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07 April 2017

Luciano Albertini

Tonight, we are in Berlin at the Zeughauskino for a special screening in the series Wiederentdeckt (Rediscovered). Film historian Ivo Blom, who often contributes to this blog, will introduce there one of the most spectacular films of the silent cinema, Der Unüberwindliche/The Invincible (Max Obal, 1928). Star is Italian 'forzuto' Luciano Albertini (1882-1945), one of the famous strongmen and daredevils of the silent film. The former circus artist first worked as film actor and producer in Italy and later moved to Berlin, where his Latin appeal made many admirers swoon. He also filmed for Universal in the USA.

Luciano Albertini
American postcard by A.G.F. Photo: Photocine.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 524/4, 1919-1924. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 577/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Klaude, Berlin / Phoebus-Film. Publicity still for Der Sieg des Maharadscha/The victory of the Maharajah (Joseph Delmont, 1923).

Luciano Albertini in Der Mann auf den Kometen (1925)
Vintage collectors card from the German album Vom Werden Deutscher Filmkunst, I (Oskar Kalbus, 1935). Photo: Luciano Albertini in the German silent film Der Mann auf dem Kometen (Alfred Halm, 1925).
Der Mann auf dem Kometen is set in Berlin and this image combines two moments in the film. Towards the end of the film Luciano uses a ladder to save a baby put on an old factory chimney pipe which is about to be exploded. The background of this picture is used for another scene in the film. The church is a typical example of Wilhelminian architecture. We were able to identify this church as the Dankekirche in Berlin-Wedding. The sign of Problem Moslem refers to a cigarette brand.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 798/3, 1925-1926. Photo: Phoebus Film, Berlin.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1815/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder, Berlin. On this postcard Albertini wears the attire for the film Rinaldo Rinaldini (Max Obal, 1927).

Flying Trapeze


Luciano Albertini was born as Francesco Vespignani in Lugo di Romagna, Italy, in 1882. According to his own account, he already showed a passion for sports, in his youth and joined the gymnastics club in Forlí and later in Bologna. After his studies he ended up in France, where he retook his lessons in physical exercise at the Ecole Péchin in Lyon.

In 1905 he married circus artist Domenica Meirone. He took the stage name of Luciano Albertini and created a number on the flying trapeze with 8 persons: Les Albertini. His speciality was a stunt, the ‘death spiral’. He was about to have his breakthrough at the Circus Busch in Berlin when WW I broke out.

Albertini returned to Italy and joined the navy. He still kept one foot to the ground though, and he worked at the film company Società Anonima Ambrosio of Turin. His breakthrough was the circus film La spirale della morte/The Death Spiral (Filippo Castamagna, Domenico Gambino, 1917).

Afterwards he worked for the studios Pasquali and Latina Ars, both also in Turin. At Pasquali he started the successful Sansone (Samson) series, with Sansone contro i Filistei/Sansone Against the Philistines (Domenico Gaido, 1918).

Luciano Albertini's finest moment came when he founded his own company Albertini Film, that released its first films in 1919. Until 1921 Albertini Film produced three series: the Sansone films, the Lilliput series with the children Arnold (Patata) and Varada (they were not Albertini’s children although the promotion pretended so), and the Sansonette series with Linda Albertini, his so-called wife, but her true identity remains a mystery. Albertini also produced Il mostro di Frankenstein/The Monster of Frankenstein (Eugenio Testa, 1920), in which he himself personified Baron Frankenstein.

His best Italian film was not one of his Sansone films but the costume drama Il Ponte dei Sospiri/The Bridge of Sighs (Domenico Gaido, 1921), a swashbuckler set in Venice. Albertini played Rolando Candiani, son of the Doge of Venice, who is falsely accused of murder by his enemies. One plots to become Doge himself, another wants to steal the beautiful Leonora, Rolando's fiancée, a third is a courtesan rejected by Rolando. On the day of his marriage Rolando is arrested, trialled and passes the Bridge of Sighs before entering lifetime imprisonment. His father is dethroned as Doge, blinded and reduced to a wandering beggar. But with the help of the courageous and good-hearted bandit Scalabrino (Garaveo Onorato), Rolando manages to escape and take revenge...

