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SMOG (1962; Video Screams).

A European visitor experiences his first taste of America, guided by unexpected new friends, in this fish-out-of-water tale from director Franco Rossi. An Italian production, filmed entirely in the US, with most of its characters speaking English-subtitled Italian, it offers a funny and enlightening excursion across Los Angeles, littered with absurd situations and ingratiating encounters. Curiously, the film didn't make its LA premiere until 1973... On his way to Mexico City, successful Italian lawyer Vittorio Ciocchetti (Enrico Maria Salerno) ends up stuck in LA when his flight is delayed, and decides to spend his lengthy layover exploring the area, even though he doesn't speak or understand English. After exhaustingly wandering the sunny streets on foot, in a suit and tie -- quickly realizing he's the only person who actually walks in this city -- Vittorio runs into fellow Italian Mario Scarpelli (Renato Salvatori), a perpetually-scheming jack-of-all-trades, who abruptly drags Vittorio along on various jobs and side trips, from teaching bored American housewives Italian to cooking for a Hollywood Hills cocktail party. Vittorio covers a lot of ground -- from Beverly Hills to Pasadena, with the production filming in 80 different locations -- as he's passed from one expatriate to the next. After Mario, it's lovely, self-made businesswoman Gabriella (Annie Girardot) and her friends, including model Isabella Albonico and socialite Peter Howard (the former stepson to George Vanderbilt, who'd been unceremoniously ejected from Italy in 1958). From dinner at a bowling alley that's also hosting a fashion show, to a late-night dip in Gabriella's hilltop pool, to a swanky soiree attended by the city's elite, some of the Italians Vittorio meets are lonely, other desperate to succeed, while Gabriella seems oddly wistful about her new life in smog-laden LA... The cast is uniformly fine, particularly Girardot and Salvatori, who'd co-starred together in ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS and were wed soon after this production, while Salerno (who previously starred in Rossi's French Polynesian outing NUDE ODYSSEY) makes Vittorio pompous yet likeable. His character finds himself welcomed wherever he goes and slowly loosens up, as frustrations at being lost or unable to get back to the airport eventually take a backseat to the sights and people of this strange and materialistic city. Also look for Len Lesser (SEINFELD's Uncle Leo) as a famous Italian abstract artist and LORD LOVE A DUCK's Max Showalter as an American party guest. But the real star of this film is Ted McCord's black-and-white cinematography, which scrupulously avoids the usual tourist spots and beautifully captures the region's more unique niches -- from LAX's sleek interiors and the oil wells of Culver City, to stately old mansions and an ultra-mod domed residence. Plotlessly shambling between snippets of character-driven introspection and capped off with a particularly eerie ending, this whirlwind tour through an outsider's eyes is humorous, maddening and unpredictably melancholy.

© 2019 by Steven Puchalski.