Series of extremely successful (at least in the 1950s) and much beloved books, movies, TV shows and audio dramas about a Catholic priest and a Communist mayor in a small town in post-World War II Italy
The Don Camillo
stories were written by Giovanni Guareschi in 1945 for satirical magazine Candido
, and soon afterward published as books. All the stories center on the hotheaded priest Don Camillo Tarocci (who often talks to Jesus
... and Jesus talks back) and his eternal rivalry with Giuseppe "Peppone" Bottazzi, the communist mayor of his little town, Brescello. Both are authority figures for the town, both fought in the war together, and both like using their fists to decide their arguments. Most of the stories tell about the life in a small town, where everybody knows everybody, but many people do not like each other, which is pretty accurate as small towns go...
It is pretty much of a historical document of a time when both the Italian Communist Party and the Roman Catholic Church had a grassroots-like basis in Italian society but were diametrically opposite to each other in quite a few teachings, but if you went down to their basics they were quite similar in many respects. Even if both would have never admitted it to anyone.
The Don Camillo
stories present this conflict on a smaller scale: a small, rural town in the Po valley. Both sides are represented by Don Camillo and his parishioners on the one side, and Peppone and his communists on the other. Of course even the most staunchly communist party member in Peppone's band still is a good Italian Catholic, and even if they might decry the church at every possible moment, they still will come to Don Camillo for everything important (baptisms, funerals, weddings...). Don Camillo on the other hand is not that staunchly against the communist cause as some of his wealthiest parishioners would like: he sees the reasons why poor people turn to communism, and he decries the greed and avarice of the rich catholic landowners. "I don't listen to you, you're a Bolshevik priest!" one of them says when Don Camillo does not immediately take his side.
Don Camillo and Peppone go back a long time, and they obviously don't like each other, and be it only for political reasons. On the other hand, neither of them actually can live without the other. When Camillo is Reassigned to Antarctica
at the end of the first movie, Peppone tries to get him back. Even if Peppone would never admit to that.
All that plays out in front of typical small town stories: most of the stories are rather short, light reading, the movies are mostly anthological, weaving together the short tales from the books with meandering plots. But often they also provide a biting commentary on social ills of the time, with a healthy dose of humour.
The Don Camillo series consists of:Books:
- Mondo Piccolo "Don Camillo" (The Little World of Don Camillo, 1948)
- Mondo Piccolo: Don Camillo e il suo gregge (Don Camillo and His Flock, 1953)
- Il Compagno Don Camillo (Comrade Don Camillo, 1963)
- Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi (in USA: Don Camillo Meets the Flower Children, 1969, England: Don Camillo Meets Hell's Angels, 1970)
- Gente coś (1980)
- Lo spumarino pallido (1981)
- Noi del Boscaccio (1983)
- L'anno di Don Camillo (1986)
- Il decimo clandestino (1987)
- Ciao Don Camillo (1996)
- Don Camillo e Don Chich́ (1996)
The "Classic" movies with Fernandel and Gino Cervi which still are famous in Europe:
- The Little World of Don Camillo (fr. Le petit monde de Don Camillo/it. Don Camillo)
- The Return of Don Camillo (fr. Le retour de Don Camillo/it. Il ritorno di Don Camillo)
- Don Camillo's Last Round (fr. La grande Bagarre de Don Camillo/it. Don Camillo e l'onorevole Peppone)
- Don Camillo: Monsignor (fr. Don Camillo Monseigneur/it. Don Camillo monsignore ma non troppo)
- Don Camillo in Moscow (fr. Don Camillo en Russie/it. Il compagno Don Camillo)
A sixth film, fr. Don Camillo et les contestataires
/ it. Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi
(Don Camillo and the Red-Haired Girl
), was in the making in 1971 when Fernandel collapsed while shooting. He died a month later, the movie unfinished. Out of respect for him, the studio completely remade the movie with another actor instead of showing the unfinished movie. The resulting film is considered an absolute failure.
