White telephone films

(Telefoni bianchi)
   Genre. A generic characterization applied, usually with pejorative connotations, to a large number of light comedies and melodramas made in Italy during the Fascist period. Frequently set in elegant upper-class environments, these sophisticated comedies often featured white telephones as part of their decor, hence the name. The majority were produced at Cinecitta between 1938 and 1943, made largely in response to a heightened demand for films for the home market following the with-drawal of the American majors from Italy in the wake of the state monopoly on film distribution introduced by the Alfieri law (1938).
   Modeled in part on the Hollywood screwball comedy and in part on a form of situational social comedy that was flourishing in Hungary in the 1920s — indeed, a large number of them were nominally set in (a largely fictitious) Budapest—these flighty films were extremely popular with audiences but came under fire from serious critics for their frivolousness and unreality. The call for a more realistic and socially conscious cinema that emerged from the pages of film journals such as Cinema was in large part a reaction to the proliferation of the genre. That such films actually served the interests of the Fascist regime in distracting the populace from the harsh realities of the time came to be a widely held view in the immediate postwar period, especially within the context of the advent of neorealism. However, the extent to which the films may have functioned as a form of indirect propaganda for the regime has continued to be a matter of debate. Although the genre is generally associated with many minor directors, the first three films directed by Vittorio De Sica, Rose scarlatte (Red Roses, 1940), Maddalena zero in condotta (Maddalena, Zero for Conduct, 1940), and Teresa Venerdi (Mademoiselle Friday, 1941), are usually listed under the white telephone rubric as are Mario Camerini's Batticuore (Heartbeat, 1939) and Alessandro Blasetti's La Contessa di Parma (The Duchess of Parma, 1937). Among the other directors who came to be associated with the genre were Carmine Gallone, Mario Mattoli, Raffaello Matarazzo, Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, Nunzio Malasomma, Camillo Mastrocinque, Giacomo Gentilomo, and several central European directors also working in Italy at the time, including Max (or Massimiliano) Neufeld, Laszlo Vajda, and Laszlo Kish.
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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