Marta Donzelli (President) and Sergio Bruno (Restorations and Film Fund) (CSC – Cineteca Nazionale)
How many fiction films produced by Goebbels’ Ministry for Nazi Propaganda were openly racist or anti-Semitic? On the basis of studies carried out by various cinema and Holocaust historians, if you exclude documentaries and anima ed shorts, there are about ten titles, of which the most infamous and sadly best-known remains Jud Süß. What about the Fascist regime, on the other hand? Officially, no encyclopaedia or history of Italian cinema records the existence of films, documentaries, or Istituto Luce newsreels that are explicitly anti-Jew or anti-Black. The sole exception, which also constitutes the regime’s most marked anti-American effort, is Harlem, which came out in April 1943, two months before the fall of Fascism and three months before the Allies landed in Sicily. It roughly anticipates Rocky by three decades in its story of an Italian-American boxer who defeats an Abyssinian rival in a mid-1930s New York entirely reconstructed in the Cinecittà studios. The film was partly inspired by the story of the first Italian heavyweight champion Primo Carnera who, after winning the title with Al Capone’s help in 1933, was beaten the following year by the Jewish Max Bear and then again by the ‘Brown Bomber’ Detroit Joe Lewis in June 1935, on the eve of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. This match provoked numerous racial skirmishes on the streets of Harlem between the Black community and pro-Fascist Italian-Americans. The film overturns historical facts and here, obviously, it is the white boxer who wins in order to demonstrate the superiority of the “Aryan Italians” over the “sinister Jewish entrepreneurs” and the “savage Afro-American fans in Yankee Stadium”. In the film, these were played by South African prisoners-of-war interred in a work camp, which the German and Italian propaganda ministries had set up near Cinecittà “for cinematic purposes”.
For these and other reasons, Harlem is most censored Italian film of all time, with 32 minutes of cuts (or 40 minutes if we include dialogue revisions). The film began circulating again after the war in this 85-minute censored version, which lacks all the anti-American and anti-Semitic references but maintains the anti-Black racism of the stereotypical dubbing.
Cast and Credits
T. alt.: Knock-out! Sog.: dall’omonima novella di Giuseppe Achille. Scen.: Sergio Amidei, Emilio Cecchi, Angelo Guidi, Pietro Petroselli, Giacomo Debenedetti, Paolo Monelli, Pietro Carbonelli. F.: Anchise Brizzi. M.: Maria Rosada, Nicolò Lazzari, Renzo Lucidi. Scgf.: Guido Fiorini, Ferdinando Ruffo. Mus.: Willy Ferrero.
Int.: Elisa Cegani (donna del gangster), Vivi Gioi (Muriel), Massimo Girotti (Tommaso Rossi), Amedeo Nazzari (Amedeo Rossi), Mino Doro (Bill Black), Osvaldo Valenti (Chris Sherman), Gianni Musy [Gianni Glori] (piccolo Tony Rossi), Luigi Almirante (Barney Palmer), Primo Carnera (se stesso). Prod.: Cines. DCP. Bn.
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Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal), Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna) and Anna Masecchia (Università di Napoli)
Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal) and Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna)
Music composed and directed by Maud Nelissen, performed by The Sprockets:
Daphne Balvers (soprano saxophone), Frido ter Beek (alto saxophone), Peter Keijsers (trombone), Marco Ludemann (banjo, jazz guitar, mandolin), Alexander Vocking (contrabass), Rombout Stoffers (drums, effects, accordion) and Maud Nelissen (piano)