Together with Zampa and Rodolfo Sonego, I worked at the screenplay of Il Vigile. I had previously worked on another screenplay with Benvenuti and De Bernardi but the one of Il Vigile was the first that I followed from the beginning to the end. I used to handwrite everything then, every night, Sonego would tell me: «So Paolo, reread it now».
This was Sonego’s method: starting again every time from the first scene. It was a very slow process, line after line, scene after scene. Sordi used to come every other day, he was very involved since the beginning. One day the producer came and told us: «We cannot get the permits to film in Rome»; this was due to the fact that the screenplay was clearly inspired by the true story of a traffic policeman who, in Rome, once fined the local Police Commissioner.
My family is from Viterbo, my grandmother’s surname is Schenardi. I remember the “Gran Caffè Schenardi” as I used to go there when I was a kid. I know Viterbo quite well so I timidly proposed: «Why don’t we film in Viterbo?». The first answer was «Oh no, what’s Viterbo got to do with Rome?» then, the day after: «Well, the idea of filming in Viterbo is not so bad actually…it is close to Rome ad Viterbo is beautiful, it has a lot of character, it looks like an old quarter of Rome, people still talk to each other from the windows of their houses…». This is how the idea of filming in Viterbo was born.
I have a house in Tuscania, I often take the motorway to get there and every time I pass by Bagnaia I think to myself: «Slow down…here comes the deadly bend….».
I remember the day we filmed there (the sequence of the car crash): De Sica was supposed to go back to Rome after the shooting, he had a big, Lancia car at the time and a driver. There were two suitcases in the boot of his car, both open, a shirt and a tie in each one of them. De Sica told me that he had two families, two wives, and every time he went back to Rome he had to visit both, therefore he always paid attention to carefully remember which tie and shirt had been given to him by which wife. During a break, while De Sica was asleep, Alberto Sordi swapped the content of his suitcases. The following Monday, De Sica came back on the set, looking for the person who made the swap…as one of his two wives had beaten him during the weekend!
It was winter – or maybe autumn – when we filmed Il Vigile in Viterbo as I remember that in Bagnaia the locals had already placed the barrels by the fountain, ready to be filled with must. One night Sordi told us: «Let’s go and roll the barrels!». At first, I thought it was a joke but he really did it. It felt like being in a scene of I Vitelloni, Sordi had this kind of sense of humour.
I remember Carlo Pisacane as well. At the time, he had recently married a young girl from Naples: he was so jealous of her that, while we were filming, he kept her locked in a hotel room. He used to go back to the hotel every day at lunchtime, just to spend some time with her.
I remember the first, windy winter nights in Viterbo: the smell of wood stoves and fireplaces filled the air. We were staying in different hotels but we always had dinner together in the same restaurant by Porta Fiorentina. A part from night time, we would always spend the rest of the time together: all of us but De Sica, who was not as present on the set as Sordi.
We filmed the very first scene – the one of the traffic jam – by Porta Fiorentina. The production supplied a significant number of cars still we managed to cause a real traffic jam. The camera was not so visible but the fake traffic policeman was, therefore the local drivers followed his instructions and got really mad at him.
After the shooting session, I tried to help as much as I could to restore a normal circulation in town as apparently the whole Cassia road was stuck because of the set. I helped real traffic policemen, I apologized to the angry drivers. I remember getting close to a car, to try and explain the situation to the driver: inside there were two kids, their mother and the gentleman behind the wheel was President Leone, who was a Senator at the time. He was terribly angry: «What’s going on?» he said. «We are filming a movie» I replied.
«A movie? What movie?». His mood changed immediately when his children started asking him to stop and watch Alberto Sordi on the set.
The scene of the political rally is just unforgettable! We were filming in Piazza del Comune. Vincenzo Talarico, who played the leading role in that scene, was so taken by the heat of the moment that kept talking and talking even after finishing his lines. I remember Zampa shouting at him «Stop! Enough!» but Talarico could not hear him because he was too close to the loudspeakers. It was hilarious!
Luigi Leoni was another interesting character on the set of that movie: he was so tall and slim that he was nicknamed “the nail”. Alberto Sordi used to take him on the set as he believed that he brought him luck. I think he was the delivery boy in a bakery’s, I scouted him in a night club in Rome.