Francesca Bertini in Assunta Spina, Napoli 1915


In 1895 the brothers Lumiere, two French children of a photographer, invented a machine capable of performing both the filming that the projections in the hall. After a few years, as a result of an intense work of improvement of their invention, they created the cinema as we know it now. The Lumiere continued in their inventions by creating the color film in 1907. They founded an industry that, by exploiting their numerous patents, produced films and cinematographic and photographic equipment. Later the company Lumiere merged in Ilford.

The cinema of the Lumiere arrived in Naples just three months after its invention. But already in the city someone had patented something similar to the Lumiere machine. Menotti Cattaneo had created his animated shadows machine. The financial superiority and industrial strength of Lumiere had suffered the best on Cattaneo.

The Lumiere in those early years also shot some films in the city including “Via Marina e Santa Lucia”. They were not alone, many photographers and Neapolitan entrepreneurs, realizing the success that this new invention would have had, put heart and soul in the enterprise to create films and build halls where projecting these films.

The Salone Margherita, inaugurated in 1890 in the Galleria Umberto, who was born to present performances of Café Chantant in the heyday of the Italian Belle Epoque, adapted its hall for the projection of films. The first movies projecting in the Salone Margherita concerned films shot in Naples, produced by the Lumiere. The second Neapolitan cinema also was opened in the Galleria Umberto by film industrialist Mario Recanati.  one of the first Italian, cinema industrialist Mario Recanati. It was one of the first Italian cinemas.

In the following years numerous cinemas began their activities in the city. Sala Iride was among these, a cinema located in via A. Poerio near the ancient Naples Central Station, which is still functioning. Menotti Cattaneo, after the failure of his film machine, had created his cinema in a wooden shed at Via Foria.

Marconi hall was born in Piazza Cavour, followed by the Cinema-Teatro Odeon sited in Piazza Sannazzaro, working until the seventies of the ‘900. Caffè Gambrinus, famous during the Belle Epoque, had its cinema in the hall that overlooked the Piazza Plebiscito. After World War II these premises were occupied by a branch of Banco di Napoli. Only recently they have been returned to the historic Caffé Gambrinus.

The Sala Floridiana was created in Vomero, also the Cinema Vomero and Cinema Regina opened in that place.

Many cinemas were active until the second half of the last century. Then the television competition forced the closure many of these halls. Today very few traditional rooms surviving, supplanted by multiplex where several films are projected simultaneously in different halls to meet the diverse preferences of viewers. Lately projection machines and  films have been replaced by modern projectors that use electronic media and the Internet instead of film.

In a short time Naples became a place of movie production. It was the Italian Hollywood. In the golden age of silent cinema, half of Italian films were produced in the city. The other two cities with significant productions were Turin and Rome.

Production companies of silent movies

Partenope Film
Fratelli Troncone was one of the first Neapolitan production companies. It was founded in 1906 by Guglielmo, Roberto and Vincenzo Troncone. A few years later it took the name of Partenope Film. It had its headquarters and the sound stages at Vomero, in a villa at via Solimene. A shed was built in the large garden of the villa that served as a film studio of the company.

It inaugurated its activity producing the documentary “Eruzione del Vesuvio” which was a great success. It continued production by hiring the best of the time Neapolitan actors: Vincenzo Scarpetta, Giuseppe D’Alessio, Jole Bertini, Italo Guglielmi, stage name of Guglielmo Troncone.

After the success of the first documentary, Partenope Film produced the film “Marito distratto e moglie manesca (distracted husband and abusive wife)” (1910) by Vincenzo Scarpetta in the part of the distracted husband. It was followed from “Primavera di lacrime” of 1911 directed by Giovanni Pastrone with Jole Bertini and Francesco Corbinci, “Fenesta ca lucive” (1914) directed by Roberto Troncone, with participation of the other brother Troncone, Italo Guglielmi, and many other films.

