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Plot: two liberated adolescent girls escape their boring small-town lives.

That To Be Twenty wasn’t going to be the average commedia sexy all’Italiana is more than obvious when it opens with “I was twenty, I won't let anyone say those are the best years of your life”, a quote from French philosopher Paul Nizan, a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre. Earlier in the decade director Fernando Di Leo had experienced trouble with authorities and government for this his Milieu Trilogy consisting of Caliber 9 (1972), The Italian Connection (1971), and The Boss (1973). Di Leo had already poked fun at the inherent absurdities of the giallo with The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971) and now he was looking to channel his subversive inclinations elsewhere. What better way to indulge in some devastating socio-political criticism than to dress it up as a light and fun commedia sexy all’Italiana? Who better to deliver said pointed message than the genre’s two prime Lolitas as well as veterans Vittorio Caprioli and Ray Lovelock? To Be Twenty is the summit of 1970s Italian comedy. The less you know about its most celebrated punch the better. For that reason we encourage anybody seriously interested in experiencing To Be Twenty with virgin eyes to seek out the original uncut Italian print – and to avoid the international English-language cut at any cost.

From 1964 to 1985 Di Leo directed 20 movies and wrote 43 screenplays. As many a director Fernando Di Leo got his start as a screenwriter and one of his most famous screenplays was that for the spaghetti western A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) from Sergio Leone. For the sequel For A Few Dollars More (1965) Leone promoted Di Leo to assistant director. Like so many he filmed in whatever genre was popular and profitable that decade. As such Di Leo directed spaghetti westerns, film noir, poliziotteschi, and crime/action movies. In retrospect it’s only just that Di Leo is mostly remembered for his masterpiece, the one that pulled the rug from under the otherwise futile commedia sexy all’Italiana genre so fabulously by having the exposed bodies of Guida and Carati act as vessels for biting socio-political criticism.

Better even, Di Leo likes to play with audience expectations and in To Be Twenty he used a decidedly funny running gag to deliver the movie’s most celebrated and most widely misuderstood punch. Said punch was so controversial that worried distributors quickly pulled it from theatres, and with scissors in hand butchered one of Italy’s greatest and most subversive sex comedies. In what only can be considered one of the most puzzling re-edits in Italian and international cinema history, they completely missed the point Di Leo was making. Fernando Di Leo had planned a prequel set in 1940s Italy with Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati both reprising their roles, but the out-of-nowhere surprise ending didn’t sit well with audiences and distributors alike. Thus the intended prequel never materialized. Di Leo passed away of natural causes at the age of 71 in December 2003.

Lia (Gloria Guida) and Tina (Lilli Carati) are two emancipated adolescents hitchhiking their way from the provinces to the more cosmopolitan Rome. Describing themselves as, “young, hot and pissed off” the two concubines are in search of a place that will allow them to live out their lives in complete freedom, sexual and otherwise. The two feel restricted in their traditional rural environment and seek to try their luck in the more liberated Rome. En route to the big city the two hike across town but they seem to have little luck hitching a ride until Tina throws a few seductive glances across the road. A car finally pulls up and the girls’ spirits are lifted at long last. That is until the driver (Serena Bennato) make a pass on Tina and she angrily storms off as Lia looks on. The girls decide to take their chances and wait it out. Thankfully a friendly trucker takes them in and drives them to town, a place where he was going anyway. Before getting into the truck they encounter Nazariota (Vittorio Caprioli), proprietor of a hippie commune in the city where everybody is free to do whatever they please. Their acquaintances made Lia and Tina hop into the truck and are on their way to Rome.