In 1983, The World of Don Camillo (it. Don Camillo)
in a modernized form by Italian star Terrence Hill as director, producer and main actor, with his complete family in supporting roles. It turned out better than expected, but still did not even come close to the originals.
In 1980, The BBC
made a TV series with Mario Adorf as Don Camillo and BRIAN BLESSED
Tropes as found in the Don Camillo series:
- Action Girl: Don Camillo's niece Elisabetta in Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi, a (former) member of a biker gang, parachutist and aggressive businesswoman. Due to her bulldozer-like qualities she is better known by her nickname Cat (short for Caterpillar).
- Author Avatar: To some extent Jesus on the crucifix. As Guareschi explained in the foreword to the first book, if priests feel offended because of Don Camillo or Communists because of Peppone, they can take it out on him with all sorts of violence,
[...] but if someone feels offended because of Christ's talk, there is nothing to be done. He who speaks in my stories is not Christ, but my Christ, that is: the voice of my conscience.
- Back to School: In the third movie, there is one arc where Peppone has to take the primary school finals because he missed them/never made it past third grade. He almost fails. Don Camillo trades the correct solutions for political concessions.
- In one of the first published stories and the first movie, after Peppone is first elected to mayor, he and his comrades (who are mostly ill-educated peasants and craftsmen) go to take evening classes from the old village schoolmarm. She however refuses to accept Peppone as a student because she can remember too many of his youthful pranks.
- Badass Preacher: Don Camillo is the quintessential example in European fiction. He has no problems clobbering a dozen comrades or throwing a table at them for mocking him, nor does he have any problem threatening the communist mayor and his gang with a submachine gun to obtain funding for his garden city project.
- Brick Joke: early on in the third movie, Don Camillo uses a fake 5000 Lire bill to buy one of Pepone's communist news papers. The bill is forgotten about afterwards untill, at the end of the movie, Pepone hands it back to Don Camillo as 'payment' for Don Camillo helping him carry his suitcases.
- Canon Discontinuity: Despite nominally part of the series the 6th movie is mostly forgotten by fans. This goes so far that some countries (e.g. Germany) plainly refused to import the movie at all.
- The Coats Are Off: every time characters settle things with their fists, i.e. often.
- Coffin Contraband: Partisan leader Peppone and village priest Don Camillo collude to hide a lot of incriminating weapons this way, once from the German occupiers and once from their British liberators, who are keen for the partisans to disarm and disband.
- Confessional: The very first Don Camillo story is called "The Confession". Things continue from there.
- Continuity Reboot: Terrence Hill, back then Italian/European megastar and fan of the original movies, tried to make a reboot nearly on his own... alas, despite Don Camillo now riding a spiffy Motocross bike and having rollerblade parties in his church it never went anywhere.
- Cycle of Revenge: Between the families of Ciro (Communist) and Filotti (clerical) in the story Juliet and Romeo (adapted in the second movie, see "Star-Crossed Lovers"). Interestingly the cycle actually amounts to a de-escalation, as it begins in 1908 when Filotti shoots Ciro with buckshot when he threatens a priest at mass during a general strike, but eventually retribution and conflicts between successive generations always lead to ritualized fistfights between the two family patriarchs.
- Dangerously Close Shave: In one story Don Camillo provokes the murderer by getting shaved by him, essentially bringing over the message "You can kill me but you won't escape divine nemesis!".
- Dirty Communists: Don Camillo and his parishioners consider Peppone and the communist villagers like this.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In the second movie, Don Camillo carries his old parish's cross up a steep hill to the village in the mountains. In heavy rain.
- Downer Ending: A few of the short stories have these, e. g. that of one inhabitant of the town who was deported to Germany during the war and there fell in love a German girl who had lost her entire family in an air raid. However, because the German forces in Italy had shot one of the boy's brothers, the family would never accept a German daughter-in-law. In the end the girl poisons herself and all Don Camillo can do is to see to it that the child of the "unknown" dead woman is adopted by the boy's family.
