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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: Angela doesn’t like her new stepmother…

Peccati di gioventù (or Sins Of Youth, released in North America as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… for some reason) is one of the better Gloria Guida melodramas. If Guida had never made To Be Twenty (1978) with Fernando Di Leo this, along with That Malicious Age (1975) a year later, would probably be considered some of her finest work. There’s no question that it stands head and shoulders above the futile sex comedies that Guida made a living with. Not only is So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… better written and beautifully photographed, it actually gives glorious Gloria something to do and the chance to act every once in a while. Guida wasn’t too shabby of an actress when, and if, she was allowed to do more than just take her clothes off. Here she gets that chance. Silvio Amadio was crazy about Gloria and it isn’t hard to see why… So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is for those who can’t stomach Gloria’s regular raunchy sex comedies.

As an Italian precursor to French drama The Year of the Yellyfish (1984) So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is a prime example of the youth gone bad thriller subgenre that experienced somewhat of a revival with infinitely lesser American imitations as Poison Ivy (1992), and The Crush (1993) and in the new millennium with French director François Ozon and his Swimming Pool (2003) with Charlotte Rampling, and Ludivine Sagnier. So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… falls smackdab in the middle between the innocuous The Minor (1974), and the equally tragic That Malicious Age (1975). One thing is painfully obvious: Amadio’s best days were clearly behind him. As utilitarian and occasionally beautifully photographed as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is, he was a very long way from the masterclass in suspense and sleaze that was Amuck (1972). Silvio Amadio would work with his muse one last time on The Doctor… The Student (1976). As slick and hyper-stylized as his gialli were so matter-of-fact and stilted are these.

Angela Batrucchi (Gloria Guida) loves her father. She loves her doctor father (Silvano Tranquilli) so much that she’s none too pleased that he has found a new lover in Irene (Dagmar Lassander). She’s so incensed and overcome by incestual longing with the whole situation that she schemes with her boyfriend Sandro Romagnoli (Fred Robsahm) to drive a wedge between the two. Since Sandro moonlights as a gigolo and has an older lover (Dana Ghia, as Felicita Ghia) on the side Angela orders him to seduce Irene. While Sandro is busy doing that Angela decides to dig into Irene’s past to find something, anything that she can use to blackmail her into doing her bidding. With a little sleuthing Angela uncovers that Irene had a lesbian phase in college, and decides to use that to her advantage. She plans to provide Sandro with the perfect opportunity to collect incriminating photographic evidence of Irene’s fluid sexual preferences.

For no other reason than to drive Irene completely mad Angela starts acting erratically and will fly into fits of apoplectic rage without the slightest provocation. Somehow Irene finds a way of dealing with Angela’s unpredictable and sudden moodswings. When Sandro’s plans to lure Irene into bed with him don’t pan out Angela figures that her stepmother’s lesbian inclinations are something worth exploiting. In short order Angela shows her naughty slides from her and her girl friends on vacation, randomly undresses in front of her, and showers with the door wide open. When all of that fails to have the desired effect, Angela invites Irene over to the beach where they engage in heavy petting while Sandro captures everything on photo with his camera. In her desperation Angela tries to drive Irene off the road when she spots her in town. That is the final straw, and Irene’s spirit breaks. After being locked up in her room Angela has a moment of introspection, and realizes how much damage she has caused. By that point Irene has driven off in tears, is there time for Angela to turn the tide?

Director Silvio Amadio was something of a late-bloomer. He worked his way through the obligatory comedy, adventure, peplum, spaghetti western, and melodrama features before he started to develop any sort of recognizable individual style. By all accounts Amadio seems to have been a fairly standard Italian exploitation director until around 1970. Up to that point (the late sixties) Amadio’s oeuvre had contained its fair amount of sex and social dysfunction, but neither came together quite as exuberantly as they did in Amuck (1972) (with Rosalba Neri, and Barbara Bouchet). Amadio had always been a major creative force behind the screenplays for his films, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what led to the sudden creative upsurge. One possible reason could be the permissive social mores directly following the sexual revolution, the availability of actresses will doing to do nudity – or, both. Although the latter doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny as Island Of the Swedes (1969) had Catherine Diamant doing pretty much every iconic scene that Gloria Guida would later popularize through her work with Amadio. On first glance it seems Amadio’s entire reputation as a cult director is solely built on the back of the gialli Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972). The general consensus is that Amadio’s tenure with Guida signaled a creative downslope, something which a cursory back-to-back viewing of Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972) with any of the Guida titles certainly seems to corroborate. Which amounts to him being interesting for about two years before the inevitable decline.

Even though she was only a fixture in lowbrow commedia sexy all’Italiana for about a good 8 years Gloria worked with some of the absolute best in the business. She debuted in Mario Imperoli’s coming of age tale Monika (1974) and he launched Guida’s world-famous ass to superstardom with his Blue Jeans (1975). However it was Silvio Amadio who showed the world with The Minor (1974) that glorious Gloria could be a dramatic actress provided that the material was written to her strengths. Arguably it was Michele Massimo Tarantini who ensured Guida’s cinematic immortality with La Liceale (1975) and Mariano Laurenti kept her employed through the obligatory sequels. Once again it was Amadio who allowed Gloria to spread her wings in terms of acting a bit. Both So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… and That Malicious Age (1975) were tragedies disguised as bawdy sex comedies. One thing was clear: Silvio loved la Guida, and she’s on display in full ornate here. Amadio wastes absolutely no time in getting Gloria out of what little clothes she wears, lovingly photographing every inch of her body, and reveling in every moment that she’s in the frame. Which is a really polite way of saying that there’s plenty of naked shenanigans involving our girl Gloria. That doesn’t mean it’s crass, or vulgar – it’s tasteful, and retroactively kind of meta.

The other big stars here are Dagmar Lassander and Silvano Tranquilli. Lassander was a redhead, and a contemporary of Helga Liné, Betsabé Ruiz, Rosanna Yanni, Silvia Tortosa, Cristina Galbó, Erika Blanc, Sandra Julien, and Malisa Longo. Lassander can be seen in Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1971), The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971), a pair of Alfonso Brescia sex comedies, and The House by the Cemetery (1981). Tranquilli for about a decade was a pillar of domestic gothic horror appearing alongside Barbara Steele in The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962), Castle Of Blood (1964), and the gialli Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971), and Smile Before Death (1972). In comparison to both Lassander and Tranquilli, Fred Robsahm was a nobody with only the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill western spoof Carambola (1974) (cos only the Italians would make a spoof of a spoof), and the Roger Vadim fumetti Barbarella (1968).

Perhaps Amadio felt ownership over Gloria because he helped shape her career so significantly? It was 1975 and Guida was at the height of her popularity and from here her career, both as a singer and as an actress, could only go downward. She was twenty, and had spurned his advances. How else to recover from that than to make a movie about it? In the most simplest terms So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is about a hedonistic socialite who sends a spurned older lover into suicidal despair after rejecting their advances. It all feels strangely autobiographical considering the circumstances, and it’s almost as if Amadio was directly talking to Guida in his script. That Malicious Age (1975) merely changed the settings and cut down the slapstick but it was, more or less, So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… - and it too ended in tragedy. It was Fernando Di Leo who really distilled the commedia sexy all’Italiana formula candy girls as Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati specialized in, and used the format to deliver a scathing condemnation of the patriarchal – and sexual mores of Italian society at the time. In 1981 Gloria met crooner Johnny Dorelli, and retired soon after. Guida married Dorelli in 1991, and Silvio Amadio, age 69 and 24 films in total, passed away four years later, in 1995.