The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965)
Maxine Audley as Charmian
Rossano Brazzi as Lorenzo
Phyllis Calvert as Margot
Finlay Currie as Emcee
Elizabeth Dear as Debby
Rosi Di Pietro as Giuletta
Olivia Hussey as Donna
Ursula Jeans as Lady Anthea
Ettore Manni as Father Rossi
Celia Matania as Celestina
Maureen O’Hara as Moira
Martin Stephens as Michael
Richard Todd as Darrell
Richard Wattis as Travel Agent
based on a story by Rumer Godden
Director of Photography
Delmer Dawes in association with Warner Brothers
In the quiet Thames-side village where she lived with her diplomat husband, Darrell (RICHARD TODD), and her two school-age children, Michael (MARTIN STEPHENS) and Debby (ELIZABETH DEAR), the last person who might have been suspected of plunging into a passionate love affair is Moira Clavering (MAUREEN O’HARA). Yet when a Festival of Arts is held in the community, and famed and gifted Italian composer Lorenzo Tassara (ROSSANO BRAZZI) attends to receive a gold medal to honor him, Moira senses him to be the one man on earth who can make her forget everything that has been important in her life. And Lorenzo sets out to confirm this feeling, for since the death of his young wife many years before, he has concentrated solely on his career and has not opened his heart to another woman.
After her first surrender in a dawn tryst, Moira now must face the need to tell her husband. Confronted with a situation beyond his control, Darrell decides that the sole way to handle the matrimonial crisis is to have Moira go to Italy with her lover.
At the Villa Fiorita, Lorenzo’s luxurious and sun-drenched home on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda, the lovers’ dream-like pre-honeymoon begins. Basking in Lorenzo’s adoration and generosity Moira is transformed from a quietly attractive village woman into a creature of elegance and beauty, one who is radiantly and unashamedly in love for the first time in her life.
In England, however, the children have been given a severely edited report of their mother’s disappearance. When their father leaves on a diplomatic mission, Michael and Debby discuss the situation, decide it is not to their liking and resolve to travel to Italy to bring Moira home. To raise money for the expedition, they sell Debby’s pony and Michael’s coin collection. They make their way to Dover, Calais, Paris and the Alps and burst into the Villa Fiorita like a couple of starving vagrants who are also determined to regain their mother. Thus “the battle of the Villa Fiorita” is joined.
Which side will win – lovers or children? For Moira’s two youngsters now find an ally in Lorenzo’s disapproving daughter, Donna (OLIVIA HUSSEY). The last portion of the conflict involves humor, pathos and near-tragedy as the children become fiercer in their resolve to destroy the lovers’ relationship, and Moira and Lorenzo struggle to preserve their happiness. The tide of the battle flows and ebbs, and then a night of terror for all concerned brings a solution.”
“I love the movie and was surprised by Maureen O’Hara, who usually plays a feisty, stubborn character In this she is soft and vulnerable, more malleable in accepting advice from her male counterpart. The children, on whom the plot depends a great deal, are quite wonderful. Martin Stephens (who you may recall was Rossano’s son in “Count Your Blessings”) as O’Hara’s son struck just the right note between obnoxious adolescent and wise older brother. The daughters of the pair were sweet, adorable and obstinate and willful, all the things most twelve year olds are. What a multi-faceted actor Rossano is! First so deliciously happy with his new-found love. Later he is wise and firm in his theories about children and how to deal with their demands. At the end he loses control, becomes totally frustrated and goes out to “get royally drunk”. One hopes for a happy ending, but as in so many of Rossano’s movies, it is impossible.” Connie Liss, New Jersey
Martin Stephens, who co-starred with Rossano and Maureen O’Hara in this film, had worked with him before, in Count Your Blessings when he was nine years old. By the time of Villa Fiorita, Martin had reached the venerable age of fifteen, and was contemplating retirement. According to the Pressbook:
“Martin Stephens, a veteren actor, recently completed his 14th motion picture role … and promptly announced he was ready to retire from the acting profession — at the age of fifteen… now, Martin plans a new career, as an architect. He must first pass his examinations for Advanced Level School, essential for university entrance in England. Thus … Martin plans to retire from acting to emphasize schooling.”
