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Travoltasploitation: The 1979 Italian film “The Face with Two Left Feet” parodied “Saturday Night Fever”
In 1979, just sixteen months after the December ’77 theatrical release of Saturday Night Fever, a PG-rated Italian disco comedy called The Face with Two Left Feet was released into Italian theaters under its original title, making it one of the oddest entries in a sub-genre some have cleverly called “Travoltasploitation.”
The movie — which wasn’t even released theatrically in the United States at the time — starred Giuseppe Spezia, who had no previous acting experience but happened to look uncannily like John Travolta’s Fever character Tony Manero, but the film was also notable for featuring Hungarian-born Italian porn star Ilona Staller (aka “Cicciolina”) in a supporting role.
The Face with Two Left Feet (35mm, 87 minutes) was originally given a different title, John Travolto… da un insolito destino, which can be literally translated into English as John Travolto Overwhelmed by an Unusual Destiny, although usually the title appeared as “The Lonely Destiny of John Travolta.”
If you’re a foreign film buff, you probably already know that the spoof film’s title parodies an entirely different film, Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 comedy-adventure film, Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto (Swept Away… by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, which is usually shortened to Swept Away).
The Italian word “travolti,” you’ll no doubt note, means “swept,” but it’s also remarkably close to the spelling of Travolta’s surname, hence the clever titling.
The French release of the film bore an entirely different title, John’s Fever, which is the name of the discotheque that appears in the movie, and there have been subsequent theatrical re-issues under other titles, too, including Runaround, and Travoltamania.
The Face with Two Left Feet is the best of these titles, though, don’t you think?
You may also note that the film’s original title has his name spelled “Travolto,” instead of Travolta, and we can only guess that it might have been either a mistake or possibly, and more likely, the filmmakers were trying to avoid an expensive lawsuit, but who knows?!
This obscure late 70s Italian spoof happens to be one of several foreign-made parody films that came out after the massive worldwide box office success of Saturday Night Fever, a list that would also have to include another Italian disco comedy, the obscure Disco Crazy (1979).
As you might expect, The Face with Two Left Feet seems to have created around the wonderful discovery of Giuseppe Spezia, a John Travolta lookalike.
We have no idea where he was discovered (he may have already been making the rounds as a celebrity impersonator), but we have to say, at certain angles, Spezia’s resemblance to Travolta’s “Tony Manero” is pretty uncanny.
Most online websites seem to agree that this was Giuseppe Spezia’s only film role, but he did have a supporting role in 1982’s Italian comedy Vieni avanti cretino (Come Forward, Idiot), a comedy directed by Luciano Salce.
The film’s director, Neri Parenti — whose main previous experience at the time seems to be that he was as an assistant director on a couple of films — appears to have written his first produced screenplay for the film (with help from Italian novelist, screenwriter and occasional director Massimo Franciosa, who is uncredited) and made The Face with Two Left Feet his first directorial effort.
The Face with Two Left Feet was also produced by Alfredo Leone, who during the early part of the decade had produced some of Mario Bava’s films, including Lisa and the Devil and Baron Blood.
The plot is rather simplistic, as you might imagine, and chiefly concerns a group of six young twentysomethings — three women, three men — who frequently gather at a discotheque called “John’s Fever.”
The film’s soundtrack — by composer Paolo Vasile — tries to capture the feel of Fever, offering up its own non-stop parade of disco tunes, many of them clearly written as parodies of popular Bee Gees disco songs (especially “Stayin’ Alive”).
On the night’s when the club isn’t offering “swing dancing,” it’s a full-on late 70s-era disco, and everyone in the group takes to the dancefloor to show off their disco moves.. everyone, that is, except the nerdy “Gianni Spezia.”
Spezia — you’ll no doubt note that the actors play characters who have names similar to their own — is incredibly awkward, wears glasses and sports a pretty awesome 70s-era pornstache too.
Spezia works as a chef at a local hotel and most of his friends do too, and, as luck would have it, the hotel is buzzing with the news that American actor John Travolta is planning on arriving soon to stay at the hotel.
Spezia and his danceclub buddies are like any pack of guys you might have seen at a 70s disco, standing on the edges of the dancefloor, playing pranks on each other, but Gianni stands apart from them in that he’s actually a bit of a downer (or maybe he’s just shy), and not only that, but he can’t dance, due to his “two left feet.”
His friends try to encourage him to introduce himself to the girl he’s lusting after, the dance club’s blonde-tressed deejay, named “Ilona” (played by Ilona Staller), but he’s too inept to attempt such a bold move.
Besides that, she also happens to be dating the club’s owner, a thuggish dude named “Raoul” (played by Angelo Infanti).
Then, Spezia’s friend Red, a porter at the hotel, decides to play a prank on the hotel’s switchboard operator, Gloria (played by Gloria Piedimonte), who is obsessed with Travolta.
Red draws a mustache on her poster of Travolta and that’s when they realize that if their friend Gianni made a few changes — like shaving off his mustache and ditching the nerdy specs — he’d be a dead ringer for the American actor.