What are two searingly beautiful adolescent girls to do in the big city? The two play in and drink from public fountains, steal cigarettes, enter a local café and flirt their way out of having to pay for anything. They break into impromptu suggestive dance routines on the Piazza di Spagna much to the amusement of a street musician and they shoplift from a convenient store because what else do we expect two beautiful girls with no discernable life skills to do? Looks are everything. After their assorted misadventures in town the girls happen upon the commune from Nazariota. Tina is immediately smitten by strapping free-spirited layabout Rico (Ray Lovelock) while Lia is happy to enjoy the quiet that the commune offers. They are given a living quarters with Arguinas (Leopoldo Mastelloni), a seemingly mute mime, but in actuality a practitioner of transcendental meditation. To occupy their time and to support themselves at the commune the duo sell encyclopedias to dusty professors. Lia and Tina engage in lesbian histrionics to tempt Arguinas, attend a reading of Valerie Solanas's 1965 radical feminist SCUM Manifesto and eventually realize the commune is a front for prostitution and drug running. A lesbian (Licinia Lentini) tries to seduce Lia. Not much later commune member Riccetto (Vincenzo Crocitti) is revealed to be an informant and hard-nosed police inspector Zambo (Giorgio Bracardi) grills the inhabitants. At this point Tina and Lia flee the commune because it’s not nearly as free as was promised. The two then enter a trattoria where they meet a man (Carmelo Reale, as Roberto Reale) and his gang. One last flirt couldn’t possibly hurt, right? What harm would anybody possibly inflict on two searingly beautiful adolescent girls?

The stars of To Be Twenty are the two prime Lolitas of lowbrow commedia sexy all’Italiana: Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati. Gloria Guida was Miss Teen Italy 1974 and the star of Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975) that made her shapely derrière a legend in its own right. As a nod to her most famous movie Guida wears a similar pair of lowcut denim. Gloria was everybody’s favorite clothing-averse schoolgirl in a trio of La Liceale (1975) movies in the mid-to-late seventies. Whether she was a naughty schoolgirl, a novice at the convent, or a young nurse – at some point Gloria always ended up losing her top and frequently more articles of clothing. Where Gloria Guida was, very naked shenanigans usually followed. Guida might not have been a Laura Antonelli but she dominated the niche that she inhabited. It’s easy to forget that glorious Gloria shared the screen with Corrado Pani, Nino Castelnuovo, Lando Buzzanca, Marco Guglielmi, Mario Carotenuto, Ennio Colaianni, and Giuseppe Pambieri. Guida married crooner and showman Johnny Dorelli in 1981 and the two have been together since. Gloria maintained a short-lived singing career next to her acting as can be heard in the title song of To Be Twenty as well as Night Nurse (1979). La Guida remains a beloved monument of Italian culture, cinema and otherwise, even to this day.

Fate wasn’t so kind to poor Lilli Carati. Carati was also a former pageant and even was crowned Miss Elegance at a beauty contest in Calabria next to being the first runner-up at Miss Italy 1975. Lovely Lilli was a star of lowbrow comedies in her own right, but her star never shone as bright nor as fierce as Guida’s. Carati appeared on the covers of Playboy (December, 1976 and September, 1978), Playmen (October, 1976) and Penthouse (December, 1982). In 1984 Lilli made her acquaintance with director Joe D’Amato through mutual friend Jenny Tamburi and before long Carati appeared in four of D’Amato’s erotic movies. Things turned to worse for lovely Lilli as by 1987 she had descended into hardcore pornography and worked with performer Rocco Siffredi on a number of occasions. In the 1980s Carati would lose herself in addiction to alcohol, heroin, and cocaine. After two suicide attempts and an arrest for possession Lilli underwent therapy for three years in the Saman community of anti-authoritarian sociologist, journalist, political activist, and sometime guru Mauro Rostagno – famously murdered by the Costa Nostra - where she was the subject of the documentary Lilli, una vita da eroina (or Lilli, A Life of Heroin) by Rony Daopoulos. In 2014, at age 58, disgraced and forgotten, she passed away from a brain tumour.