Luciano Albertini in Il ponte dei sospiri (1921)
Italian postcard by Unione Cinematografica Italiana. Postcard for the four-part serial Il Ponte dei Sospiri/The Bridge of Sighs (Domenico Gaido, 1921), starring Luciano Albertini, and set in Venice. Caption: The young and very brave son of Doge Candiano, Rolando, is pushed into prison by halberds.

Luciano Albertini in Il ponte dei sospiri
Italian postcard by Unione Cinematografica Italiana. Luciano Albertini as Rolando in the four part serial film Il ponte dei sospiri/The Bridge of Sighs (Domenico Gaido, 1921). On his right side Carolina White (Leonora) and Bonaventura Ibanez (her father Dandolo).

Luciano Albertini in Le roi de Paris
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 196. Photo: Luciano Albertini in Julot, der Apache/Julot, the Apache (Joseph Delmont, Hertha von Walther, 1921), released in France as Julot l'apache but also as Le roi de Paris.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 577/2. Photo L. Klaude, Berlin /Phoebus Film. From his arrival in 1921, until 1924, all of Albertini's films were distributed by Phoebus and produced by his own Albertini-Film. This is a card for Die Schlucht des Todes/The Ravine of Death (Luciano Albertini, Albert-Francis Bertoni, Max Obal, 1923).
In this film Albertini plays an Argentine farmer whose reckless deeds at the Devil's Canyon convinces an Italian circus director to engage him and his wife (Lya de Putti). The wife becomes enamoured with a womanising count and elopes with him. Years after, Luciano has become a dockworker in Naples (as depicted on this card) and saves a child, unknowing it is the child of Lya's and the count. The count is fed up with Lya. She runs into Luciano and begs him to go back with her to Argentine. Back there he finds out she has a child and recognises it as the girl he once saved. Galloping towards the Devil's Canyon, his horse is cleverer than he and holds back. Lya gallops behind him but she falls down a cliff, so Luciano rescues her and they reunite.

Luciano Albertini and Lya de Putti in Die Schlucht des Todes
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 578/1, 1919-1924. Photo: Leo Klaude, Berlin / Phoebus Film. Publicity still for Die Schlucht des Todes/The Ravine of Death (Luciano Albertini, Albert-Francis Bertoni, Max Obal, 1923) with Lya de Putti. The card depicts the final scene: Luciano has just saved Lya from falling down the Devil's Canyon and reconciles with her after his refusal to acknowledge her illegal child and his failed attempt to suicide.

Luciano Albertini and Lya de Putti
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 578/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Leo Klaude, Berlin / Phoebus Film. Publicity still for Die Schlucht des Todes/The Ravine of Death (Luciano Albertini, Albert-Francis Bertoni, Max Obal, 1923) with Lya de Putti.

Luciano Albertini in Der Sieg des Maharadscha
German postcard. Photo: Luciano Albertini in Der Sieg des Maharadscha/The victory of the Maharajah (Joseph Delmont, 1923).

Berlin Entourage


The crisis in the Italian cinema forced Luciano Albertini and his Albertini Film to move to Germany in 1921. He was also on the run for his creditors after the financial losses of his film Il ponte dei sospiri, for which he had borrowed a lot of money.

In Germany he was well received by producer Jacob Karol, who specialised in adventure and circus films. Their first film was Der König der Manege/The King of the Circus Ring (Joseph Delmont, 1921). He continued with a series of films directed by Delmont and produced by himself: Der eiserne Faust/The Iron Fist (1921), Julot der Apache/Julot the Apache (1921), Der Todesleiter/The Death Ladder (1921), and Der Man aus Stahl/The Steel Man (1922).

Albertini-Film became part of the new production and distribution company Phoebus-Film till 1924. Phoebus also owned two major cinemas in Berlin and specialised in hosting Italian directors and actors, such as Gennaro Righelli, Nunzio Malasomma and Carlo Aldini.

Linda Albertini returned to Italy after one year and four films, because Luciano had an affair with another woman. Within his Berlin entourage remained his regular cameraman Eduardo Lamberti and Angelo Rossi, who worked as his double but also as the double of such other Italian ‘giants’ working in Germany as Carlo Aldini and Domenico Gambino. Matias Bleckmann writes in his book on Harry Piel, that Piel's stuntman Hermann Stetza also worked for Albertini as a double.

