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22 November 2014

Maciste all’Inferno (1926)

Maciste all’Inferno/Maciste in Hell (Guido Brignone, 1926) once inspired the young Federico Fellini to become a film director. He loved the silent film because of its weird, fairy-tale-like atmosphere. Italian actor Bartolomeo Pagano played the strong man Maciste for the first time in Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914). The enormous success of that film classic launched a series of Maciste films, produced in Italy and Germany.

Bartolomeo Pagano alias Maciste
Bartolomeo Pagano alias Maciste. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 478/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Riess.

Bartolomeo Pagano aka Maciste
Bartolomeo Pagano alias Maciste. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 478/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Riess.

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Publicity still for Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone 1926). Caption: "The Inhabitants of the Underworld."

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Publicity still for Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone 1926). Caption: "Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) called before king Pluto (Umberto Guarracino)". At the right, seen on the back, Pluto's daughter Luciferina (Lucia Zanussi) is standing. The bold guy on the left must be Gerione (Mario Saio).

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Publicity still for Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone 1926), starring Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste. Caption: "The Tomb of the Heresiarchs [heretics]."

A call for Maciste


In 1913, film director and producer Giovanni Pastrone, manager of the Itala company of Turin, released a call for the interpreter of the character of the Nubic slave Maciste (a character created together with Gabriele D’Annunzio) for Pastrone’s super-production Cabiria (1914).

Out of 50 candidates from all over Italy, Pastrone selected Bartolomeo Pagano. According to another version, it was actor Domenico Gambino who noticed Pagano and signalled him to Pastrone, who, impressed by his physique, hired him for his epic film.

Overnight Pagano became an international success because of his physique and his image of courageous, humorous and no-nonsensical defender of the weak. In Cabiria he uses his power to rescue a Roman girl out of the hands of the Carthaginian priests who want to offer her to Moloch.

Pastrone immediately saw opportunities and launched a series of films just around his character, starting with a film just called Maciste (1915). Deliberately, Maciste’s part in Cabiria, the splendour of the Itala studio, and Maciste’s work there, were shown to impress audiences and tie them to the previous box office hit.

Of course the plot deals with a damsel in distress, whom Maciste saves with his muscles and his wit. During the First World War Pastrone used Maciste for war propaganda in Maciste alpino (1916), in which Maciste fiercely opposes the Austrian soldiers when he and his colleagues are captured during a film shoot on location.

The success of the film made Pastrone exploit Maciste in all kinds of situations and genres, but mostly in the adventure and crime genre: Maciste medium, Maciste atleta, Maciste poliziotto (all 1918), Maciste innamorato (1919), La trilogia di Maciste (1920), Maciste salvato dalle acque, Maciste in vacanza (both 1921).

By now Pastrone did not direct the films anymore but left this task to skilled directors like Luigi Romano Borgnetto. While not all of these were good productions, a better example was La Trilogia di Maciste by Carlo Campogalliani.

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste in Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Franz Sala in Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Franz Sala as the devil Barbariccia in Maciste all’inferno (Guido Brigone, 1926). Franz Sala aka Francesco Sala (1886-1952) was a prolific actor of the Italian silent cinema, mostly playing the evil antagonist. In the 1930s he was active as makeup artist.

Elena Sangro in Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 714. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Elena Sangro as Proserpina, wife of Pluto, king of the underworld, in Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Domenico Serra in Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Domenico Serra as Giorgio in Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone 1925).

Pauline Polaire in Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 715. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Pauline Polaire in Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Publicity still for Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926), starring Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste and Pauline Polaire as Graziella.

Maciste all'inferno
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Publicity still for Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926), starring Bartolomeo Pagano as Maciste and Umberto Guarracino as King Pluto.

The outside world didn’t know


In Italy a strong man or forzuti genre in film sprang up, creating space for characters such as Ausonia, Galaor, Ajax, and Sansone, and attracting competing strong men and physical culture champions such as Giovanni Raicevich.

Pagano’s Maciste was also simply pirated abroad, such as by the French actor Michel Bonnet with his character Magiste, and another rip-off in Mexico. French critic Louis Delluc called him the Guitry of biceps, while newcomers Ultus (Aurele Sydney) and Douglas Fairbanks were launched as the British and the American Maciste.

In the late 1910s and early 1920s Maciste’s popularity was biggest in Austria and Germania, despite the preceding anti-Austrian Maciste alpino. At home in Italy, Maciste’s image of superman coincided with the new fascist ideology. In the 1920s Pagano was one of the best paid actors of his times, sometimes gaining 600.000 lire a year.

The Maciste-films continued until the early-1920s, when, not so much because of the collapse of the Italian film production but rather because of a fabulous contract, Pagano went to Berlin, the mecca of the European film industry. Here he stayed between 1921 and 1923, but according to the film press he wasn’t as successful there as in Italy.