To say that To Be Twenty is brazenly irreverent and subtextually rich would be an understatement if there ever was one. What Top Sensation (1969) from Ottavio Alessi was to the giallo, To Be Twenty was to the a light-hearted commedia sexy all’Italiana. 1970s Italy was a target-rich environment and Di Leo aims at everything from Italian machismo culture, provincial attitudes towards sexuality, gender roles, and youth counterculture to police corruption, the class divide, and the futility of the hippie Love Generation. It mocks self-important males in roles of authority (store detectives, police inspectors), the generation gap and the bourgeoisie. It has a biting contempt for everything and everyone, and anything is a potential target for critique. In the feature’s biggest running joke Lia and Tina throw themselves at each and every man (and who in their right mind would rebuke Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati in 1978?) they encounter yet are rejected again and again. Glorious Gloria had done her fair part of melodrama at this point – but she never, either before or after, was given a script this impressive. Forget the flights of fancy from The Minor (1974), forget the wicked mischief of That Malicious Age (1975) or the tragedy of Sins Of Youth (1975). This might start out like a variation on either Blue Jeans (1975) or La Liceale (1975) – but this is something else. This one is seething with disdain and overflowing with contempt – and any and everybody is fair game.

Nobody’s going to contest that Gloria Guida’s tour of duty through Italian comedy yielded any bona fide classics, one or two exceptions notwithstanding. Both Guida and Carati excelled in playing sexually promiscuous airheaded bimbos, and they did so with great relish and gusto. By 1978 every possible permutation and sexual kink of the commedia sexy all’Italiana had been thoroughly exhausted. To drag the genre kicking and screaming into the next decade somebody had to upset the status-quo and defy expectations in a major way. Fernando Di Leo heeded that call. Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati both were the Lolitas of the lower end of the spectrum and To Be Twenty follows all of the usual conventions wonderfully to create a false sense of security. Everything looks like pretty standard fare you’d expect from these belles except that Di Leo’s screenplay is far darker and more cynical around every turn. Vittorio Caprioli and Licinia Lentini play the kind of characters expected of them. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and the jokes come flying early and often. It’s not until the very end until To Be Twenty reveals its true motives and lasting power. It’s unfortunate that neither Guida nor the late Carati ever had the chance to partake in another sardonic and deconstructionist genre exercise like this again. Di Leo knew their strengths and played up to them. To make a long story short, To Be Twenty is among the best 70s commedia sexy all’Italiana has to offer. The only caveat is that this is only true for the original uncut Italian print – and not the international English-language version chopped together by panicky distributors.

Plot: where Loredana goes, everybody else follows...

Every country has its softcore sex goddess. Holland had Nada van Nie, Germany had the delectable trio of Olivia Pascal, Ursula Buchfellner, and Betty Vergés; Sweden had Christina Lindberg, Solveig Andersson, and Leena Skoog; Denmark had Birte Tove, and in Spain there were Andrea Albani, Sara Mora, and Eva Lyberten. Italy had plenty of Lolitas running around, but for the purview of this review we’ll focus on one in particular: Gloria Guida, Miss Teen Italy 1974. In some circles she’s considered the Italian Marilyn Monroe, and to the rest of the world she’s Italy’s most famous piece of ass (next to Femi Benussi, probably). In 1975 director Michele Massimo Tarantini would create her most enduring character, La Liceale (or The High School Girl, released in North America as The Teasers). La Guida had been dabbling in comedy for a good year by that point, but she hadn’t yet scored a genuine hit. The High School Girl would change all that and launch her to stratospheric heights of success, both domestic and abroad. Suddenly Gloria was not just Italy’s hottest comedy star, but a full-blown international superstar and sex symbol. The world was at Gloria’s feet. For the casual fan there are but two mandatory Gloria Guida romps. Of those two, The High School Girl is the probably the best remembered…

