Monday, April 11, 2016

CMBA SPRING BLOGATHON - WORDS! WORDS! WORDS!: FULL OF LIFE (1956)


The 2016 Classic Movie Blog Association Spring Blogathon is "Words! Words! Words!" covering movies about writers, books, librarians, publishers, and even screenwriters.  The blogathon runs from April 11 to 15 and you can click HERE for the various contributions.



Richard Conte as Nick Rocco
At the grindstone.

Nick :  "This house is full of life.  Babies to be born, books to be written."
Emily :  "How many, Nick?"
Nick :  "Well, you give me the babies and I'll give you the books.  I'll try to keep up with you."

In 1956s Full of Life Nick and Emily Rocco are a happily married couple expecting their first child.  This child is anticipated with great love and was planned for just this time.  The proceeds of Nick's novel helped with the down payment on a charming suburban house that is perfect for a family.  The advance on his current novel will have to stretch through the upcoming event.

Even the best of plans feature their own bumps in the road.  Nick is feeling slightly neglected by Emily's preoccupation with her status.  Emily's hormones are bouncing all over the place and her mood swings from jealousy of neighbourhood women's waistlines and an urge to scrub the world clean for the new arrival.

The other husbands on the street enter their garages in the morning and drive the car to work.  Nick enters the garage and stays in a small room fashioned into his office to sit at his typewriter and commence the work of imagining and realizing.  An intercom system keeps him in contact with Emily.  Once upon a time she hung on every word he wrote and was a true partner in the work.  Nowadays she nods distractedly and reads books on semantics.



Richard Conte, Judy Holliday, Amanda Randolph
Not a happy woman.

Unexpectedly the sounds of a crash and cries for help come over the intercom.  Emily Rocco has crashed through the kitchen floor.  The incident is the fault of termites, and a recently deceased so he can't be sued termite inspector, but try telling that to a woman who can no longer sleep on her stomach!  Also, try telling that to the dwindling savings account.  The only solution is to ask Nick's father, a retired stonemason, for help.  Nick and his brothers estrangement from their father is based on the natural differences between immigrant parents and modern thinking sons.  Vittorio Rocco feels abandoned by his children and Nick knows that his father does not respect his career.  Nonetheless, the older man adores his daughter-in-law and lives in hope of a grandson.  He will  fix the house for "Miss Emily".  He will also take over life in the Los Angeles house and further an agenda of his wife's, that Nick and Emily finally be married in the Catholic church.

Old Vittorio can be quite the charmer in his way and his way is to sip wine on a chaise lounge and consider the job in the kitchen.  He would much rather build a great stone fireplace to make this abominable stucco house more substantial and fitting for his grandson, but ... no "buts", that is exactly what he does.  Vittorio also heckles Nick into writing down the family legend of the great Uncle Mingo and his adventure with the bandits.  Nick has real work to be done, but he listens to the drunken, incoherent stories of his old man to please Emily.  He spends the wee hours working on a story that he thinks is really fine and is excited to share.  Papa doesn't have to read it, he lived it.  Emily tosses the manuscript on the table for later perusal - maybe.



Judy Holliday and Salvatore Baccaloni
Old Papa knows what he's doing.

Nick is fed up.  The great life he thought he was building is out of control.  Two people who should be on his side seem to be against him.  A visit from the local parish priest is the last straw.  However, Emily has been considering more than semantics and modern childbirth methods.  She has been wondering about a spiritual component in their lives now that they are about to become parents.  Nick must find a way to reconcile is feelings toward his father and his feelings toward the church.  Mama will be happy to learn that although she did not become a Catholic, Emily married Nick with Father Gondolfo presiding.  A grandson for Vittorio, with red hair and big feet like Uncle Mingo, is safely delivered.  Emily, not so distracted as Nick presumed, sent his story of Uncle Mingo and the Bandits to the Saturday Evening Post.  The Rocco's can now pay for a termite exterminator and carpenter.  Vittorio, couple united in the church and stone fireplace big enough for Santa Claus complete, can return home to Mama.



Salvatore Baccaloni and Richard Conte
Meeting the baby.

John Fante wrote the screenplay to Full of Life based on his novel of the same name.  The novel is a rawly personal account of a first time father's expectations and changing relationships with his wife, his parents, and the family about to come into existence.  In the screenplay, Fante lets his character be the bemused and exasperated support to the characters of the wife and old papa.  The transition from novel to screen maintains the same wry humour and abundant affection.  Life is not perfect.  Life isn't meant to be perfect.  Love and closeness sustain us in times of turmoil and confusion.  Family is presented respectfully and honestly.

John Fante, the author of novels Ask the Dust, Wait Until Spring, Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, Dreams from Bunker Hill, among others, was a screenwriter in Hollywood and his screenplay for Full of Life was nominated as Best Written American Comedy by the Writers Guild of America.  It lost to Around the World in Eighty Days.  Other nominees were Teahouse of the August Moon, Bus Stop and The Solid Gold Cadillac.

