The prodigious Lina Wertmuller continues her film-a-year career with “Ferdinand and Carolina,” an irreverent, generously budgeted costumer set in 18 th century Naples. Despite its sumptuous court setting, pic is more a distant descendant of “Tom Jones” than in the vein of such recent Anglo costumers as “Elizabeth,” preferring tongue-in-cheek vulgarity, sex and bug-eyed character actors. Lighthearted script is marred by large amounts of expository dialogue delivered by the supporting cast and an abrupt finale. Starless cast may have trouble drawing at the local B.O., but that shouldn’t hamper this Italo-French frolic much offshore.
Old King Ferdinand (the great Mario Scaccia) has a seizure at a card game and is hurried to bed by his governess (Isa Danieli) and the rest of the court. In flashback, he, she or they (pic has no clear p.o.v.) reminisce about the early years of his reign.
Left to run wild with the local bumpkins, Ferdinand (newcomer Sergio Assisi) is a child terror whose speech, manners and thinking are pure rustic Neapolitan. At 16 he becomes king, whereupon his regents and advisers arrange a state marriage to a Hapsburg princess. She, however, dies of smallpox, and so does her next-in-line sister. When a third sister is proposed, superstitious Ferdinand wants nothing to do with the bad-luck family. He already has a breathtaking lover, the Princess of Medina (Nicole Grimaudo), with whom to play erotic games in his Chinese pagoda by the sea.
But Reasons of State intrude. Dictatorial Austrian Empress Maria Teresa (Silvana De Santis, in pic’s most amusing perf) marches daughter Maria Carolina (Gabriella Pession) to Naples for a rollicking wedding night with Ferdinand, and the two youngsters find much common ground in bed. Despite a fling with a French seductress (Lola Pagnani), Ferdinand falls into the clutches of his strong-willed wife, who history tells us will have a lot to do with ruling the kingdom of the Two Sicilies during and after the French Revolution.
While hinting at the bloodthirsty, head-chopping reign that earned Ferdinand a bad reputation, Wertmuller and scripter Raffaele La Capria prefer to underline his playful, hungry-for-life side, which young thesp Assisi delivers with a vengeance. Pession amuses as his whip-wielding baby consort, who has learned ambition at her mama’s side.
With frequent use of wide-angle lenses, cinematographer Blasco Giurato exalts the warm Neapolitan hues and colder Viennese colors of awe-inspiring court architecture, which often dwarfs the characters. Enrico Job and Bruno Amalfitano’s lavish production design at times drowns the pic in decor. Editing is fast-moving throughout, and music full of Neapolitan brio.