He played in Maciste und die Javanerin (Uwe Jenss Kraft, 1921), Maciste und die Tochter des Silberkönig (Luigi Romano Borgnetto, 1921), Maciste und der Sträfling Nr. 51 (Luigi Romano Borgnetto 1921), and Maciste und die Chinesische Truhe (Carl Boese, 1923).

Dissatisfied Pagano returned to Italy, where producer Stefano Pittaluga immediately put him on a transatlantic for the film Maciste e il nipote d’America (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1924), which included scenes shot in New York.

Among less convincing titles such as Maciste imperatore (Guido Brignone), the same Brignone directed Pagano in Maciste all’Inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926), a witty and artful pastiche on Dante, Doré, Méliès, Expressionism and medieval illustrations. It also contains ingenious special effects by ‘magician’ Segundo de Chomon.

The devil takes Maciste down to hell in an attempt to corrupt and ruin his morality.

When entering Hades, Maciste is being seduced by Proserpina, played by Italian diva Elena Sangro, and he turns into a hairy devil himself. The film was dear to Federico Fellini, because of its weird, fairy-tale-like atmosphere; the film supposedly inspired him to become film director.

Bored with his Maciste films, Pagano asked and got different roles: Il vetturale del Moncenisio (Baldassarre Negroni, 1927), Giuditta e Oloferne (1928) starring Jia Ruskaja, and his last part (a secondary one by now) in L’ultimo Zar (Baldassarre Negroni, 1928).

Afflicted by diabetes, though, Pagano withdrew to his Villa Maciste in Sant’Ilario Ligure near Genua. Physical mishap destroyed his forces, typhoid reduced his weight in drastic ways, while arthritis even obliged him to spend his last years in a wheelchair. The outside world didn’t know.

Bartolomeo Pagano died in Genua on 24 June 1947, because of a heart attack. According to Italian film historian Vittorio Martinelli, Pagano never was a real actor, but rather the lively personification of a character from popular literature.

His character’s name though remains as synonym for power and courage. In 1960-1965 Maciste was revived in the sword and sandal films with Mark Forrest, Gordon Scott, Kirk Morris, Ed Fury and other bodybuilders, while in the early 1970s Jesus Franco made two low-budget Maciste-films for French producers.

Elena Sangro in Maciste imperatore
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 9. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Elena Sangro as Cinzia and René [Raoul] Mayllard as prince Otis [Ortis]in the Fert production Maciste imperatore (Guido Brignone, 1924). In the kingdom of Sindagna, the prince regent Stanos tries with all means to dispose of the legitimate heir to the throne, prince Ortis. When Maciste and Saetta happen to be in the chaotic empire, they set things straight for the poor, weak prince. Maciste is proclaimed emperor of Sindagna after getting rid of the regent and his puppet ruler, restores peace, and arranges that the prince can also be united with his beloved one. The plot line comes close Mussolini's take over of Italy, 'helping' the weak king Victor Emmanuel III and 'restoring order'.

Maciste
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 368. Bartolomeo Pagano aka Maciste in Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Maciste in Maciste contro lo sceicco
Italian postcard. Photo: Pittaluga Film, Turin. Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) in Maciste contro lo sceicco/Maciste against the Sheik (Mario Camerini, 1926).

Maciste contro lo sceicco
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 76. Photo: Pittaluga Film, Turin. Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) in Maciste nella gabbia dei leoni/Maciste in the Lion's cage (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Maciste nella gabbia dei leoni
Italian postcard. Photo: Pittaluga Film, Turin. Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) in Maciste nella gabbia dei leoni/Maciste in the Lion's cage (Guido Brignone, 1926).

Cecyl Tryan in Maciste contro lo sceicco
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 787. Photo: Dist. Società Anonima Stefano Pittaluga. Cecyl Tryan in the Fert production Maciste contro lo sceicco/Maciste against the Sheik (Mario Camerini, 1926). Cecyl Tryan is the young girl whose tutor (Franz Sala) and his spendthrift mistress (Rita d'Harcourt) want to steal her inheritance, and sell her to a sheik. Aboard the ship she is menaced by the crew but a young sailor (Lido Manetti) and Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) rescue her. In the harbour the sheik manages to abduct the girl and place her in his harem, but Maciste and the young man use power and wits to liberate her, defeat the sheik and sail back to Italy to set things straight there too.

Maciste all'inferno retro Cine Moderno
Spanish version of Italian postcard. Retro announcing Maciste all'inferno (Guido Brignone, 1926) at the Cine Moderno. Tipografia de Antonio Homar. Pont d'Inca. Thursday 2 September refers to the year 1926.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Maciste & Co. I giganti buoni del cinema italiano - Italian), Wikipedia (Italian) and IMDb.

2 comments:

Bunched Undies said...

Wonderful story and images. Some of these silent films were quite impressive in their elaborate production.

Paul van Yperen said...

Thanks. This is a wonderful, a bit crazy film.