Oscar winner (Born Yesterday) Judy Holliday and Richard Conte starred as Emily and Nick Rocco.  The character of Emily is a far cry from the patented dumb blonde Billie Dawn or the quirky Gladys Glover (It Should Happen to You).  Emily is a lovely, thoughtful young woman who just happens to be going through one of the major experiences of life.  Her mood swings are nothing out of the ordinary and Holliday plays them as such.  Crime pictures occupy most of Richard Conte's resume at this period of his career.  One could be forgiven for thinking he was born wearing a fedora and carrying a gat, but should not be surprised at the versatile actors skill in this charming domestic comedy.

The find of Full of Life was the movie debut of opera bass Salvatore Baccaloni.  To this day he enjoys the reputation of having been one of the finest comic basses of the 20th century with a career that went from Milan and LaScala to the Royal Opera House, the Met, and his own company.  As Vittorio Rocco, the fount of all humour and conflict, Baccaloni is a delight.  He sings just a wee bit while enjoying his work on the fireplace, but it is enough to make you seek out recordings.



Richard Conte and Judy Holliday
Coming home.

Directed by Richard Quine (Bell Book and Candle, How to Murder Your Wife) during a most prolific time of his career at Columbia, Full of Life is a charming mix of the joyful and the sweetly melancholy abetted by a lovely, wistful original score by George Duning (3:10 to Yuma).

The semi-autobiographical Full of Life is an enjoyable movie of simple virtues that lives pleasantly in the memory.  A perhaps idealized look at a working writer with that writer's craft on display in adapting his own work.


The Classic Movie Blog Association e-book collection of essays on "Words! Words! Words!" is available free on Smashwords or $ .99 on Amazon with proceeds going to the National Film Preservation Fund.


















22 comments:

  1. Leave it to you to select the unexpected. What a wonderful choice for the blogathon. As always, your writing is full of genuine feeling for your subject. Loved it!

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  2. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the piece. The book/film are longtime favourites and it was fun for me to share.

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  3. These sounds absolutely wonderful – both the book and the film.

    About Salvatore Baccaloni – I found some of his recordings on YouTube, and am listening to a selection right now from the Barber of Seville. Tremendous! I think I'll spend the rest of the afternoon listening to him. :)

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    1. YouTube is a treasure trove, isn't it? I was so pleased to discover how many Baccaloni fans share his recordings with us. I know you'll be just as pleased when you get a chance to see the movie.

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  4. FULL OF LIFE sounds like a fine change-of-pace for both Judy and Richard. I've always liked them both, but each got fairly typecast as you noted. I can empathize with Nick as a writer given my own challenges with limiting distractions. I can't imagine a baby and termites!

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    1. A baby, termites and the Church(!) can be very distracting. The movie is a delightful change of pace and I think it will charm you.

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  5. I love Judy Holliday, and I've never seen this movie! It sounds really wonderful and I hope I get the chance soon. As always, your review is fun and informative, CW!

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    1. Thanks, Becky. The movie clocks in at 90 minutes and every one of those minutes has a quiet and lasting charm. I'm sure you will be pleased with it and Judy's performance.

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  6. How appealing you make this story sound! Another one to check out. Thank you.

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    1. If your list of movies to check out is like mine, it is going to take us years to see them all!

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  7. Thanks for writing about this movie. I've never seen it, but I love Judy Holliday and the opera, so I'll have to check it out.

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    1. Sounds like they made it just for you. Enjoy.

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  8. This sounds delightful! I've never heard of this movie, but the two leads, and your description, already have me hooked. Thanks for a great post and another new discovery.

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    1. It is one of those movies that seems to have fallen through the cracks, but once discovered it holds onto its fans for life.

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  9. I caught this film about a year or so ago on TV. not sure if it was TCM or GetTV or where. Anyway, it's A delightful movie, as is you say in your post, that charms the audience. As An Italian-American, I especially liked the realistic look at family life in an Italian household. There was no stereotypes. This may have been due to Fante's novel being the source and his writing the screenplay. Thanks for selecting this film.

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    1. Fante must have had a lot of control over how the family was represented. Everyone feels real.

      I first became aware of the movie in my teens. My sisters and I would haunt a memorabilia store downtown Toronto and I picked up a lobby card from "Full of Life" strictly because of Holliday and Conte. Luck, and some bright but anonymous local programmer, gave me the chance to see the movie soon after. Sometimes I think we film fans are archeologists.

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  10. This is a new film for me so I did not read the ending :) great review, I love Conte and Holliday both

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    1. I am so very fond of this movie that it is a pleasure to introduce it to someone new who will appreciate it.

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  11. Great pick CaftanWoman. I haven't seen this one but Fante is a great writer of realistic drama based on the LA scene and Conte and Holiday are terrific actors, both underappreciated. Super choice for this blogathon.

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    1. Readers of Fante's more famous writings might be surprised by the tenderness in "Full of Life", but it still brims with his honesty.

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  12. CW, reading your blog always makes me feel guilty; you either write about films that I never heard of even though they are popular, or films that I heard of plenty of times and always passed up. This movie is one that I always pass up, and now I see what I was missing. Conte is such a charmer ( as is Judy ) so I know I'll be in for a treat ( I already ordered it from the library this evening ).

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    1. Oh, I never want you to feel guilty. But if a little nudge toward a gem like "Full of Life" happens, then that makes me happy.

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