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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.

Plot: catastrophic homicidal pandemic causes citywide pandemonium

Umberto Lenzi, just as many of his contemporaries in the exploitation field, was a workhorse director who could anticipate what an audience wanted. In a career spanning four decades he contributed to every low-budget genre under the sun. Lenzi, if nothing else, was able to conjure up fast-paced, regressive, and often (unintentionally) humorous genre pieces on a small budget with enough starpower for the international market. Lenzi was a versatile writer and tried his at hand every genre; be it peplum, Eurospy, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, giallo, cannibals and/or zombies. In 1972 Lenzi pioneered the cannibal subgenre with Man From Deep River, a reworking of the plot from A Man Called Horse (1970). As the 1970s gave way to the exuberant eighties Lenzi didn’t stay behind as the horror genre became increasingly more gory and setpiece-based. In the beginning of the decade Lenzi directed two movies, the pulp cannibal exercise Eaten Alive! (1980) and Nightmare City (1980). Of the two Nightmare City combines Lenzi’s workmanlike direction with deliberate borrowing from other sources and some striking imagery.

Nightmare City has, perhaps unjustly, been classified as a zombie film, and most of its detractors tend to focus on its handling of that aspect. However Nightmare City is rather Lenzi’s take on earlier American pandemic epics I Drink Your Blood (1970) or The Crazies (1973) and their European counterparts The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), and Jean Rollin's The Grapes Of Death (1978) than an imitation of Lucio Fulci’s classic zombie tryptich. It goes without saying that Nightmare City is ludicrous and often borderline cartoony. Taken on its own merits, and if one is prepared to meet it halfway, Nightmare City is actually a surprisingly striking and effective little shocker when it wants to be. The rest of the time it is either obnoxiously stupid, plain dense or an unguided projectile. As always Lenzi was able to rope in reliable players from the continental European scene.

A leak at the State Nuclear Plant in some undisclosed, apparently unnamed city has the authorities, both scientific and military, desperately trying to contain and keep a lid on the unfortunate incident. Investigating the strange going-ons surrounding the nuclear plant are journalist Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) and his cameraman (an uncredited Antonio Mayans). When an unmarked Hercules military cargo plane disgorges not the member of the scientific community he was scheduled to interview, but a murderous horde of pustulent mutants instead it sends Miller not only on a citywide mission to rescue his wife Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter), but also from stopping the city from tearing itself apart from the inside out. Contrary to earlier exercises in pandemic chaos Nightmare City doesn’t concern itself much with the workings of the military or the government during such catastrophic event, but focuses on the resilience of the family unit instead.

It is under these less than ideal circumstances that Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal), spends a day off at home in company of his artist/sculptor wife Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) before the military brass summons him back to headquarters. The scene largely exist as a pretext for then 26-year old Omaggio to take her bra off with Rabal, then 54, engaging in a pertinent case of cradle robbing. Not taking her clothes off is Sheila’s friend Cindy (Sonia Viviani) whose demise is a classic piece of exploitation filmmaking both in setup and delivery. In an other part of town Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) - the daughter of General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), himself occupied with trying to contain the rapidly escalating situation – and her boyfriend are on a roadtrip just to spite her old man. Meanwhile an elite team of scientists, led by Dr. Kramer (Eduardo Fajardo) is desperately seeking a cure. As the ravening mutant hordes expand in numbers with alarming speed, and society starts collapsing in on itself, will anybody be able to survive to save the Nightmare City?