After World War II the production of the house underwent a slowdown. In 1919 “Dalila” and “Nennella” were shot. “Fenesta ca lucive” was the latest production of Partenope Film, which was not a success and contributed to the closure of the production company that occurred in 1926.

In 1912 the Di Luggo & C. was created, a film production company founded by Giuseppe Di Luggo that had its factories to Vomero, in via Cimarosa, corner of Via Aniello Falcone. In 1914 he took the name of Napoli Film, and then transforms into Polifilm.

The Polifilm produced some important films: “le avventure di un giornalista” by Aldo Molinari, “Guerra redentrice (redemptive War)” directed by Eduardo Bencivenga. It closed his business in 1918 after having produced the film “Una peccatrice (A sinner)”, with Leda Gys, and “Sole” always with Leda Gys and Giovanni Grasso.

The silent films, produced in Naples, performed city life stories, the same stories that were later taken by the authors of the “Neapolitan drama”. for many years a close alliance was between the Neapolitan drama, which was presented live before the movie in the cinema where a small stage had been created in front of the projection screen, and the film which, in most cases, had a subject like a drama with classic protagonists “He, she and the bad man”. The films, shot in Turin and in Rome, had a wider and were often produced the so-called Kolossal as “The Last Days of Pompeii”. A feature that was only in some Neapolitan salt was represented by live dubbing. The silent film was voiced by two actors who recited the cues of the protagonists of the film.

Dora Film
In 1905 Elvira Notari Coda of Salerno founded in Naples Film Dora, a laboratory where the frames of the films were colored, one by one, to create the film in color. Soon Notari transformed her small laboratory in a film production company, Dora Film. She was assisted in this work by her husband, the photographer Nicola Notari. Subsequently also her two children Dora and Eduardo intervened in the production.

Elvira Notari, who was the director of the films produced by Film Dora, was the inventor of neo-realism. Elvira was using people taken from the street as protagonists and actors of her productions. Often the same Elvira was reciting along with her son who played the part of a child, Gennarino. These films, whose frames were colored by hand, were real musical where, during the screening, were performed songs by singers accompanied by small orchestras that served as the soundtrack of the film. The figure of the “cantante appresso” was created, the singer followed the film in cinemas to accompany the screening with the songs in vogue at the time.

Elvira Notari also founded an acting school where it had banned the typical Mannerist excess silent movie divas of the moment Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini. She anticipated the essential drama of neo-realism of the fifties.

Dora Film exported many films in America, where they had a great success among the public of Italian emigrants. The emigrants could relive the places of origin as well as they remembered them through films of Notari.

The products of Dora films include: “La Medea di Portamedina”, “Sperduti nel buio” by Roberto Bracco and the famous “Assunta Spina” played by the star of silent film Francesca Bertini, who began his diva career shooting film for Neapolitan factories, before moving to Rome in the Cinecittà Studios.

After sixty films, clashes with the fascist regime, which resented the natural revival of “real life” of the films by Notari, determined the cessation of Dora Film and retire into private life of Elvira Notari in 1930.

Lombardo Film (Titanus)
The Neapolitan Gustavo Lombardo was one of the pioneers of Italian cinema. In 1904, at nineteen, he abandoned his studies to dedicate himself to the new art. Acquired various film representations founded a company for the distribution of films to cinemas in the city of Naples. A few years later he founded his own production house which at first was called SIGLA (Società Italiana Gustavo Lombardo Anonima). Lombardo managed to obtain the exclusive distribution of Charlie Chaplin films in south-central Italy.

In 1919 he purchased the factories of Polifilm in Vomero at via Cimarosa, creating the company Lombardo Film. He began producing films that were shot on soundstages in via Cimarosa. The outdoor shootings were carried out in a nearby park-garden of a villa in via Luca Giordano. Meanwhile he acquired numerous cinemas by creating a group that included both the production and the public screening of the film.