In 1975 la Guida’s conquest of the commedia sexy all’Italiana had barely begun and she already had scored her first major hit. Afer playing a lovably naive teen girl in Silvio Amadio’s The Minor (1974) and Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) Gloria suddenly found herself the most in-demand starlet on the domestic comedy scene. At a breakneck pace she appeared in The Novice (1975), Sins Of Youth (1975), The Mammon Cat (1975), That Malicious Age (1975), and Blue Jeans (1975). In her first outing as the school girl la Guida is paired with consummate professionals Mario Carotenuto, Enzo Cannavale, and Giuseppe Pambieri, German soft sex star Alena Penz, Angela Doria, a pre-La Cicciolina Ilona Staller, and perennial buffoon Alvaro Vitali (for once not in tandem with his frequent partner in crime Lino Banfi). Interestingly, sequels only appeared following Gloria’s second career peak with Fernando Di Leo’s scathing satire To Be Twenty (1978). In quick succession The High School Girl in the Class of Repeaters (1978), The High School Girl Seduces the Teachers (1979), and the three-part anthology The High School Girl, the Devil, and the Holy Water (1979) all starring la Guida followed, transforming it into a loose series. Only Marino Girolami’s non-canonical The High School Girl at the Beach with Dad’s Friend (1980) had Sabrina Siani taking over the part from glorious Gloria. Sadly, la Guida retired before a commedia with her as l’insegnante could be produced.

Michele Massimo Tarantini was one of the specialists of the commedia sexy all’Italiana genre. Together with Sergio Martino, Fernando Di Leo, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Marino Girolami and Mario Imperoli he was responsible for some of the genre’s most defining works. He had worked as production secretary, set designer, editor, and assistant director under Sergio Martino, Giuliano Carnimeo, Nando Cicero, and Mariano Laurenti. Tarantini rose to fame with his giallo Seven Hours of Violence (1973) but would find his first commercial success with The High School Girl instead. He helmed a few sequels to Nando Cicero’s The School Teacher (1975) with Edwige Fenech. Fenech would play the raunchy substitute teacher in The School Teacher in the House (1978) and The Schoolteacher Goes to Boys' High (1978) from Mariano Laurenti. After casting Gloria Guida as la liceale he chose her fellow Lolita Lilli Carati for the role as l’insegnante in School Days (1976). Tarantini would cast Fenech in Confessions of a Lady Cop (1976) and its two sequels A Policewoman on the Porno Squad (1979) and A Policewoman in New York (1979). In 1983 Tarantini moved to Brazil and continued his career there. During that time he helmed, among others, The Sword of the Barbarians (1982), the women-in-prison flick Women in Fury (1984), the Cannibal Ferox (1981) cash-in Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985), as well as the Cirio H. Santiago styled jungle actioner The Hard Way… The Only Way (1989), often under his Anglo-Saxon alias Michael E. Lemick. Unlike his colleague Marino Girolami, Taranti was versatile enough to be tolerable in non-comedic genres too – which isn’t always a given with directors specializing in comedy.

Loredana D'Amico (Gloria Guida) is stunningly beautiful and incredibly restless, as a result her academic performance is mediocre because she’s bored. To kill the time (and her boredom) Loredana takes great fun in seducing faculty members as a pastime, to help her friends whenever they are in a bind, or whenever her grades need a boost. She doesn’t understand her bored housewife mother Elvira (Gisella Sofio) or her absentee businessman father Comm. D'Amico (Mario Carotenuto) for that matter, and wishes nothing but that they would be strict with her. Her mother is in a tryst with another man and her father has a habit of engaging in office affairs, usually with his young secretary (Alena Penz). Bored in art class one day Loredana looks how far she can go in teasing middle-aged Professor Mancinelli (Renzo Marignano) while he explains the finer anatomical points of the famed Aphrodite of Knidos statue. Mancinelli, profusely sweating in acute ecstasy, is reduced to a madly babbling husk and has to be carted off, supposedly in need of immediate medical attention. The dean brings in substitute teacher Professor Gianni Guidi (Gianfranco D'Angelo), a wild-haired caricature of an educator prone to neurosis and nervous tics, to take over Mancinelli’s scheduled classes. Before long Loredana has set her sights on him too.