His friends tell him that if he’d agree to a simple makeover, he could probably pass for the real Travolta, who is due for his visit any day now.
It would certainly get Ilona’s attention if Travolta decided to pay a visit to “John’s Fever,” but even though it all sounds like a plan that could work, Spezia decides that it’d be better off if he just gave up ever getting to know her.
Fate intervenes, of course, as it always does, when Ilona and Raoul come to the restaurant where Spezia works, and Raoul also thinks that having Giannni posing as the disco dance king would bring new attention to his club, so Gianni agrees to the makeover, which mainly involves a haircut, shaving off the ‘stache, and finding a white leisure suit like the one Travolta wears in Saturday Night Fever.
Two of his friends, the hotel’s manicurist “Deborah” (Sonia Viviani) and her boss “Alvin” (Franco Agostini) then get involved: Alvin ends up posing as the fake Travolta’s “manager,” while Deborah tries in to teach him how to dance.
They decide that, due to “contractual obligations,” Spezia probably shouldn’t try to dance because that will give it all away, and because he doesn’t sound like the American actor, they decide that Spezia should tell everyone he’s suffering from laryngitis (the funny thing about this is that the film’s English dubbed version features the voice of an actor who actually sounds quite a bit like the real Travolta).
There’s a couple of side plots (like the one about “Caruso” (Enzo Cannavale), the hotel’s concierge (or nightporter), who keeps seeing Travoltas everywhere he looks, and we should also mention that foxy Italian actress Adriana Russo appears in the film and plays a character named, what else?, “Adriana.”
The last twenty minutes of the film’s third act ties everything up nicely, complete with a nightclub brawl between Spezio’s friends and members of Raoul’s thug entourage, and in the end (spoiler!), Spezio ends up with the Travolta-obsessed Gloria, and not the foxy blonde DJ Ilona.
As we mentioned, one of the reasons the film is notable beyond its “Travoltasploitation” angle is the appearance of Hungarian-born Italian porn star/actress/politician Ilona Staller.
Staller, who moved to Italy in the 1970s, originally created her “Cicciolina” stage name — which she used when appearing in X-rated adult films and posing in men’s magazines, including the Italian version of Playboy — for a Radio Luna radio show, called “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” (which translates to “Do You Want To Sleep With Me?”) before using it movies like Cicciolina Amore Mio (which was also released in 1979).
The pretty blonde sex film starlet — who, in 1978, was the first woman to bare her breasts on Italian TV, on the RAI show “C’era due Volte” — turned from making softcore and hardcore films to a pursuit in politics — during the same year The Face with Two Left Feet was made — running for a seat in Italy’s parliament as a member of Lista del Sole, Italy’s first “Green Party.”
As you might expect, Cicciolina wasn’t your typical politician, even for Italy, and she caused quite a stir when she first ran for her seat in parliament on a platform that was for human rights, and against nuclear energy and NATO membership.
She is best remembered, perhaps, for proposing to sleep with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in exchange for his agreeing to end Iraq’s ongoing war in the Middle East. Unfortunately, she wasn’t elected, and we have no idea if she ever met Hussein.
Then, in 1987 — two years after switching political parties, joining the Partito Radicale, a radical libertarian party — she was elected to the Italian parliament, with approximately 20,000 votes, although she wasn’t re-elected at the end of her term in 1991.
That same year, 1991, she became one of the founders of a new Italian political movement, called Partito dell’Amore (The Party Of Love).
She also married American artist Jeff Koons, who was by then featuring his wife/muse in numerous sculptures and photographs, often in very explicit erotic and sexually explicit displays (go to Google for examples), but they would end up divorcing just three years later, in 1994.
She renewed her offer to have sex with Saddam Hussein in October 2002, when Iraq was resisting international pressure to allow inspections for weapons of mass destruction, and in April 2006, she made the same offer to Osama bin Laden. As far as we know, he also declined her offer.
Cicciolina has also had a recording career, releasing occasional pop albums, although most of her songs couldn’t be played on the radio due to their occasionally profane lyrics.
She sometimes plays these songs during her TV show appearances, and some have appeared in the soundtracks to some of her adult films, which she continued to make up until fairly recently (which is one reason her marriage to Koons, who wanted them to be monogamous, ended).
The Face with Two Left Feet is currently available on DVD from the Code Red label, featuring English-dubbed dialogue and very few actual production credits, only than for those for the names mentioned above, although the song titles featured in the film — including one co-written by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti — are listed.
Saturday Night Fever‘s global success (currently listed as somewhere in the neighborhood of $94 million in box office ticket sales) made it one of the most successful movies of the 1970s, but its influence cannot be underestimated, as there were many films during the 70s and 80s, in particular, which made reference to it in one way or another.
By the way, here’s a fun fact: the original working title for John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever was “The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which was the name of the article in New York magazine it was originally based on (and which later turned out to be mostly fabricated).