- Face Doodling: In the third movie, Don Camillo drawns a goatee and two evil horns on Peppone's giant portrait. General hilarity ensues when said portrait is publicly revealed for the elections.
- Fantastic Catholicism: Don Camillo hides firearms in his church, just in case.
- Fascist Italy: Appears in flashback in a number of stories. Both Peppone and Don Camillo had for instance been victimized by Fascist activists before Mussolini's rise to power.
- In Comrade Don Camillo, the brother of one of the Communist leaders had been a Blackshirt, and killed in the action at Eastern Front.
- Foil: Jesus to Don Camillo.
- Friendly Enemy: Don Camillo and Peppone can't live with each other, they might fight each other all the time, but more for ideological reasons. Peppone even names his son after Camillo (after a fistfight).
- Godwin's Law: Subverted, as in the heat of the moment opposing characters show no hesitation to call each other fascists, e. g. Peppone sarcastically calling Don Camillo "Duce" and Gina Filotti needling Peppone by referring to him as podestà - the term for "mayor" under Fascism - instead of sindaco.
- Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Happens to Don Camillo in the fourth movie. And also in the first book.
- Good Shepherd: When Don Camillo is reassigned to a small village in the mountains in the second movie, his old parishioners do not react well to the new priest. They go as far as not dying on their deathbed because they want Don Camillo to give them the last rites. Even Peppone and his comrades find themselves wishing he'd come back.
- Hypocrite: Don Camillo is not above this when trying to one-up Peppone; when his soccer team gets beaten by Peppone's, he throws the corrupt referee out of his church after he admitted he had been bribed by the mayor. Jesus of course points out that Don Camillo did the same. Peppone just paid more.
- This also happens with Peppone a few times, e. g. when Don Camillo is sent off to the village in the mountains, he lets it be known to the parishioners that none of them should dare to show up to send him off from the railway station. And then he and his comrades show up to send him off themselves.
- Jesus Was Way Cool
- Kicked Upstairs: in the fourht movie, Don Camillo and Peppone have been promoted to Bishop and Senator respectively and both moved to Rome. It is mentioned however this was done purely to get them out of the village since they kept causing trouble.
- Known Only by Their Nickname: This being rural Italy, many characters are known only by their nicknames, most obviously Peppone's recurring sidekicks Bigio ("the grey one"), Brusco ("the harsh one") and Smilzo ("the skinny one"). And when someone calls Peppone "comrade Bottazzi", it's either an outsider or Don Camillo taking the Mickey out of him.
- Peppone himself counts as one. Peppone is augmentative, i.e. "large form" of his first name Giuseppe in Italian language, meaning literally "Big Joe".
- Even YOU didn't know Don Camillo and Peppones family names before visiting TVTropes, right? Even if 'Tarocci' is just the surname used by Don Camillo to pose as a communist, and it belongs to an actual comrade, like his passport.
- Literal Ass Kicking: "Lord," groaned Don Camillo, clasping his hands and looking up at the crucifix, "my hands were made for blessing... but not my feet!"
- Morality Pet: Peppone's youngest son is often what keeps Don Camillo from going too far with his vendettas against him, and in more than one occasion his innocent pleas convince the priest to help his father when he really needs it.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Fernandel kept talking with his strong accent from Marseilles throughout the whole series while he was supposed to play a Northern Italian priest. Although he was voiced over by Carlo Romano in the Italian version for the most part.
- Not So Different: Don Camillo and Peppone may represent completely opposing ideologies, but they are equally pugnacious, scheming, corrupt, unsophisticated...and fundamentally decent at heart.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Peppone falls between this and Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. Although at the start of the series he is barely literate and generally appears intellectually inferior to Don Camillo, he outsmarts him on occasion and proves a competent mayor. Guareschi explains this that Peppone was a son of a farmhand and had to go to work early in his life to support his family. He also was conscripted to First World War, effectively denying him the opportunity to education. At one point, after a particularly effective election campaign by the Christian Democrats, it seems that he is going to be ousted from power, but he turns the tables with a deceptively simple speech that sounds almost like a concession of defeat, asking voters to treat the election as report card as to how good a job he and his comrades did. On hearing this, even Don Camillo votes for him and he is re-elected by a huge margin. In his private life Peppone also proves very adaptable: originally a blacksmith, he becomes a highly skilled car mechanic in the 1930s and by Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi his business has expanded into a big emporium selling everything from cars to refrigerators (partly thanks to convincing his comrades to become stockholders in his company).