Currently Loredana is dating American exchange student Billy (Rodolfo Bigotti), but she isn’t sure whether he loves her for the right reasons. Her classmate Petruccio Sciacca (Alvaro Vitali) has a thing for her too. He will go through great lengths to paint her portrait, preferably in the nude. As such Petruccio is too preoccupied (and oblivious) to the obvious in front of him: studious blonde good girl (and resident tomboy) Lucia (Angela Doria) has been sweet on him for as long as they’ve shared classes, and she’s very willing take her clothes off if he would only ask her. Loredana’s roommate Monica (Ilona Staller) moonlights as an escort for extra money, and will try to seduce her into a sapphic liaison whenever the opportunity arises. Loredana and Billy kill time by engaging in an especially passionate heavy petting session in the abandoned biology classroom, scaring the living daylights out of the janitor (Ennio Colaianni).

Things start to look up when Loredana meets strapping blonde hunk of a man, Marco Salvi (Giuseppe Pambieri) and is immediately smitten. The two engage in a brief, steamy affair and only after she learns that Salvi is an engineer from Turin, and one of her father’s young business associates. One day sharing a car Loredana’s panties somehow end up in Professor Guidi’s briefcase with all the expected results. Guidi is assaulted by Billy and his gang of motorcycle-riding goons, who don’t take kind to the professor being on the receiving end of attention of their leader’s sometime girlfriend, but Guidi valiantly defends himself to great success with chop sockey kung fu moves. A misunderstanding concerning a writ leaves her parents thinking that their 17-year-old daughter has disappeared. Loredana’s affair with Marco, brief and passionate as it was, serves as a catalyst to improve their home situation as her mom and dad reconciliate their marital differences and prioritize each other over their jilted lovers.

If The High School Girl is testament to anything, it’s that Tarantini knew exactly what everybody was there for: to see Gloria Guida in the buff as often and early as humanly possible. Suffice to say, it delivers exactly what it promises, and does so in spades. Plus, it has the added bonus of being not half-bad on its own. It’s as if the stars aligned and every element fell perfectly in place. Credits should probably go to director of photography Giancarlo Ferrando who photographs glorious Gloria beautifully from whatever flattering angle at his disposal. In the years following The High School Girl Ferrando went on to lens everything from Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), the Edwige Fenech-Barbara Bouchet romp Wife On Vacation… Lover in the City (1980), Cream Puffs (1981), and 2019 - After the Fall Of New York (1983) to low-budget cannon fodder as Hands Of Steel (1986) and Alfonso Brescia’s Filipino-Dominican Republic trash action classic Cross Mission (1988). That The High School Girl works so well as it does is in no small part thanks to writers Francesco Milizia and Marino Onorati, both of whom were genre specialists. The High School Girl is, above all else, a paean, a valentine to everybody’s favorite Lolita. There were starlets before Guida and there were after, but none quite set the screen alight the way she did. While not as knee-slappingly funny or outright comedic as some of the more stereotypical Italian comedies of the day The High School Girl is, surprisingly, bereft of the usual melodrama and tragedy rife in Guida’s body of work. Sometimes things just work.

By the tall end of 1979 – after having scored two monster hits with The High School Girl and To Be Twenty (1978) – Gloria, at the ripe age of 24, realized that it was high time to retire the beloved character as she grew increasingly unbelievable in the role that made her a superstar. She had posed for Playboy in April 1977 and Playmen in June 1976, May 1978, and November 1979 and all signs were pointing towards her acting career winding down. Like so many of her ilk she took to singing. She was two years away from meeting her future-husband Johnny Dorelli and a year after that she would retire completely. It’s pretty amazing how much of a phenomenon Gloria Guida was able to become despite, or in spite of, only being active for a good five years. Of all the things Gloria lend her name and figure to The High School Girl is probably the only to endure the way that it did. Not even To Be Twenty (1978) (arguably the better and more subtextual of the two) has enjoyed that kind of longevity. And the fact that glorious Gloria was able to carve out such a respectable career for herself probably paved the way for actresses like Sabrina Siani, Luciana Ottaviani, and the like – whose primary sellingpoint were their good looks and willingness to shed clothes when required. It’s a bit strong to call Gloria Guida the Barbara Steele of Italian comedy, but she came damn close….