumanoir.

Plot. Don Cesare di Bazan is a nobleman, a very skilled swordsman who, against his will, becomes involved in fights and manipulations of rebels for the independence of a Spanish region. Between fantastic adventures and romantic interludes he manages to save his own life and that of his sovereign.

The film is set in Spain, in the 17th century. The protagonist, Don Cesare di Bazan, is a Spanish nobleman who finds himself involved in a conspiracy to free Catalonia from Spanish rule. Don Cesare is a valiant and courageous man, but also an unrepentant womanizer.

The film is full of adventures, duels and chases. Director Riccardo Freda, in his debut, already demonstrates that he has a talent for directing action. The fight scenes are spectacular and well choreographed.

The film stars Gino Cervi, Anneliese Uhlig and Paolo Stoppa. Cervi is perfect in the role of the protagonist, a charming and charismatic man. Uhlig is a beautiful and sensual Renée Dumas, the heroine of the film. Stoppa is Sancho, Don Cesare’s faithful squire.

Four Steps in the Clouds (1942)

Plot:

A group of friends goes to the mountains to spend the holidays.

Analyses:

Four Steps in the Clouds is a poetic and romantic film, which celebrates the beauty of nature and friendship.

The film begins with the introduction of the protagonists, a group of friends. The friends are all young, beautiful, and happy.

The protagonists go to the mountains to spend their holidays. In the mountains, friends rediscover the beauty of nature and the importance of friendship.

Four Steps in the Clouds is a film that celebrates the beauty of nature and friendship. The film is also an allegory of the pursuit of happiness.

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