Plot: Saddled with a string of gambling debts he cannot pay, the Baron of Santafusca sets about selling off his all possessions until, finally, he is forced to sell the family home to a ruthless debt collector who had previously been kicked out of the priesthood. As the two begin to haggle over the final price the Baron of Santafusca loses control of his senses and kills the would-be priest, starting off a chain of events that will lead to his eventual downfall.
Produced by Sandro Ghenzi for Universalia, in association with Cines, the film was shot at Cinecittà in the summer of 1943 but only received its premiere in Rome after the liberation, on the 10th of November 1944. The shooting title was Castigo/Penitence.
Director Ferdinando Maria Poggioli entered the film industry during the sound era, starting out as an editor before directing his first feature, Impressioni Siciliane, in 1931. He directed his last film in 1944, before quitting the film industry to become an antiques dealer. Unusually open about his homosexuality in a time when it could have destroyed his career, he committed suicide just one year later in 1945.
This was not the first attempt at bringing Emilio De Marchi’s novel to the big screen. The film had previously been announced under the title Il Cappello del Prete/The Priest’s Hat and was to be produced by the ATA production company, with a screenplay by Mario Bonfantini, Aldo Buzzi and Alberto Lattuada, with Lattuada also taking on directorial duties. The project was eventually cancelled. (Si Gira, Feb 1942)
The Priest’s Hat, the original novel:
Published episodically in 1887 in the appendix of a daily Milanese newspaper ‘L’Italia del Popolo’, The Priest’s Hat, by Emilio De Marchi proved to be an enormous success, selling thousands of copies in the first few months it went on sale in bookshops in a volume of stories collected and curated by the publisher Treves.
An extraordinary feat for an Italian work, before the century came to a close it had been translated in the United States, Hungary, Germany, France, England and Denmark, and by 1913 it had been reprinted seven times in Italy. A circulation quite out of the ordinary in a country where literacy levels were still very low, its success exemplified De Marchi’s ability to manage an intricate narrative plot, putting it on a linguistic level that is both simple yet captivating. It is a giallo, The Priest’s Hat: probably the first giallo in the history of Italian literature.