The first ever release of the film’s complete soundtrack by Detto Mariano, is the opportunity to look back to the deeper social meanings of the cult opus by Carlo Vanzina.
Many are the films that we have come to associate to the city of Milano: from the exhilarating meteorological misunderstandings of Totò and Peppino in Totò, Peppino e la…malafemmina (1956) to the role played by the landmark Velasca Tower in many cult flicks, like Dino Risi’s Il vedovo (1959), with its jazzy CAM Sugar score courtesy of Armando Trovajoli.
However, there also are films that go beyond postcard-like portraits of Milan and its architectural icons. They work as accurate, real-time snapshots that freeze a momentum in the frenzy of the evolving city.
One of these is I fichissimi, the 1981comedy directed by Carlo Vanzina also known internationally by the titles of The really cool guys and, less frequently, of Guys and dolls in the suburbs.
The latter perhaps is the title that best encapsulates the role played in the storyline by the urban landscape. The film that definitely springboarded the careers of Italian comedy heavyweights Diego Abatantuono and Jerry Calà in fact works as an alternative psychogeographical map to navigate 1980s Milan. But it also stands as a vivid example of how Italian cinema – and its soundtracks – was keen on documenting with a sociological eye and unmatched wit the habits and socio-economic transformations of the country.
The opus came at a crucial and shifting time for both the city and the country, right at the crossroads between the end of the bloodshed Years of Lead and the dawn of the roaring season of the so-called Milano da Bere, the rampant Milanese Yuppie era, which came to influence, a handful of years later, another Italian cinema milestone by Vanzina: Yuppies – I giovani di successo, also starring Jerry Calà.
Whether that film captured the opulence of the new class of Italian socialites and young professionals, I fichissimi is of great importance because it shows this shifting Milanese socialscape from the perspective of two working-class kids, in a modern take on the timeless Shakesperian tale of Romeo and Juliet.
In the film, two inner city gangs respectively led by Felice (Diego Abatantuono) and Romeo (Jerry Calà) do not step back from fights and pranks as the latter tries to court Giulietta (Simona Mariani), the only female sister of the first.
Despite the classic storyline and the exhilarating gags, the film also touches upon one of the dominating social themes of 1970s and 1980s Italy, the cultural clash between northern and southerners which followed the post-WWII migrations internal to the country. In those days Abatantuono rose to fame by incarnating on screen the stereotypical ‘terruncello’, the southern – in this case Apulian – youngster rich in braggadocio.
His widespread popular success also meant that via this sort of character, Vanzina played a pivotal role in smothering the racial hatred towards southern Italians and influenced a change in their perception to the eyes of the northern audience.
At the same time, though, the film stands as a fundamental document – albeit comedy-edged – of the rising phenomenon of youth gang warfare, which from the streets of the city, rich in subcultural clusters including Punks, Mods, Goths and Paninari, also expanded to football terraces, with the ultras culture which Vanzina focused on the following year in another Abatantuono-starring cult of his: Eccezzziunale…veramente (1982). The rivalry between the two main actors is in fact hyperbolised and reaffirmed by their clashing football fandom. On the walls of the main characters’ homes and bedrooms flags and other ephemera of AC Milan (Felice) and Inter Milan (Romeo) can be spotted, next to stickers and posters of various music acts and teen idols that, recollected together, make up a fairly thorough map of the Italian pop culture of the early 1980s.
To stand out is the syncretism of icons displayed in Romeo’s bedroom: an Inter Milan flag and pennant stand next to posters of Jimi Hendrix, Rockets, Italian X-rated actress Carmen Russo and the image of an Afro haired girl smoking a fat joint, a classic iconography of post-hippy Italy (recently referenced by Iuter) often advertised on teen music magazines and that could be purchased via mail order.
