Sunday, February 27, 2011

Robert’s Italian Job Part three: Il segno del commando

In 1992 Robert appeared in a remake of a famous 70’s Italian miniseries : Il segno del commando, where he played the leading role : an English literature professor, who has found a mysterious diary written by Lord Byron while he was in Paris, this finding involves him in the search of Il segno del commando to save his life.
These tv series remain a bit unknown in Robert filmography. I was lucky to watch it as I really liked it. However, I’m afraid to admit that I’m probably the only one who really liked it (and not just because of Robert!).

Main details

Produced by Mediaset, the main Italian commercial broadcaster, the series were intended for the French audiences : the agonizing French channel La Cinq. Again, it is a mystery for me if this series were ever broadcasted in France, as La Cinq went into bankruptcy and closed in 1992. I’m only sure that they were broadcasted in Italy, of course, in Mexico, and Romania, but maybe in some other countries. There are also two versions of this film : the “serial” version of around 180 minutes (in two episodes) and the “butchered” version of about 120 minutes.
It was filmed by Giulio Questi, from an original story by Giuseppe D’Agata (who has stated he didn’t like this remake), adapted by Questi’s longtime collaborator David Grieco. With an international cast: Robert Powell (excellent choice!) as Edward Foster the main character, the Italian cast : Elena Sofia Ricci, Paolo Bonacelli and Sonia Petrovna. The two latter appeared in D’Annunzio, as a matter of fact. The French cast was composed by Michel Bouquet (excellent actor, by the way), Fanny Bastien as the ghost, Alexandra Stewart and Maxime Leroux. Robert was dubbed by Cesare Barbetti, who also starred alongside Robert in D'Annunzio.
There is not much information about this on the net, mainly because of the popularity of the original show, to which this version will be always compared to in a very negative way. I think this series deserve a second chance, as to my humble opinion Robert’s performance was really good. But before getting into details I’m going to present the original story versus the remake.
The plot

As I haven’t seen the original, the information I’m giving is the one I’ve found here and there. The original Segno del commando was broadcasted in 1971 and kept Italian audiences in suspense for 5 days.

  • Original
Edward Foster, an English literature professor is translating a diary written by Lord Byron while he was staying in Rome. In the diary, Byron depicts a square, which the professor thinks it’s fictional.
He is invited to the British Council in Rome to give a conference. Before going to Rome, Foster receives the letter of Marco Tagliaferri, a Roman painter claiming that the square exists. In Rome, when Foster seeks for Tagliaferri, he meets Lucia, the painter model and then strange things happen: she disappears and nobody seems to know her, the diary is stolen and she left a medallion to him. He discovers that the painter Tagliaferri died 100 years ago as well as Lucia, his model and lover, and when he sees the painter’s self portrait he finds he resembles to him. Barbara, the secretary of the British Council attaché will help him to find the square, as he starts to think he is the reincarnation of Tagliaferri

  • Remake
Edward Foster, an English literature professor has found and is translating a diary written by Lord Byron while he was staying in Paris.
He is invited to the British Council in Paris to give a conference. In the diary, Foster finds a photograph of a square. In Paris, Foster asks for the square, but he is told it doesn’t exist. He eventually discovers that it is a painting of a certain Nicolas Barto. Before leaving to Paris, he mets a girl in the elevator and she passes out, then he finds out she has died. The ghost of the girl haunts him through Paris. In Paris, he discovers that Nicolas Barto was a painter who died 100 years ago and resembles to him. Foster discovers that Barto committed suicide because he couldn’t find the Comando (a medallion that makes the bearer immortal). Barbara, a reporter will help him to find the square, as he starts to think he is the reincarnation of Barto…

Well, in short that’s the plot. Both stories are similar, the names have changed, the geographical situation also (Rome becomes Paris), which explains why the names are different.
My opinion
It comes to me that the reason of its failure is that when you tackle a myth, don’t expect people to be kind with you! The original serial had (and still has!) a lot of fans so the remake was immediately rejected as the only people who knew the original were Italians, and the remake wasn’t even filmed in Italy. It’s a bit of understandable chauvinism.
I still don’t know why there were two versions. I came across with the short one and is really bad! I understand that many people find this remake as an insult if they only watch the short version (90 minutes). A funny detail concerning the alternate versions is that even if in Mexico I watched the long version it was also cut, as there are some nude scenes (of course the "butchered" version has all these scenes).
I insist, it’s a shame that this version wasn’t given a chance, because Robert Powell gave a powerful performance. His character, Edward Foster is a sad, embittered man because he has lost his wife in an air crash, which made him sank into alcoholism. This is important, because at one point the viewer could believe that in fact all the hallucinations about the ghost are the product of his alcohol consumption. Robert really has this look in his face of the man who feels sad and lost, and maybe there were circumstances that helped him to this composition as I’ve read in an interview (about his shyness):
He claims the shyness still lingers. 'I have major problems when I work away from home. Three years ago I worked in Paris for 16 weeks - the only foreigner involved in a film - so I was in a hotel while everyone else was at home. At night I would eat dinner in my room, because I was too self-conscious to walk into the restaurant by myself.'
Excerpt from an interview given to Angela Levin’s Daily Mail (London) January 10, 1995 “I fell for the blonde in Pan’s People but was so nervous that I asked the all to dinner”

The places
As a personal note, one of the first thing I did when I arrived to Paris was to find the places of the film, and I’m sure I had the same face of his character when he found the famous square where the Comando is hidden.
So here are the places:
Most of the locations were in the 1st sector of Paris, near the Louvre: the church where he finds a priest who can help him to find the square (Saint Germain l’Auxerrois), the bridge where he throws the knife that appears in his room after Barto’s descendant is murdered (Pont des arts). The famous square, but without the angel, is the Bourse de commerce de Paris. I thought the angel was the copy of the one in the St Michel fountain but I was wrong, I have no idea what was the model for this statue. And finally, the scenes at the airport were in the Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG).

The old Paris commodity exchange. Sorry, pictures are not allowed inside, pity as it's a beautiful building!

The Church St Germain l'Auxerrois, behind the Louvre museum.

Robert in the Pont des arts, one of the most beautiful and romantic bridge of the city.

I leave you with some scenes of this film (in Italian and Spanish) and a site where I found some pictures.

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