- Pals with Jesus: Don Camillo often has a conversation with Jesus himself whenever he is close to a crucifix (and even with the Virgin Mary once in the first movie). The Christ does not respond to him when he is overwhelmed by anger though.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Peppone is Red to Don Camillo's Blue.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: After lashing out a bit too much Camillo is reassigned to a small village in the mountains in the second movie. Where it is constantly snowing, where no car can go, and where the parishioners don't really like him.
- Also Peppone's election as a representative to Italian Parliament in Rome feels him like being reassigned to Antarctica.
- Republican Italy: The series contains many topical political references, as Peppone, the town mayor, head of the local Communist Party, and, for a time, Senator, and others comment on the issues of the day. The republic is also still young - some minor characters still are unequivocal royalists.
- La Résistance: Both Don Camillo and Peppone were antifascist partisans in the war and fought on the same side. They still were bickering though.
- In the books, Don Camillo was no partisan, although he did hide people from the Germans and celebrated Mass for the partisans. Guareschi also does not romanticize the Guerra Clandestina - some ex-partisans are shown to have used the war as a pretext to settle private scores, to steal and even murder. Though Peppone and his group are portrayed as having behaved honorably (apart from stealing a coopful of chickens to celebrate victory). For instance, they did get their hands on a treasure stolen by the Germans (on the rationale that otherwise the British soldiers in the area would have taken it), but used it entirely to build the House of the People and Don Camillo's kindergarten for the good of the entire town.
- They used the treasure to build Don Camillo's kindergarten under the threat of a machine gun only.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: The lovers from the first movie: One is from a rich Catholic family, and one from a poor Communist family. Both families living next to each other and fighting all the time. Of course both fall in love, and in the end they try to commit suicide together. Even with a shout out to Romeo and Juliet in the narration, the story is clearly copied from Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe (they are separated by a wall with a crack in it).
- In the book, however, it is not a wall, but a wire-mesh fence with a hole in it that separates the two farms.
- Super Strength: Don Camillo hits stronger than a professional boxer. He can also lift tables weighing more than 200 kg and throw them with ease.
- Peppone is Don Camillo's equal (or nearly equal) as far as pure strength is concerned, but the priest has a bit of an edge through his better technique.
- It's not just technique, it's also faith. Several times, when Don Camillo is overtaken by righteous anger or a simple need to do the right thing, he'll perform feats of strength even more incredible than his regular ones. Every once in a while, the same happens with Peppone.
- Tank Goodness: In the third movie. Don Camillo and Peppone find out that a peasant is hiding an American M24 Chaffee tank from World War II in his barn. While manoeuvering it, Peppone comments on how good its mechanics was, just before accidentally firing the tank's gun, destroying his peace dove statue in the process.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Don Camillo and Peppone are between this and With Friends Like These....
- World War I: Peppone and Don Camillo are both decorated veterans, but both show a more or less pronounced disillusionment with their role in it. In one of the most interesting stories of the first book that did not make it into the movies, the two discuss their conflicted feelings and Peppone explains why even as mayor and party chief he will not participate in the official commemorative ceremonies on 4 November.
- World War II: Very much present, e. g. in a number of family tragedies and also in the shape of unexploded shells, bombs and mines in the countryside around the town.
- Worthy Opponent: When the townspeople complain about Don Camillo beating up the comrades from the city, one can't be really sure if they are complaining or bragging about him.
- You Killed My Father: Theme of at least two stories, one involving Cat.