Tongue-in-cheek jokes and distorted pop culture references, in a typical Italian comedy style, mirror the youth slang of 1980s Milan and become precious tools of social analysis. Take, for instance, the scene in which Felice blames his brother for risking to turn into ‘Bobmallo’ (aka Bob Marley) when catching him smoking a spliff. What at first may appear like a simple sketch, actually stands as a deeper signifier of both the rising consumption of recreational drugs among the Italian youth (in another scene Abatantuono snoops a dealer who is peddling drugs to the same brother) and also the hype for Bob Marley that between the late 1970s and the early 1980s led to a new aesthetic and philosophical rise of an Italian way to Hippy culture, well emblazoned by the ‘baioso’ look of Felice’s sibling.
Needless to say, the dancefloor becomes the space of negotiation and fight, for courting and showing off. More specifically that of Rolling Stone, one of the most legendary clubs in the history of Milan, which once stood in Corso XXIII Marzo. Opened just a few months before the film release, it was the brainchild of Vasco Rossi’s manager Enrico Rovelli and stood as the city’s first and bonafide Rock disco. The venue is quoted in the soundtrack by Detto Mariano with “Rolling Stone Milano”, a hard-hitting Funky-Glam number dripping in Fender Rhodes.
The score, which is now out for the first time ever on digital platforms, has been retrieved from the CAM Sugar archive and fully remastered. We can now finally enjoy it in its entirety, diving deeper into the suburban sound Mariano conceived for the film. Next to the main vocal theme, the only track originally issued on 45rpm, we come across a surprising album in which Funk blends in with eerie and synthy mood-setting compositions, like “Milano Notte” and its second take, “Milano Notte #2”, possibly its most peculiar take with hints of late 1970s Pink Floyd-like psychedelic licks.
The streets of Milan by night are indeed another crucial protagonist of the film. Meda square, with the iconic disc sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro – back then still revolving on its axis – is the site of the rocambolesque Ferrari car crash, one of the turning points of of the film.
The city centre is indeed for the night, for the social performativity of the gangs that parade down the arcades, carrying New York bloc party-style stereos, among the neon-lit signs of by-gone boutiques and brands that work as a madeleine of the legacy of 1980s Milanese fashion. One of these is Bozart, the accessory and fashion house for which Patrizia Reggiani worked after serving her prison sentence for the murder of her husband Maurizio Gucci.
Fashion is no doubt another crucial element to map the youth culture of 1980s Milan. One of the landmarks of the film is Felice’s leather jacket, decorated on the back by a series of metal studs composing the word ‘Toro Scatenato’, raging bull, his fictional nickname.
Meta-references to cinema history dot the whole opus, capturing the postmodern stratification of pop culture phenomena that inspired and ignited the Italian youth of the 1980s.
Similarly, Calà flamboyantly brings together a cowboy hat with a shiny red vinyl tassel jacket, describing his look to the eyes of his shocked father as ‘Suburban Cowboy contro gli Indiani Metropolitani’ (Suburban Cowboy versus the Metropolitan indians). By doing so, he simultaneously distorts the film Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta and quotes the riotous political phenomenon of the Indiani Metropolitani. More of this cowboy-esque paraphernalia can be seen on Felice’s gang in the form of skull-shaped bolo ties, Levi's tees and Camperos boots, a classic of 1980s Milan that later also came to define the Paninaro lookbook.
Overall, these details embody the Milanese youth's fascination for all things American, from clothes to music and popular culture. The epitome of said attitude is Romeo's friend and colleague Renatino (Mauro Di Francesco), a youngster sporting a Disneyland top, lover of Rock 'n Roll and who poses as an affluent American Yuppie to fool Felice and drive Giulietta to her Romeo.
The Milanese suburbia, more specifically the neighbourhood of Rho, is in fact another theatre for the characters’ marauders. Its brutalist buildings dotted with political propaganda posters – although actually filmed in the Laurentino 38 area of Rome – paint the other face, the grim one, of the exuberant capitalistic metropolis.
In the end, we could argue that I fichissimi stands as an Italian counterpart, albeit farcical and hilarious, of The Warriors, the seminal 1979 oeuvre that fused action thriller with American youth gang warfare. The opening scene alone sums this concept up, soundtracked by “We Are The Best”, the Disco-edged vocal track sung by Albert Douglas Meakin.
I fichissimi (Remastered 2023) by Detto Mariano is now out on all streaming platforms via CAM Sugar. Listen here.