Like any good exploitation director Lenzi was able to assemble a strong cast of fresh new faces, old veterans of the genre, and a reliable leading man. Lenzi wanted Franco Nero or Fabio Testi, but the producers insisted on Hugo Stiglitz in order to appeal to the Mexican market. Mexican character actor Hugo Stiglitz, whose career spans nearly 5 decades and over 200 credits, commenced his acting career in movies from René Cardona Jr., and Rubén Galindo, but also appeared in John Huston’s Under the Vulcano (1984), and a seemingly endless array of spaghetti westerns and violent crime movies. In Nightmare City Stiglitz often looks more haggard and vagrant than the mutants he ends up fighting, and for a journalist he’s a damn good marksman. Antonio Mayans, here in an uncredit role, once acted in legitimate productions as King Of Kings (1961) and El Cid (1961), but by the late 1970s became a stock actor in Jess Franco movies. Laura Trotter, an Italian dime-store equivalent to Veronica Lake, debuted as a murder victim in the Umberto Lenzi giallo Eyeball (1975), and starred alongside Ray Lovelock, Sherry Buchanan, and Florinda Bolkan in Franco Prosperi directed Last House On the Beach (1978). Further Trotter appeared in The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Obscene Desire (1978) with Marisa Mell, and had a supporting role in Tinto Brass’ Monella (1998). Trotter is dubbed in the English version by prolific voice actress Pat Starke.

Sonia Viviani, a former glamour model that appeared on the covers of Skorpio (April 1983), Blitz (1984) and Interviu (1984), had starred and would star in far better and worse genre offerings than Lenzi’s enjoyable Nightmare City. Viviani starred in The Sinner (1974) with Zeudi Araya Cristaldi, the Alfonso Brescia commedia sexy all'italiana movies Amori, letti e Tradimenti (1975), Frittata all'italiana (1976), and L’Adolescente (1976) but also as bereft of both dialog and clothing in Pier Carpi’s controversial and budget-deprived The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Ring Of Darkness (1979). One of Viviani’s most memorable parts was that of seductive Amazon warrior Glaucia in the Luigi Cozzi scifi peplum The Adventures of Hercules (1985) with Lou Ferrigno, and Milly Carlucci. Also making an appearance is Viviani’s The Adventures Of Hercules co-star Maria Rosaria Omaggio.

In a career spanning two decades, from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s Sonia Viviani worked with a host of infamous directors including Bruno Mattei, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and René Cardona Jr.. Eduardo Fajardo would go on to star in the little-seen superior Spanish version of the Jesús Franco Afrika Korps gutmuncher Oasis Of the Zombies (1983). Stefania D'Amario, famous for her role as profusely sweating nurse Clara in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), had starred in the Walerian Borowczyk nunsploitation classic Behind Convent Walls (1978). In her post-acting career D'Amario reinvented herself as a wardrobe – and art department assistant working on Caligula’s Slaves (1984), Miranda (1985) from Italian master of eroticism Tinto Brass, and on the romantic drama The English Patient (1996).

Alternatively obnoxious, atmospheric, or nearly toxic in its lunkheaded creativity a lot things can be levied at Nightmare City, but never of it being glacially paced. Stelvio Cipriani’s main theme to Nightmare City makes the upbeat disco theme to Cannibal Ferox sound like an example of good taste and restraint in comparison. However before the carnage gets well underway Lenzi treats the viewer to one of those typical eighties aerobic dance shows complete with spandex costumes and irritating music. Some of the aerial shots are a bit keen in their earnest imitation of George A. Romero’s earlier Dawn Of the Dead (1978). As always the military brass and government procrastinate far too long instead of immediately deploying armed forces on the ground to contain the pandemic. The mutants retain most of their faculty and wield guns, knives, machetes, and other deadly utensils. In exploitation tradition girls frequently are stabbed in the chest, and when it is revealed that the mutants can be killed by a shot to the head, the military forces, of course, continue to shoot in them in the torso and body. Lenzi and cinematographer Hans Burmann manage to conjure up a few memorable scenes, interesting use of lighting (that sometimes is reminiscent of giallo), and the scene composition is far more creative than one would expect in the genre. The double-whammy ending is either the best, or worst, part about Nightmare City, depending on who you ask. If anything, it fits with exactly the sort of deranged atmosphere that Nightmare City goes for.