Siamo uomini o caporali [Are We Men or Corporals?] (1955) - Toto Takes On The Man June 24, 2018 08:00
One of Italy's most famous actor's and Italian counterpart to America's Charlie Chaplin, Toto Esposito built his career in the era of physical comedy and repartee. While the United States had it's share of physical comedic actors during the silent era and into the "talkies", Toto was one of the forerunners for Italy. His debut in the 1937 film Hand's Off Me! as his self titled character Toto, was the start of a 100+ film career, most of which centered around the same self titled character.
In Are We Men or Corporals?, we follow Toto as he recants his story living through WWII, and dealing with "corporals", those in higher position who constantly used their power to abuse the common man. Starting off as a "queue jumper" Toto takes his dreams of becoming an actor and uses his talents to quickly cheat the system and procure war rations for the villagers. But once caught he finds himself locked up in a German prison camp, here he continues to steal food, only this time it's from the German solider reserve, and for a lovely female prisoner Sonia. After being caught, Toto manages to escape with Sonia after the Nazi's experiment of atomic energy tests on him backfire.
The two of them return to Rome and take up residence in a small shack up on the hill until Toto manages to procure them a job as a performing duo for the American troops. They perform a classic Neapolitan act called La Cammesella, a comedy striptease routine. (La Cammesella was a song written back in the late 1800's, and has held it's popularity within Italy even today, possibly due to this film's classic scene.) The act is a hit but the two return to Rome after Sonia is continually sexually harassed by the creepy, habitually drunk, Captain Black.
Back home Toto get's mixed up with a popular magazine who learns he lives near the scene of a major murder. Although he did not witness anything, looking to publish a ground breaking story, the editor coaxes him into signing a bogus statement, they publish a story full of lies and turn Toto into the "man of the century". It all seems innocent at first, Toto begins to eat up all the attention he begins receiving until he discovers the truth. In an attempt to get out of the situation he's thrown in prison for providing a false statement.
Not being too familiar with Italian comedies from this era I didn't know what to expect with Are We Men or Corporals?, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I've never been much of a fan of the silent era comedy films, but the Toto films, while somewhat of a parallel to the Charlie Chaplin style of comedy, do a fine job of upgrading the comedic style to the era of dialogue and losing a little bit of the overly cheesy aspects.
This also marks the first film appearance of Sylva Koscina, a drop dead gorgeous actress who would soon make herself well known in Italian cinema. Here her role is nothing more than a brief walk-on performance with one line, but it's an ironic foreshadowing of things to come. Her unnamed character is having her picture published by the magazine that is taking a statement from Toto. She comments that she's never had her picture in the paper and hopes this leads to a role in a film. As she exits the screen Toto exclaims, "this girl will make in big in the movies." It's quite possible this was all coincided with Sylva's actual discovery, which as it happens was because of a photograph that was published in all the Italian papers of her kissing a famous cyclist Rik Van Steenbergen during the Tour of Italy, and as history reflects Sylva went on to have major roles in over one hundred films, including two additional Toto films in which she had major starring roles.