Lombardo hired actors who had previously worked for the Polifilm, including actress Leda Gys will become the protagonist of his films and whom he married in 1932. Among the films of this period were produced by Lombardo Films include: “I figli di nessuno (The sons of none)”, “La trappola”, “Napoli e una canzone” directed by Eugenio Perego with Leda Gys and Angelo Ferrari.

In 1928 Lombardo Film turned into Titanus, and transfers its activities in the new film studios of Cinecittà in Rome, studios took from fascism to concentrate in Capital the Italian film production, allowing them to more easily control the production of films and newsreels that were widespread in the halls between the first and second half of the film.

Titanus widened its production at national level. Among the films produced there was “Fermo con le mani” the first cinematic interpretation of Toto. It was the first of a long series of films in which participated Neapolitan actor. The company was able to cross the second war period without any great difficulty. In the 50s the direction of Titanus passed by Gustavo Lombardo to his son Goffredo.

In the second half of the last century all the Neapolitan production houses had closed its activities for lack of large capital which were necessary for sound films, with the exception of Titanus who had moved to Rome, taking advantage of financial concessions which were granted by the fascist regime.

The contribution of Naples to the movies did not end with the closing of the production companies, but continued providing at the cinema directors and actors of great stature. The city served as a backdrop for many films.


Carosello napoletano (Neapolitan carousel)
The film “Neapolitan Carousel” was shot in 1954 in Naples, directed by Ettore Giannini and with the participation of a cast of major actors, in addition to the ballet of the theater of the Principality of Monaco. They played in the film Leonide Massine, famous actor dancer who had the role of Pulcinella, Paolo Stoppa, Tina Pica, Sophia Loren, singer Giacomo Rondinella, and then Dolores Palumbo, Agostino Salvietti, Vittorio Caprioli and many good Neapolitan characteristics. It was an ensemble piece where outdoor shooting prevailed. The scene interpreted by the Monaco Ballet was shot in the harbor, in front of the maritime station, other shots were made at Piazza Trieste e Trento and to Saint Lucia. It was the first and only real “musical” Italian movie. The other film like this were the so-called “musicarelli” which represented a slight musical history along the lines of a hit song.

Le quattro giornate di Napoli (The Four Days of Naples)
It was filmed by director Nanni Loy with the participation of Luigi De Filippo, Aldo Giuffre, Lea Massari, Jean Sorel, Gian Maria Volonté in 1962. It told the German occupation rebellion by the Neapolitan people during the “Four Days of Naples”, from September 27 to September 30, 1943. A tough and moving film dedicated to the memory of Gennarino Capuozzo, a boy of 11 years old who lost his life by throwing a hand grenade at a German tank. Gennarino was awarded the highest Italian decoration, the Gold Medal for bravery (to memory). There were represented the various stages of the insurrection, the escape from the reformatory small urchins, including Gennarino Capuozzo, who joined the rebels fighting against German tanks, the fighting in the Vomero where the Sannazzaro school student, Adolfo Pansini, lost his life, the barricade erected in via Arenaccia where the German tanks were stopped by armed citizens of only rifles and hand grenades.

Ricomincio da tre (Starting from three)
It was the first film directed by Massimo Troisi with starring the same Troisi. Massimo reached national notoriety with this film. It tells the story of Gaetano (Massimo Troisi), an unemployed youth of San Giorgio a Cremano (Naples), who tired of provincial life, decides to make a trip to Florence (not as an emigrant but as a tourist). He meets a young writer in Florence, Marta (Fiorenza Marcheggiani), he falls in love. He is reached by his friend ever, Lello (Lello Arena). The film is steeped in a surreal comedy, and is played by Massimo Troisi with a Neapolitan dialect also made understandable to not Neapolitan audience. The film was awarded two “David di Donatello” and three “Nastri d’Argento”.

