While Germany under the Nazis was pursuing a cinematic strategy of escapist comedies, political propaganda, and epic spectacles, combined with liberal doses of “B” grade Hollywood films and Mickey Mouse cartoons (until 1939, when imports from the West were abruptly halted after the start of hostilities in Europe), Italy pursued a slightly different course. Benito Mussolini created the Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografice (ENIC) in 1934 and thus consolidated the production and exhibition of films into one gigantic entity. In 1935, Mussolini began construction of Cinecittà, the vast film studio near Rome that still stands today, and also created a film school for aspiring young directors, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.
The key directors of the early sound period in Italy, Alessandro Blasetti and Mario Camerini, created a serviceable yet unremarkable series of films during this time, such as Blasetti’s dramatic Terra Madre (Motherland, 1931) and Camerini’s
As the war approached, Cinecittà, then one of the most modern production facilities in Europe, with sixteen sound stages and generous state subsidies and tax breaks, began churning out a mix of escapist and frankly propagandistic films. These included Carmine Gallone’s Scipione l’Africano (Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal, 1937), a historical drama in the “sword and sandal” mode that sought to capitalize on Italy’s past military glories to galvanize the public, and Gennaro Righelli’s LArmata azzurra (The Blue Fleet, 1932), which glorified the Italian air force.
Blasetti’s 1860 (1934) was another
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