Plot: wealthy middle-aged industrial hires a new secretary. Hilarity ensues!
La segretaria privata di mio padre (or My Father’s Private Secretary internationally) may not be the best Italian sex comedy has to offer but that doesn’t make it any less fun for what it is. Completely free of any subtext and not interesting in upsetting the status-quo My Father’s Private Secretary does most of everything right. This is never as swooning as those Romina Powers-Al Bano comedies from earlier in the decade nor as spicy as anything Gloria Guida, Lilli Carati, or Edwige Fenech ever did. As such this is a comedy that banks heavily (not to say, entirely) on the charms of its nubile starlet. And let that exactly be what Maria Rosaria Omaggio has plenty of. Aided by two comedy juggernauts and as much screen legends My Father’s Private Secretary does exactly what you want it to. The worst what could possibly be leveled at it is that it’s on the tame side for the year it was released. Mariano Laurenti was an experienced veteran of this sort of thing – and he was kind of on auto-pilot here. His direction is efficient and on-point but a sweeping romance like his some of his best scenegiatta this is not. In the treacherous seas of Italo comedy My Father’s Private Secretary serves best as a beginner’s introductory chapter to the genre as a whole as it’s neither old-fashioned nor slapstick-oriented.
Mariano Laurenti was a commedia sexy all’Italiana specialist who had shepherded the genre through the various decades and incarnations. Unlike his contemporaries Bruno Corbucci and Marino Girolami, Laurenti would never venture out of his comfort zone and direct something that wasn’t purely a comedy. As a seasoned veteran he worked with everybody that was anybody. From Edwige Fenech and Femi Benussi to Orchidea de Santis and Nadia Cassini. Laurenti worked with much beloved Lolitas Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati as well as lesser queens as Anna Maria Rizzoli and disgraced divas as Annamaria Clementi and Paola Senatore. He was the man behind the Edwige Fenech decamerotici Beautiful Antonia, First a Nun Then a Demon (1972), Ubalda, All Naked and Warm (1972) as well as The Inconsolable Widow Thanks All Those Who Consoled Her (1973). The same year he did My Father's Private Secretary he also directed the Gloria Guida romp The Landlord (1976) with the Lilli Carati sub-classic The Seatmate (1977) following closely behind. Topping things off are the Edwige Fenech l'insegnante The Schoolteacher Goes to Boys' High (1978) and the Gloria Guida disco romp The Night Nurse (1979). In the eighties he did a few movies with Nino D'Angelo with Picture Story (1982), Jeans and T-Shirt (1983), The Disco (1983), and Neapolitan Boy in New York (1984). In the nineties he directed but 5 movies, none of which gained any sort of international traction. Only the breastacular Saint Tropez, Saint Tropez (1992) (with the delectable duo of former Tinto Brass goddesses Debora Caprioglio and Serena Grandi) which he assistant directed has stood the test of time.
After a glamourous spread in Playboy in May 1976 the career of Maria Rosaria Omaggio was off to a flying start. She was introduced to the world through two high-profile productions. Omaggio debuted in the Umberto Lenzi poliziottesco Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976) and the first Nico Giraldi crime caper The Cop in Blue Jeans (1976) from Bruno Corbucci. In the decamerotico The Lush Andalusian (1976) Maria Rosaria went fully nude, and it seemed only natural that the commedia sexy all’Italiana was the next logical progression. That happened with My Father's Private Secretary. As beautiful as Maria Rosaria Omaggio was, did she even have a fighting chance in a sex comedy scene dominated by ultimate royalty Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, Agostina Belli, and Nadia Cassini; where Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati owned the lower rungs of the subgenre; and where Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, and Jenny Tamburi inhabited that special niche between the two? After a brief excursion into Spain and the French historical mini-series Joséphine ou la comédie des ambitions (1979) Omaggio found herself working with Lenzi again for the pandemic horror Nightmare City (1980). Once again she bared it all in Playboy (July 1980) and then again in November 1982 right before her turn in Luigi Cozzi’s The Adventures Of Hercules (1983). Her next big feature would be Bruno Corbucci’s Rimini Rimini - One Year Later (1988). In the decades since Maria Rosaria Omaggio has been a constant on the small and big screen and remains active today. Was she ever the biggest star? Probably not, but she certainly acted better than most of those that eclipsed her in enduring popularity.