Directors and actors

Vittorio De Sica
Vittorio De Sica was one of the directors and actors who played an important role in the Italian and Neapolitan cinematography. He was born in 1901 in Sora, a town in Ciociaria (Lazio). Sora had belonged to the province bell of Terra di Lavoro until 1861. De Sica felt himself, acted and spoke like a Neapolitan. The Neapolitan dialect was still widespread in the town of Sora at the beginning of the XX century. De Sica was one of the inventors of neorealism and was also a founder of the Italian-style light comedy.

He married Maria Mercader, an actress and Spanish noblewoman. She was the sister of Ramon Mercader who assassinated Leon Trotsky in Coyoacan in Mexico in 1940, as part of an espionage conspiracy organized from the Soviet Union of Stalin to get rid of his political opponent Trotsky.

De Sica, after a long theatrical apprenticeship that formed him as an actor, played in the parts of the protagonist a long series of films. He began his career with some silent films: “Il processo Clemenceau” (1917), “La bellezza del mondo” (1927) and “La compagnia dei pazzi” (1928), the last two directed by Mario Almirante. He continued with an impressive array of films, more than 150, during sixty years of career. “Roma città libera (Rome Free City)” (1946), “Pane, amore e fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams)” (1953) starring Gina Lollobrigida, “Il conte Max” (1957) with Alberto Sordi, “Il generale Della Rovere” (1959) directed by Roberto Rossellini, “Il giudizio universale (the Last judgment)” (1961) directed by De Sica,”C’eravamo tanto amati” (1974) by Ettore Scola are some of the most important films in which De Sica participated as an actor.

Vittorio De Sica directed “Shoeshine” (1946) and “The Bicycle Thief” (1948), two films among the most significant of neorealism. He shot the films “Ieri, oggi e domani (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow)” (1963) and “Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style)” (1964) belonging to the genre of Italian comedy,

De Sica shot two masterpieces Oscar-winning movies as director, “La ciociara (Two Women)” (1960) with Sophia Loren and “Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis)” (1970) with Lino Capolicchio and Dominique Sanda. About 30 films were directed by Vittorio De Sica, before his death in 1974 in Neuilly sur Seine, at the age of 73.

Francesco Rosi
Francesco Rosi, who was born in Naples in 1922, was the director of social protest. His films have highlighted the building territory exploitation in his hometown when he was mayor Achille Lauro. “Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City)” (1963) described the cross-section of an entrepreneurs tended toward the exploitation of the soil beyond any consideration of urban planning. Another protest film towards power was “Salvatore Giuliano” (1962) in which he told to use for political purposes of the Sicilian bandit and his elimination in Castelvetrano, killed, according to the official, during a firefight. In the ’70s he directed “Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair)” and “Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli)” with the participation of Irene Papas. His last film was “La tregua (The Truce)” (1997) by Primo Levi.

Pasquale Squitieri
Another Neapolitan-born director was Pasquale Squitieri. He began his working life as an employee of Banco di Napoli. In 1966 he resigned from the bank following a dark episode on the payment of a forged check, for which he also suffered a conviction for embezzlement. He was long romantically linked to actress Claudia Cardinale. In 1969 he made his directorial debut with the film “Io e Dio (Me and God)”. His most important films were “I guappi” (1974), “Il prefetto di ferro (The Iron Prefect)” (1977) and “Li chiamarono … briganti” (1999) narrated that the phenomenon of post-unification Southern banditry.

Antonio De Curtis (Totò)
The numbers of the Neapolitan actors in ‘900 gave their contribution to cinematography is enormous. There were very great comedians and character actors. There was Antonio De Curtis, known as Totò, as first among all those who have contributed their skills to the cinematographic art. He was born in Naples in 1898 in the popular Neapolitan department “Salute”. He began his career as a comic actor. He, moved to Rome, was soon called upon to interpret comic-brilliant roles in film. His first film was “Fermo con le mani (Stop with your hands)”, sound film shot in 1932, produced by Titanus of Gustavo Lombardo, directed by Gero Zambuto. After the Second World War was permanently employed in the cinema. He participated in about 100 films starring comedian.