Naturally, we’re certain that your next question will be: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MARTIN STEPHENS? Did he pass his examinations? Did he make it to University? Were his dreams of being an architect fulfilled??? Or did he follow in the footsteps of so many other child actors and sink into a cesspool of depression, juvenile delinquency, drug-addled mindlessness and emotional despair …???
Hardly. Paul Parla, a journalist for Euromovie, conducted an interview with the now 47-year old Martin for their August-September 1996 issue:
“Today, Martin is a very successful European architect and also teaches Vipassena Meditation around the world. When Martin was asked to reflect on his life in the movies, he was all too obliging …
“… Soon after I returned to England, I was given the part of Sigismon in Count Your Blessings (1959) which was filmed in Paris and Hollywood. It was a pleasure to work with Deborah Kerr, Maurice Chevalier (to whom I gave a 70th birthday present of a tie) and Mono Washbourne I, but despite other well known names such as Rossano Brazzi and Ronald Squires, he film was poor and not a patch on Nancy Mitford’s book, “The Blessing”. I still loved the traveling despite suffering from exhaustion in Paris and my father joined us for a little while during the Paris shoot. It was good to see him while I was working there, but this was to be the last film he would join us on. He died of cancer two years later.”
As the interview specifically focused on Martin’s more famous role, from Village of the Damned, his memories of working with Rossano again on “Battle of the Villa Fiorita”, which came later in his career, were not discussed. So, Martin WAS a graduate (and a successful one at that) …
Some Quotes From the Pressbook
According to the Pressbook, Rossano had just finished up one movie (at 10 pm, in Rome). Instead of doing what most of us would have done (go home, dive into bed and sleep for 18 hours), Rossano hit the road, traveling all the way north to Lake Garda, near Verona, about an 8-hour trip. By 8:30 am the next morning, he was back in front of the cameras again, beginning yet another movie – The Battle of the Villa Fiorita. Operating on very little sleep, imagine his reaction as he’s confronted by a Warner Brothers flunkie, whose job it is to write the film’s accompanying press book. Poor flunkie. All he needs is a few quotes from the Star of the Movie, who has just arrived on the set, looking like he hasn’t any sleep. (Which, of course, he hasn’t.) The flunkie timidly approaches and makes his request for a few usuable quotes.
It may have been that a good number of quotes (most of them in Italian, none of them quotable, or even printable) went through Rossano’s mind at this point … but it may also have been that Rossano was the most charming, gregarious actor on the set that day. But even if he was, you’d never know it from the Pressbook!
About Delmar Daves Flying Camera Crane
The Flunkie’s Comment: “Daves is noted for his use of the camera crane, or boom, to zoom in on a scene and capture split-second observations of character and background:
Rossano: “It’s rough on actors who have favorite profiles,” commented Rossano Brazzi, who stars with Maureen O’Hara.
About His Work Schedule:
The Flunkie’s Comment: “Rossano Brazzi, one of Italy’s top international stars, recently finished a film at 10:00 pm in Rome, then left for Verona, and at 8:30 the next morning, started on his 106th motion picture.
Rossano: “I consider myself fortunate when I have a whole weekend between pictures”, Brazzi says of his tight schedule.
(Ooooh, dry sarcasm …! (We love it …)
And lastly, about that pesky “Latin Lover Problem”:
The Flunkie’s Comment: “If Rossano Brazzi, internationally favorite leading man, has his way, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita will be his last motion picture as a Latin Lover … ruggedly handsome, Brazzi has become the idol of millions of woman of all ages, as well as of male movie-fans … with the Battle of the Villa Fiorita, he will undoubtedly further his romantic image, the one he nevertheless wishes to change.”
Rossano Brazzi and Maureen O’Hara in Battle of the Villa Fiorita from the Warner Brother’s lobby card, © 1965, Warner Brothers, U.S.A
Created by the Rossano Brazzi International Network