Armando Ponziani (Renzo Montagnani) is the philandering bourgeoisie CEO of his thriving namesake cosmetics industrialist empire. He lives in a palatial villa on Lake Como in Brianza, Lombardy with his aristocratic moglie Ersilia (Giuliana Calandra), his studious son Franco (Stefano Patrizi), and mousy daughter Amelia (Sofia Lombardo). One day overzealous company chemist Doctor Mingozzi (Aldo Massasso) is picked up by his shy young girlfriend Luisa (Maria Rosaria Omaggio). Mingozzi burns with ambition to climb the corporate ladder and will stop at nothing to take over the Ponziani empire. Driving his wife to the opera one night Armando becomes involved in a road collision. Now plastered in casts he requires not only personal attention but someone (preferably multilingual and able to type) to attend urgent business matters while he and his wife recover. While Armando keeps butler Giuseppe (Enzo Cannavale) and housekeeper Ernesta (Rina Franchetti) busy at the villa Mingozzi recognizes an opportunity when he sees one. He suggest Ponziani hire Luisa for a week to keep the business afloat while they look for a permanent solution. Before long free-spirited and flirty Luisa has beguiled all the men around the house, and a dance of seduction begins. Matters are complicated when Armando’s jealous mistress Ingrid (Anita Strindberg) and Franco’s horny laborer friend Oscar (Alvaro Vitali) get mixed up in the situation.
Far from an ensemble piece there are more than enough familiar faces here. First and foremost there are comedy pillars Renzo Montagnani and Enzo Cannavale. Also present is Alvaro Vitali (for once not in tandem with his usual sidekick Lino Banfi) and he’s not nearly as odious and annoying as he typically is, which doesn’t stop him from his usual cross-dressing routine. The other big name besides Omaggio is giallo royalty Anita Strindberg. She could be seen in A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), Who Saw Her Die? (1972), and Murder Obsession (1981). Strindberg goes fully nude despite her advanced age whereas Omaggio is mostly relegated to doing topless. It has to be said, Strindberg looked better preserved in 1976 than Anita Ekberg in 1969. Then there’s that shot of Luisa naked on the bed that kicked off Tinto Brass’ career. The other big star here is Aldo Massasso. Massasso had a respectable career although there isn’t a lot of his we’re familiar with besides Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974), and Sergio Martino’s The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975). Then there are the two prerequisite monuments, Giuliana Calandra and Rina Franchetti. Calandra debuted in 1958 and could be seen in Deep Red (1975), The Landlord (1976), Desiring Julia (1996), and Rimini Rimini (1987). Franchetti was a implacable pillar of Italian cinema that debuted in 1932. She could be seen in, among others, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), Atom Age Vampire (1960), as well as the big budget Hollywood Biblical epic Barabbas (1961). Stefano Patrizi and Sofia Lombardo had decent enough careers but never ascended to true superstardom.
There’s a considerable divide between a commedia sexy all’Italiana of the sixties and those of the seventies. The summer of 1968 and the permissive social mores following the Sexual Revolution genre cinema (and exploitation in particular) was suddenly given a whole lot more leeway in terms of nudity and suggestive content in general. Look no further than the giallo Top Sensation (1969) for evidence of just that. Not that My Father's Private Secretary is some sort of lost classic or underappreciated gem, but it’s definitely among the better of its kind. It’s never as racy as anything Gloria Guida or Lilli Carati did and while not as sophisticated as the average Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, and Jenny Tamburi romp it’s a better than it has any reason to be. Francesco Milizia’s screenplay ticks all the expected boxes and there’s an absolute minimum of the usual slapstick (often a bane in Italian comedies around this time). Since this was mid-seventies Italy rubber-faced buffoon Alvaro Vitali engages in his usual mugging and cross-dressing antics, although he isn’t nearly as odious and annoying as he typicallly is since this doesn’t involve his usual partner in crime Lino Banfi. Once Luisa is courted by father and son Ponziani Milizia apparently couldn’t be bothered to come up with an explanation as to why Amelia and Mingozzi completely disappear and never return. In a moment of prescience Milizia acknowledges (and spoofs) how preposterous of a proposition it was that nobody took to imitating The Exorcist (1973) with the kind of religious zeal the way the Italians did (a cycle which was in its fourth year by that point). Especially in light how William Friedkin’s most enduring effort stole all of its best and most memorable scenes from Brunello Rondi’s The Demon (1963).
In comparison to what was coming out around the same and in the same genre My Father’s Private Secretary falls in that awkward middle category where it was too racy for 60s standards and on the tame side for a commedia sexy all’Italiana in 1976. Mariano Laurenti was experiencing something of a lull but he would rekindle his creativity towards the end of the decade. While not exactly prudish or chaste My Father’s Private Secretary leans far more towards the first half of the sixties than it does to the seventies. Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia were churning out far more risqué sexploitation around this time. In that respect My Father’s Private Secretary is conservative and even a bit old-fashioned. It’s telling enough that the brunt of the nudity falls upon Anita Strindberg and not miss Omaggio – not that Maria Rosaria doesn’t get her fair portion of it, but the most sensuous revealing scene (a solitary case of full-frontal) is reserved for elder stateswoman Strindberg. All things considered My Father’s Private Secretary is a solid, if uneventful, little comedy that ticks all the right boxes but never really aspires to be anything more than the sum of its various parts. As far as Italian sex comedies go you could do far, far worse. This might not be some forgotten classic but My Father’s Private Secretary is a lot better than it has any right to be. Faint as that praise may be, it shouldn’t stop you from checking it out if you can.