In 1929 Totò fell in love with a showgirl, Liliana Castagnola. The two became lovers, but soon after Totò left her to follow his theater company around Italy. Liliana, desperate for the abandonment, killed herself by swallowing a massive dose of “Veronal” on March 3, 1930. Toto was shocked by this tragedy. Liliana was buried in the family tomb in the cemetery of Naples. He retained until the end of a tissue of the poor singer drenched in mascara and tears.

In 1957 he suffered from an eye disease that made him almost blind. He, partially healed, resumed working. In that time he was hired in RAI to participate to Studio One as a guest of honor, participation in which it remembers a famous duet between the comic and Mina.

Alberto Lattuada shot his film “The Mangragola” with Totò as protagonist. One of the last works of Totò was to participate in the movie “Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows)” by Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom, with the unanimous favor of critics, won the Nastro d’Argento. He ended his career with “Il tesoro di San Gennaro(Treasure of San Gennaro)” with Nino Manfredi, “Le streghe (The Witches)” by Pasolini and “Capriccio italiano” by Steno.

Sophia Loren
She is an international icon of the Neapolitan way. Sofia Villani Scicolone, aka Sophia Loren, was born in Pozzuoli, a few kilometers from Naples. Her house was a few steps from the Solfatara, a small active volcano that helped forge her fiery character. The mother Romilda Villani had attended the milieu of cinema in her youth, getting small parts in movies, she was also invited to Hollywood to act as stand-in for Greta Garbo, who looked very much like, she could not go because she found himself pregnant of Sophia. Sophia Loren won the prize of Miss Elegance in the competition of Miss Italy 1950. She moved to Rome with her family, managing to get the first bit parts in movies.

In 1951 she met the film producer Carlo Ponti, who ushered her in cinematograph world through the front door. She participated in the film “Carosello napoletano (Neapolitan Carousel)” (1954) and “L’oro di Napoli (The Gold of Naples)” in which she played the part of pizza maker, a “pizza maker” who is in everyone’s memory for the skill with which Sophia interpreted it. Sophia Loren took part, as the protagonist, the film “La ciociara (Two Women)” for which she won an Oscar as best actress protagonist, after the series of “Pane, amore e … (Bread, love and…)” by Vittorio De Sica, who had a great success. “La ciociara” gave her international fame. “Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style)” with Marcello Mastroianni and a long series of successful films followed.

In 1982 she served 17 days in prison in Caserta where she was presented spontaneously to serve the sentence imposed following a conviction for tax fraud. In 2013 the Supreme Court canceled the sentence noting that she was not involved in the fraud that her accountant had done without his knowledge.

Massimo Troisi
He was born in San Giorgio a Cremano in 1953. His father was a railway worker. He, a young man, formed the RH-Negative theater group with his friends, including Lello Arena and Enzo De Caro. In 1976, due to a heart defect, he went to Houston where he was operated. In 1977 the group, renamed “La smorfia”, had her first engagement at the Theater San Carluccio in Naples. “La smorfia” was engaged to perform in RAI where the same presented some sketches in various television programs, being a hit with the public.

In 1981 Massimo filmed the movie “Ricomincio da tre (Starting from three)” in which oversaw the direction and screenplay, reciting also the part of the protagonist Gaetano. After a few years he directed the film “Scusate il ritardo (Sorry for the delay)”, the title refers to the delay with which presented the film after the first success. This was followed by “Non ci resta che piangere (nothing left to do but cry)”, shot with Roberto Benigni, set in a Tuscan village in the Middle Ages. His last film, before his premature death due to a heart attack, was “Il postino (The Postman)” (1994) from the novel by Skarmeta “Ardiente Paciencia” by the joint director Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi, where he played the postman, with Philippe Noiret in the part of Neruda and Maria Grazia Cucinotta in that of Beatrice, girlfriend of the postman.

(Photo at the top: Francesca Bertini in Assunta Spina, Napoli 1915)