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Plot: novice nun is both tempting and tempted by a life of hedonism.

When taking a closer look at the early years of Gloria Guida’s brief 8-year stint as comedy Lolita a curious pattern emerges. She was never going to be considered a highbrow comedic actress the way Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, Eleanora Giorgi, Ely Galeani, or Jenny Tamburi were, but that didn’t stop la Guida from making a few interesting choices along the way. For every one or two lighthearted sex comedy romps that Miss Teen Italy 1974 would do, she usuallly did a more serious (and frequently more cynical) melodrama (coming of age, sexual awakening or otherwise). The earliest example of that was The Novice which came right after the fairly interesting The Minor (1974). The Novice set a precedent. This wasn’t just another feature revolving around Guida's endless forms most beautiful. Whether Gloria chose her scripts deliberately, or that things just turned out that way by circumstance, is not very important. What does matter is that there was more to glorious Gloria than just her famous derrière.

Giuliano Biagetti wasn’t exactly the biggest name in Italian cinema. He mostly specialized in dramas and comedies. If he’s remembered for anything (if he’s remembered at all, that is) it’s for Interrabang (1969) with Haydée Politoff, Corrado Pani, and Beba Loncar, in what is generally considered to be the earliest Top Sensation (1969) imitation of note. His other most famous work is the coming of age drama La Svergognata (1974) with Leonora Fani, and Eurocult favorite Barbara Bouchet.

Gloria Guida was, of course, famous for two things: her bawdy sex comedies, and that legendary ass of hers. Mario Imperoli famously lensed Blue Jeans (1975) as a valentine to Miss Teen Italy 1974’s world-famous derrière. In The Novice there’s both comedy - albeit in a lighter, more subtle form – and a few instances of Gloria’s naked form. The difference being that The Novice is one of Guida’s more serious melodramas, and it takes a good while before she does her familiar pout-strip-and-smile routine. Compared to much of her other work, The Novice takes its sweet time to get steamy. As always, good things come to those who wait.

Affluent playboy Vittorio (Gino Milli) is summoned back to the countryside to look after his ailing and terminally ill uncle Don Nini (Lionel Stander). His uncle expects him to arrange matters regarding his last will and testament, and that everything is executed according to his wishes. Looking after his uncle’s palliative needs are Suore Immacolata (Gloria Guida) and a night nurse (a role that Guida wouldn’t portray until 1979). Upon arrival Vittorio is picked up by his good friends Rodolfo (Fiore Altoviti) and Saretto (Beppe Loparco) – and the first order of business is getting really, really drunk. Houskeeper Agatha (Vera Drudi) is none too pleased with the disturbance of peace and Vittorio is, understandably, scolded for the ruckus. Almost immediately since arriving in town Vittorio has attracted the attention of Nunziata (Femi Benussi), and she will use every opportunity to make very strong advances, if not to throw herself at him. To lift the old man’s spirits the boys head to the local brothel run by an old madam (Sofia Lusy) and hire a pair of prostitutes. When blonde and bosomy Franca (Maria Pia Conte) crawls on his bed she nearly sends Don Nini convulsing to an even earlier grave. Much to chagrin of Suore Immacolata who sees the boys as nothing but a nuisance that hinder her from giving the service she was hired to provide for the old man.

One night Vittorio is invited by Nunziata to a lavish bourgeoisie party that her husband is throwing for his associates. He brings Rodolfo and Saretto along while Nunziata can finally have some private time together with him. Vittorio is rather annoyed with Nunziata’s insatiable lust, and arranges a three-way with Rodolfo and Saretto. He finds Suore Immacolata hiding somewhere in the dark recesses of the apartment, and the two share a gentle moment. Before long Vittorio is pulled back into his hedonistic lifestyle by his two friends, leaving Imma heartbroken and sad. After attending his uncle’s funeral service some time later Vittorio is surprised to find that Imma is nowhere to be found. He travels into the mountains and after talking to some locals he’s able to track down Imma’s current whereabouts. When he spots her in a meadow he learns that she no longer calls herself Immacolata but Mariangela. Reunited the two young lovers spent an intimate moment in the tall grass. What Vittorio comes to realize far too late is that Mariangela's parents are none too pleased to have him there.

Coming hot on the heels of The Minor (1974) Gloria Guida, or whoever managed her business affairs, wasted no time in striking the iron while it was hot. 1975 was her busiest year that saw her appearing in melodramas and darker morality plays. As always Guida would be shaking her famous rump in more lighter fare as well. As such glorious Gloria could be seen traipsing around, often with little in the way of fabric, in the cynical So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… (1975), the fun-loving La Liceale (1975), That Malicious Age (1975), as well as the semi-comical Blue Jeans (1975) that would make her ass a thing of international renown. That Gloria would wind up in a nun’s habit was all but inevitable as with Secret Confessions in a Cloistered Convent (1972), The Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973), The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine (1974), and the compartively late Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) from Spain nunsploitation came exploding into the mainstream. That la Guida would be forced to look for more interesting scripts/roles was apparent, by 1975 she had played about every male wish fullfilment fantasy figure multiple times already. It’s unfortunate that she never ended up working with Luigi Batzella, Renato Polselli, and José Ramón Larraz.

Gloria was at her best when she was surrounded by, and could play off, people with more genuine talent than she had. The only veteran, and possible international draw, here is blacklisted American character actor Lionel Stander and his performance is so passive poor Gloria has nothing to work with. La Guida shone when she was surrounded by people as Nino Castelnuovo, Giuseppe Pambiere, Corrado Pani, or Lando Buzzanca – but since none such figure can be found in The Novice it makes glorious Gloria something of a nonentity at the best of times. No wonder then that for a majority of the duration she appears as a supporting character rather than the focal point. Gino Milli does most of the heavy lifting for about three-quarters, and only in the finale do we see Guida do what she does best: running around naked and causing trouble. What remains puzzling is that Guida never crossed over into the giallo, horror, or erotic subgenre, something which many of her commedia sexy all’Italiana colleagues (Barbara Bouchet, Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, Nieves Navarro, Rosalba Neri in case of the former, and Ely Galeani or Ilona Staller in the latter) were often prone to do. As these things go The Novice is one of the more interesting Gloria Guida features, if only because it does something more than parading Guida around in the buff.

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.