Selling Sophia Loren – The Pressbook for “It Happened in Naples”

Unusually for a movie of this era, Paramount took one image of Clark Gable and Sophia Loren up close and personal and stuck to it. It was more normal for an marketing campaign to include half a dozen different adverts each with a separate strapline. Here, while the copy occasionally changed the central image remained the same.

Unusually, too, Paramount made a big play of getting critics on board prior to the film’s release. So it came garlanded with the imprimatur of the likes of television host Ed Sullivan, famed critic Louella Parsons and syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. Plus the studio had embarked on a major promotional campaign in the Sunday supplements of the biggest circulation newspapers in the U.S.

Overall, there was a broad sell. While Clark Gable and Sophia Loren – “two prime examples of cinematic sex appeal” – were of course key, the marketeers also promoted “sensational young Italian boy Marietto” (playing the orphaned Nando) and Carlino, the Neapolitan answer to Elvis Presley who was Loren’s guitar-playing accompanist. In appealing to “those who like poignant drama” it also set out to hook “those who like musicals” as well as moviegoers who “like being magic-carpeted away to far-away places.”  In other words, something for everyone.

Cartoon of Clark Gable and director Melville Shavelson consulting on set. Cartoons like this were occasionally part of a promotional push, giving newspapers something different to use, and they were seen as a classier promotional device than just stills or adverts.

But the write-ups and photography favor Loren, who displays her legs in a revealing costume, as well as her cleavage and a separate article extols her singing and dancing, the latter described as “her secret career passion.” Audiences were promised an “all-out rock-and-roller.” Loren, of course, had come into her own as a singer in Houseboat (1958), where she performed two songs, but declined offers of a recording career.

The Pressbook is somewhat short on the nuggets that usually accompany this kind of promotional material because the two stars were already so well known. About all potential moviegoers learned about Gable was that he was now such a devoted father he brought his family on location.

There’s certainly a curious piece called “It Hurt Gable More Than Sophia” which, on reading the text, turned out to be untrue. When Gable was called upon to throw Loren out of bed in one scene, he “put too much Gablesque gusto” into it, flipping her out onto the marble floor.  Loren was the one who suffered bruises on legs, hips and shoulders. And in true Hollywood fashion producer Jack Rose “rushed to her aid” but only after ensuring that her startled expression had been captured on camera.

Tie-ups were travel agencies. Italian restaurants and department stores featuring Italian imports were suggested to exhibitors as cost-free ways of encouraging local support. A soundtrack album featuring Loren’s voice was released as well as a paperback novelization targeted at book stores, drug stores, supermarkets and newsstands.

Taglines employed included “you, too, will say it’s wonderful;”  “you’ll loosen up and pleasure up on the isle of Capri;” and “you’ll want to be there when the fun starts.”

It Started in Naples (1960) ***

By this point in her career Sophia Loren was adopted by Hollywood primarily as a means of rejuvenating the romantic screen careers of much older male stars. John Wayne was over two decades her senior in Legend of the Lost (1957), Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck nearly two decades older in The Pride and the Passion (1957, and Cary Grant a full three decades in Houseboat (1958). But where Grant was sprightly enough and with superb comic timing and Loren had the charm to make Houseboat work, the May-December notion lost much of its appeal when translated to her Italian homeland and an aging Clark Gable.

While engaging enough, the tale mostly relies on a stereotypical stuffy American’s encounters with a stereotypical down-to-earth Italian although Loren adds considerable zap with her singing-and-dancing numbers. Lawyer Michael Hamilton (Clark Gable), in Italy to settle his deceased brother’s affairs, discovers the dead man has left behind eight-year-old boy Nando (Marietto) being looked after in haphazard fashion and in impoverished circumstances in Capri by his aunt Lucia (Sophia Loren), a nightclub singer.  Determined to give the boy a proper American education, Hamilton engages in a tug-of-war with Lucia.

In truth, Lucia lacks maternal instincts, allowing the boy to stay up till one o’clock in the morning handing out nightclub flyers and not even knowing where the local school is. Hamilton is in turns appalled and attracted to Lucia, in some part pretending romantic interest to come to an out-of-court settlement. To complicate matters, Hamilton is due to get married back home.

At times it is more travelog than romantic comedy, with streets packed for fiestas and cafes full well into the night, a speedboat ride round the glorious bay, another expedition under the majestic caves, a cable car trip up the cliffs to view spectacular scenery, and the local population enjoying their version of la dolce vita. But the piece de resistance is Lucia’s performance in the nightclub, ravishing figure accompanied by more than passable voice as she knocks out “Tu vuo fa L’Americano” (which you might remember from the jazz club scene in The Talented Mr Ripley, 1999). She has a zest that her suitor cannot match but which is of course immensely appealing.

Lucia is torn between giving the boy a better start in life, already insisting for example that he speak English, and holding on to him while street urchin Nando is intent on acting as matchmaker.  Most of the humor is somewhat heavy-handed except for a few exceptional lines – complaining that he cannot sleep for the noise outside, Hamilton asks a waiter how these people ever sleep only to receive the immortal reply: “together.”

Gable lacks the double-take that served Cary Grant so well and instead of looking perplexed and captivated mostly looks grumpy. But this is still Gable and the camera still loves him even if he has added a few pounds. He was by now a bigger global star than in the Hollywood Golden Era thanks in part to regular reissues of Gone with the Wind (1939) but mostly to a wider range of roles and he was earning far more than at MGM, in the John Wayne/William Holden league of remuneration. Loren was the leading Italian female star, well ahead in Hollywood eyes of competitors Claudia Cardinale and Gina Lollobrigida, and had the skill, despite whatever age difference was foisted upon her, of making believable any unlikely romance. Here, zest and cunning see her through. Vittorio De Sica (The Angel Wore Red, 1960) has a scene-stealing role as an Italian lawyer with an eye for the ladies.

Director Melville Shavelson (Cast a Giant Shadow,1966)  thought he had cracked the problems of the older man-younger girl romance having shepherded Houseboat to box office glory . While this picture doesn’t come unstuck it is nowhere near Houseboat. This turned out to be Gable’s penultimate film, not quite the fitting reminder of a glorious career, and he died shortly after its release. While Loren trod water with this picture she was closing in on a career breakthrough with her Oscar-winning Two Women (1960).