CEIAD - COLUMBIA TRISTAR HOME VIDEO, SAN PAOLO AUDIOVISIVI
A brilliant comedy made even more unforgettable by the extraordinary actors Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. A pleasant film that, with its simplicity and consistency, is both funny and moving at the same time and although a lot of things have changed since the Sixties, in America and in the rest of the world, it will always be “a love story of today”, just like the original poster says. Many consider it a bit too optimistic for those days, Guess who’s coming to dinner is the story of the reaction of two families who receive the unexpected news that their children are marrying: she is a white American (Joey, played by Katherine Hepburn) and he is an African doctor (doctor Prentice, played by Sydney Poitier). A very recent issue, since inter-racial weddings were no longer considered against the law only in 1967, the same year the film came out. “Things are changing” says doctor Prentice to Matt Drayton, Joey’s father (S.Tracy), to reassure him: he surely didn’t think that sentences like “Joey is convinced that our children will all become President of the United States…I would be happy with Secretary of State, considered at the time as simple jokes, would no longer have scandalized anyone in the future, but could be important to remember the goals achieved since then. Not that today the racial issue can be considered solved everywhere: reactions like Mr and Mrs Drayton’s and doctor Prentice’s parents’ are still common, whether they are marriages between black and whites or any other race (just think about the film Guess Who, 2005, clearly inspired by Kramers comedy). For this reason, Guess who’s coming to dinner is still interesting and makes us think for it’s being so modern
The biggest task that dialogue writers and dubbers had to face is linked to the theatrical nature of this comedy, therefore to the richness of its dialogues, and close-ups, that require a great attention for the synch. Without considering the extraordinary acting talent of Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, who would have discouraged anyone. Yet, watching the Italian version over and over again, you do not catch any fuzzy parts. The merit goes to artists with a great experience, historic names in the Italian dubbing industry: from Pino Locchi (Sean Connery’s historic dubber) to Renato Turi (who dubbed Walter Mathau and Lee Marvin among others), from Lidia Simoneschi (considered the “queen of dubbing”) to Rosetta Calavetta (the first voice of Snowhite and also voice of Marilyn Monroe in many films).I think that the emotional drive of the film did the rest. All characters were incredibly characterized, both in the choice of the voices and in their expression: Anna Miserocchi rendered the elegance, sweetness and determination of Christina Drayton/Katherine Hepburn pretty well (excellent when she gets rid of that gossiper of her friend, acted very well by Rosetta Calavetta); Corrado Gaipa played Spencer Tracy even more cross with his “big voice”; Pino Locchi, with his clear and determined voice acted the well-mannered doctor Prentice/Sidney Poitier very well; the freshness, enthusiasm and candour of Joey/Katherine Hepburn are well acted by Fiorella Beti; Tillie, the black maid (the debut of Isabell Stanford, Louis from the Jeffersons) is interpreted perfectly by Lidia Simoneschi; Mr Prentice/Roy Glenn has got a deep, croaky voice with Renato Turi. The only character that seems a little out of place is Mrs Prentice (Beah Richards, acted by Dhia Cristiani), who speaks a bit too sophisticated for a black woman from working class, plus her voice is clearly “white”. Of course, the merit for a good characterization does not only go to the dubbers, but also to the dubbing direction and of course to the person who wrote the dialogues of the film, Ferdinando Contestabile, another historic name in dialogue writing. If on one side, the Italian voices tried to substitute for the American English and Black American English of the original version (while the Irish of Monsignor Ryan/Cecil Kellaway is lost), with the dialogues there was an attempt to characterize characters from a socio-cultural point of view: especially the attempt to render some atypical Black American English ways of saying when the black maid and Mr Prentice speak, using more colloquial expressions (for those days) and simple sentences: an example for all, Tillie’s “I don’t understand nothing no more” becomes «Io non ci capisco più niente, ma niente». We can’t not notice how the Italian dialogues perfectly suit the characters and we have the illusion that everything is happening in our living room and not in far away San Francisco. The following lines definitely feel the passing on of the years: «Ho lasciato l’ambasciata alla galleria» (to say «I left a message to mom»), «Visto che argomenti?» (for «Isn’t she a knockout?»), «la grande nuova» (for «the good news»), «Organizzazione Mondiale d’Igiene” (for «World Health Organization»), «aprire la televisione» (for «turn on the TV»), «il Reverendo Martin Lutero King», «meglio che mi segga» (for “I should take a seat”), etc. There is also a use of “loro” instead of “voi” (polite forms) in second person plural, especially when doctor Prentice speaks to Joey’s parents. They never seem to be inadequate, actually more modern dialogues would probably not be suitable for such a film.
Considering the dialogues more in detail, there are some aspects that made me feel quite perplex. First of all, I don’t understand why the choice was to use the word “pranzo” (lunch) from the beginning to the end when they were actually referring to “cena” (dinner), the title of the film (except in the few lines that recall the whole sentence). Furthermore, I was quite puzzled by the total loss of the reference to a Beatle’s song: «Oh, what was that the Beatles sang? We can work it out... we can work it out» that was translated «Oh, come fa quella canzone beatles? Ce la caverem... ce la caverem...»: it must have been purposely done since the Beatles were already so famous in 1967 that even an Italian cover was made (many Beatles songs were re-written in Italian), after it arrived to Italy in 1966. But it seems that in Italy in 1966, 1967 the Italian beat was even more well known than the Beatles: this is why they chose to simplify the cultural reference that risked not being understood by everyone in those days. There are other examples in which culture specific references were simplified for the Italian audience of those times ((«the Governor of Alabama», quoted as an example of racism against the black, is changed to “the boss of the Ku Klux Klan”) or generalized like («Where’s Arnold Palmer?», an American golf player, (changed into “Where is the golf champion”?). There are other cases in which the Italian dialogues stress the original too much. For instance, at the beginning of the film the taxi driver is speaking to doctor Prentice and calls him “Mac”, which is kept, mistakenly in my opinion, in the Italian version. “Mac” is used in the United States to refer to a stranger in an informal way: we could say it’s something like “capo” in Italian or something more suitable for those years, but I wouldn’t have left the original. A few moments after we hear someone saying to doctor Prentice on the phone: «area codice» for «area code», in Italian «codice area» or «prefisso area»). Finally, «discomfort» is translated with «sconforto» instead of «disagio». In any case, I think that dialogue adaptation and dubbing are both of high quality. Not only for the way the dialogues were made and for the great attention to Sync but also and especially, thanks to the extraordinary human, linguistic and artistic sensitivity that the dialogue writer, dubbers and dubbing director were able to pass on to the audience.
[original review in Italian by Giuliana Sana]