Albertini starred in popular German films directed by Nunzio Malasomma – another Italian immigrant working in Berlin - and Max Obal. Albertini also directed and produced himself once in Die Schlucht des Todes/The Ravine of Death (Luciano Albertini, Albert-Francis Bertoni, Max Obal, 1923) opposite vamp Lya de Putti. With Nunzio Malasomma, Albertini did Mister Radio (1924), Der König und die kleine Mädchen/The King and the Little Girls (1925), and Eine Minute vor 12/One Minute to Twelve (1925).

Max Obal directed the most Albertini films: Die heimkehr des Odysseus/The Return of Odysseus (1922), Rinaldo Rinaldini (1927) starring opposite Hans Albers, Der grösste Gauner des Jahrhunderts/The Biggest Crook of the Century (1927), Der Unüberwindliche/The Invincible (1928) with Vivian Gibson, Tempo! Tempo! (1929) with Hilda Rosch, and Jagd nach der Million/The Hunt for a Million (1930) with Gretl Berndt. Most of Albertini's later films were distributed by Aafa-Film. According to some sources, Albertini also appeared in the Soviet classic Arsenal/January Uprising in Kiev (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1928). But this is probably a fable.

Luciano Albertini
Small Spanish collector's card, series A, no. 10. Editor unknown. The Spanish text on the back talks of Albertini's qualities, and particularly mentions his film Julot der Apache. The portrait on this card seems based on the Ross card here below.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin SW, no. 524/2, 1919-1924. Photo: Albertini Film.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin SW, no. 524/3, 1919-1924. Photo: Albertini Film.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin SW, no. 524/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Albertini Film.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 577/8. Photo Krause, Berlin / Phoebus Film.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 798/1, 1925-1926. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 798/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Phoebus Film, Berlin. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Asylum


In Berlin, Luciano Albertini lived in grand style, visiting restaurants with his friends and crew. He lived in a villa in the outskirts, in the workman’s quarter Siemensstadt. Albertini had several affairs in Berlin, including one with actress Annie Gorilowa. At the Sportpalast, he and Marlene Dietrich were the big attractions.

His only setback had been his collaboration with Universal Studios to the American 15 part-serial The Iron Man (Jay Marchant, 1924), as he proved not to be the protagonist. Instead he had been forced to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge to a race boat, while he often had his stuntmen doing this.

In 1930, the tide changed for Albertini. The talkies, his age (he was 50 now), the saturation of the acrobatic genre contributed, but his alcoholism really finished him. Although Angelo Rossi, his double, and Lamberti, his ex-cameraman who had opened a restaurant in the Friedrichstrasse, helped him, Albertini went down all the way. He performed in one last film: Es geht um alle/It Involves Everything (Max Nosseck, 1932) with Ernö Verebes.

When he showed aggression against a doorman he was put in an asylum and was diagnosed with dementia. In the late 1930s he returned to Italy, living in Bologna where a Father Marella took care of him.

His disease lead him to Villa Flora in Bologna and finally to the mental asylum San Gaetano in Budrio near Bologna. Luciano Albertini died here, in 1945.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1287/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Balazs, Berlin / Albertini-Produktion GmbH.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1387/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Balazs, Berlin / Albertini Produktion GmbH.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1387/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Atelier Balazs, Berlin / Albertini Produktion GmbH.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1816/2, 1927-1928. Photo: Alex Binder. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3032/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin. This picture was also used for the cover of the magazine Film-Woche, no. 17, 1929, to announce Albertini's film Tempo! Tempo! (Max Obal, 1929).

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3032/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Balázs, Berlin.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3594/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Aafa Film.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3621/1, 1928-1929.

Luciano Albertini
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4624/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Aafa-Film.

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli/Mario Quargnolo (Maciste & Co. I giganti buoni del muto italiano), Matias Bleckmann (Harry Piel. Ein Kino-Mythos und seine Zeit - German), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Michael Elliott (IMDb), Guy Bellinger (IMDb), Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.

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