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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 decline 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: journalist and mercenary take down corrupt South American dictator.

Of all the talentless hacks working the Italian exploitation circuit from the 60s to 80s shlockmeister Alfonso Brescia by far was the most seasoned and mercenary. Over a three-decade career Brescia built a reputation on doing it quicker and cheaper than everyone else. He made whatever was fashionable (or profitable) irrespective of whether he had any affinity or interest in the genre he was contributing to. As such old Alfonso made everything from peplum, superhero movies, and comedy (or some cross-pollination thereof) to commedia sexy all’italiana, World War II epics, a Shaw Bros co-produced martial arts slapstick romp and helmed a series of five of the cruddiest, sloppiest, and frequently most incoherent space operas ever to come out of Italy following the box office success of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Strangely he never partook in either the cannibal craze of the seventies or the zombie fad of the eighties. While Brescia was a director of dubious merit he occassionally stumbled onto a good idea, either by design or by pure dumb luck. That serendipity struck again on Cross Mission (released domestically as Fuoco incrociato). In North America it was part of Cannon’s four-part Action Adventure Theater series, introduced by the king of low-budget action himself, Michael Dudikoff. All things being cyclical Cross Mission ended up inspiring the sixteenth James Bond episode Licence to Kill (1989).

While there’s no contesting that Brescia’s oeuvre mainly consists of some of the worst genre exercises ever conceived old Alfonso could actually make a decent feature if given the chance. He, after all, directed the very enjoyable duo of peplum The Revolt of the Pretorians (1964) (featuring Richard Harrison a full twenty years before he got lost in the wacky world of Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung (何誌強)), the The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) plagiate The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), the early (and relatively tame) giallo Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972), the The Amazons (1973) derivate Battle Of the Amazons (1973), the bootleg Ator sequel Iron Warrior (1987) (which Joe D’Amato, not exactly a paragon of integrity, famously denounced), and the Zalman King inspired erotic thriller Homicide In Blue Light (1991) (with French sexbomb Florence Guérin). In between those last two Brescia helmed a globe-trotting and explosive international action movie so hopelessly inept (and completely enjoyable for exactly that reason) that it makes the body of work of Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, and Wilfredo dela Cruz look measured and sophisticated in comparison. What was he ripping off this time, you ask? Well, the thing every Italian director was back then… Rambo, or more specifically, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988). The only reason to stay awake during the endless montages of jeeps driving, stilted firefights, and bamboo huts blowing up is Caribbean one-hit wonder Brigitte Porsche. Porsche not only gets to wear a Versace dress but also does karate… We love you, miss B – wherever you are!

General Romero (Maurice Poli) is the tyrannical dictator of some unspecified backwater banana republic somewhere in the Latin American jungles. With Nancy Reagan’s War On Drugs in full swing Romero shows UN inspectors that he’s dealing with his country’s narcotics manufacturing and - trafficking problem by very publicly burning some smaller marijuana plantations whilst secretly still controlling the bigger ones for his own personal enrichment. A press attachee releases a statement that there are no Contra-rebels in the region. Plucky photojournalist Helen (Brigitte Porsche, as Brigitte Porsh) doesn’t believe the official story and convinces the General’s former right-hand-man, and sometime Marine, William Corbett (Riccardo Acerbi, as Richard Randall) to help her in taking down his former employer, the self-proclaimed "El Predestinato". Along the way Helen and Corbett fall in with local guerrillas led by Myra (Anna Silvia Grullon, as Ana Silvia Grullon) and Ramirez (Riccardo Petrazzi). It’s all fairly standard jungle action fare until General Romero summons Astaroth (Nelson de la Rosa), a pint-sized warlock, and makes people do his bidding by putting them under macumba spells. Will the combined firepower of Helen, Corbett and the local Contra-rebel enclave be enough to overthrow an enemy of such awesome magnitude and influence?

The screenplay from brothers Donald and Gaetano Russo is about as terrible as their collective filmography. There’s no chemistry between Porsche and Acerbi, and their characters are so terribly underwritten that it makes you wonder why they even bothered differentiating them. Helen’s only character trait is that she’s a journalist. Corbett is a mercenary who sees the wrongs of his way, and tries to better himself. Corbett nor Helen have any signature lines or moves, and the only memorable scene is when Corbett gears up for vengeance in a montage clearly imitated from the Arnold Schwarzenegger body count movie Commando (1988). That said montage isn’t followed up upon is, of course, expected in a cheap, cruddy Alfonso Brescia production. That is to say, Corbett is the only character to even have an arc. General Romero is the fairly standard greedy, megalomaniac evil dictator until Brescia pulls the voodoo act towards the second half. It’s exactly the kind of stunt that made him famous some two decades prior with the sudden explosion into 1950s science fiction insanity on the otherwise perfectly enjoyable but otherwise unassuming peplum The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). If Cross Mission is remembered for anything (if it’s remembered at all, that is) it’s solely for the duo of Nelson de la Rosa and Brigitte Porsche.

