Interview with Antonio Margheriti (1970)

This is the English translation of an interview with director Antonio Margheriti alias Anthony M. Dawson conducted by Luigi Cozzi. The interview was originally published in Italian, in the Italian monthly magazine Horror, in May 1970. You can find more info about Italian horror movies in the monograph Vampires in Italian Cinema, 1956-1975 (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). If you are interested in buying the book, feel free to use the launch discount code EVENT30 for 30% off.

Antonio Margheriti: I started trafficking in the film business [in the late 1940s] when I was nineteen years old. I did a bit of everything, the most disgusting stuff, believe me, and I worked my way up. Up to now, I had an active part in the making of at least 100 films, an incredible number, if you think about it. At the beginning of my career I was a jack of all trades, then I started writing stories and screenplays, and finally I specialized in film editing.

Luigi Cozzi: And then you became a film director.

Margheriti: Yes, but I also tried – and I am still trying – to be a producer. Probably I am making a mistake: I should just direct films and enjoy life with the money I make… and yet I prefer to spend my money in producing films that cost more and more every day. Unfortunately, cinema is a drug for me and I can’t do without it. I don’t know if you understand what I mean.

Cozzi: What are your preferences? Is there a horror/sci-fi story or novel that you would like to bring to the screen?

Margheriti: After 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), there was a re-evaluation of sci-fi cinema, and one day I would like to make a serious sci-fi film, perhaps based on that famous book, The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. As for horror… I don’t know. I have no projects in mind at the moment. The only thing I can say is that my best film so far belongs to the horror genre. It is Danza macabra / Castle of Blood (1963).

Cozzi: Being a 1963 film, Danza macabra predates the current madness of lesbian and sapphic themes.

Margheriti: Yes, Danza macabra had a lot of erotic bits that were quite racy. The Barbara Steele character was clearly lesbian and I showed that. The [Italian] censorship didn’t hinder us and everything went fine. In any case, Danza macabra is my favorite film. Maybe because I could shoot it in tranquility, choosing the actors I considered appropriate [for the story] rather than using the actors imposed on me by producers and distributors… Apart from Barbara Steele, naturally.

Cozzi: You also directed Christopher Lee and Claude Rains, two specialists in the fantastic genre.

Margheriti: Yes, I directed Rains in Il pianeta degli uomini spenti / Battle of the Worlds (1961) and Lee in La vergine di Norimberga / Horror Castle (1963). The latter movie is not bad, it was based on a novel [La vergine di Norimberga by Maddalena Gui alias Frank Boghart] published [in 1960] in Marco Vicario’s horror novel series [KKK (1959-1972)]. Yes, that Marco Vicario, the guy who directed 7 uomini d’oro (1965), whose shooting I helped to prepare. Not coincidentally, [my film] La vergine di Norimberga stars Marco Vicario’s wife, Rossana Podestà.

Cozzi: Did you know that both Danza macabra and La vergine di Norimberga were big hits in the USA?

Margheriti: Indeed. For a number of years now I have been working in close relations with American companies and I funded my own company over there, with two American associates. Business is good in the USA, especially thanks to MGM, which holds me in high regard: MGM has just asked me to make a film called Buck Rogers in the 21st Century. But I don’t know if I will accept the offer, this project would interest me only for its satirical aspects. And just to give you an example of how much they appreciate me in the USA, did you know that they even called me to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Cozzi: Please, explain.

Margheriti: Well, it is the usual story. They were convinced that I was a sort of magician with special effects… So MGM and Kubrick called me to take care of the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey and we worked together for a long time, even if in the end a lot of the materials we prepared were not used in the film, because for the shots in outer space Kubrick decided to use a photography technique I didn’t know much about. In the end, Kubrick continued his work with other technicians.

Cozzi: What do you think about 2001: A Space Odyssey? Have you seen it?

Margheriti: Sure, I was there in the studios during the shooting of the film and I saw the original print [the director’s cut], the one that lasted more than five hours. The version that was released in theaters all over the world is only half of the Kubrick version; and, believe me, the [director’s cut] was far better and more comprehensible [than the theatrical version]. The cuts of the theatrical version are too violent and abrupt. They were not made by Kubrick but by MGM, for the usual distribution issues.

Cozzi: Your first film was Space Men / Assignment: Outer Space (1960), an epic adventure set in outer space. Tell us how did you get involved in the project.

Margheriti: Well, what can I say? It simply happened. In that period I was doing a lot of editing work for Titanus. Back then Titanus was a big production company and one day they asked me if I wanted to make this film. I said yes, obviously. I am not going to tell you under which conditions we worked in order to make Space Men. Crazy stuff. I made the film in fourteen days and I spent 41,000,000 lire, which is very little money. And I remember that Titanus released the movie without even telling me. One day I was in my cubbyhole in the Titanus building, making some trick shots with stars and spaceships. A friend of mine came in and told me that Space Men had its premiere in Trieste and made 750,000 lire in one day, a big sum. I am not going to tell you how I reacted to this news, because the trick shots I was making were to be used in Space Men.

Cozzi: […] What are your plans for the future?

Margheriti: I have a big project now, a Disney-style comedy that I am making for the US market. It will also be released here [in Italy], at Easter, I believe. It is called L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile / Mr. Superinvisible (1970) and the protagonist is Dean Jones from The Love Bug (Robert Stevenson, 1968). […] Then I want to make another Disney-style movie. I bought the rights of the second novel in the That Darn Cat! series and I am going to adapt it for the screen. These are very expensive films, but with the help of American distribution they should do well [at the box office]. At least I hope so: we are going to use 40,000 meters of negative film but, as of now, I have already signed 80,000 meters of promissory notes.

Cozzi: For your That Darn Cat! movie are you going to use Disney’s Siamese cat?

Margheriti: Oh, no! I will use a dog called Geremia, from that awful English film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968). I had to pay an excessive amount of money for this dog to be in my film […]. Luckily, I love animals. My house is full of them, it looks like a zoo. Last time I checked, I discovered that I have ten dogs and thirty cats. And since I own a Siamese cat that is very beautiful and good-natured… well… my own cat will obviously be the protagonist of my film. You have to save money once in a while, if you can.

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