Brigitte Porsche is as much of an enigma as the girls from the Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) opening. Porsche seems to have no ties to the Austrian industrialist dynasty of luxury car manufacturers, or at least none of which there’s any historical documentation. As these things go, Cross Mission was her sole acting credit and her identity is shrouded in mystery – something not uncommon around this time with late Italian exploitation. Whether she was of Filipino or Dominican Republic descent is difficult to ascertain as in all likelihood Porsche used an Anglicized alias as many were prone to when working with Brescia. Writer Gaetano Russo famously was in The Red Monks (1988), a gothic horror throwback so tedious and directionless that not even the gratuitously exposed body of Lara Wendel could possibly redeem.

Also hiding under an alias is Riccardo Acerbi who, while not as prolific in exploitation as co-star Maurice Poli, starred in some of the worst latter-day Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato productions including Aenigma (1987) and Frankenstein 2000 – Return From Death (1991). Poli - who debuted in an uncredited role in the acclaimed World War II epic The Longest Day (1962) and became a spaghetti western and war movie regular afterwards - had been in Giuseppe Vari’s Urban Warriors (1987) just the year before. Maurice Poli and Peter Hintz were in Apocalypse Mercenaries (1987), while Anna Silvia Grullon and Nelson de la Rosa were both in Ratman (1988). Grullon would do nothing of particular interest afterwards, and de la Rosa would go to co-star alongside Marlon Brando in The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). Even by late 1980s Italian exploitation standards Cross Mission had a cast of complete and utter nobodies. Hell, Cross Mission is so much of a curio that not even The Italian Movie Database, nor the Caribbean Film Database for that matter, seem in any hurry to acknowledge its existence.

By the time Cross Mission went into production the Italian film industry was in shambles as television provided entertainment across all age brackets. In the late 1980s the famous Cinecittà studio compound was on the verge of bankruptcy, and budgets all but dried up. Italians went en masse to the multiplexes, while older movie theaters simply disappeared altogether, but primarily for big-budget Hollywood productions while domestic movies hardly attracted an audience. Much in the same way was the illustrious career of Alfonso Brescia, probably one of Italy’s most journeyed but least competent exploitation directors, coming to a crawl. Brescia would shoot only four more movies after Cross Mission before passing away in June 2001. Cross Mission was a Filipino co-production afforded location shooting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

However there isn’t anything that Brescia and Ferrando can’t make look absolutely god-awful despite a wealth of natural beauty and scenic vistas. This could have been shot on decaying leftover sets from Zombi Holocaust (1980) or Devil Hunter (1980) and nobody would be any the wiser. Ferrando worked on All Colours Of the Dark (1972), La Liceale (1975), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), and Hands Of Steel (1986) but apparently phoned it in here. The cinematography is as flat, hideous and ugly as Fausto Rossi’s work on Battle Of the Amazons (1973) more than a decade prior. Brescia could produce a decent movie if his heart was in it, as The Adolescent (1976), Frittata all'italiana (1976), Big Mamma (1979), and his many sceneggiatta with Mario Merola attest to. Clearly Alfonso didn’t care much, or at all, about the international action movie. We are a long way from Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972) and an even a longer way from The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), indeed.

There’s probably a reason why Cross Mission is the only full-on action movie in the Alfonso Brescia repertoire. It’s emblematic for Brescia’s late eighties output as it generally moves too slow, has an inpenetrable plot, and the action is far more lethargic than it ought to be. Brescia would helm two more action-themed yarns with the buddy cop movie Miami Cops (1989) and Deadly Chase (1990) in the following years. The defining characteristic of Brescia’s career has always been that of underarchievement and Cross Mission is no different. Iron Warrior (1987) had Hong Kong written all over it – and you’d halfway expect Brescia to finally get a clue. That wasn’t exactly the case as with Homicide In Blue Light (1991) old Alfonso managed to fumble his way through an erotic thriller. Il faut le faire… Like any good obscurity Cross Mission deserves the proper high-definition digital remaster/restoration treatment, and hopefully some courageous company will rise to the task. It makes you wonder what Antonio Margheriti and Bruno Mattei could have done with a premise like this and what could have become of miss Porsche had she been employed by Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, or Wilfredo dela Cruz. Alas, the world will never know…