The Don Camillo stories were written by Giovannino Guareschi starting in 1945 for his satirical magazine Candido, and soon afterward compiled into books. In the Italian original the series is entitled Mondo piccolo, referring to the "little world" of the villages and small towns in the Po valley near Parma. Most of the stories puplished in periodicals, and all of those that were anthologized into books, center on the hotheaded priest Don Camillo (who often talks to Jesus... and with Jesus talking back to him) and his eternal rivalry with Giuseppe "Peppone" Bottazzi, the communist mayor of his little townnote . 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It is pretty much of a historical document of a time when both the Italian Communist Party and the Roman Catholic Church had a grassroots-like basis in Italian society but were diametrically opposite to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 neither 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 as 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 don 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:
- 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 così (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 Chichì (1996)
The "Classic" movies starring 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 different actors (Gino Cervi refused to make a Don Camillo film without Fernandel) instead of showing the unfinished movie. The resulting film is considered an absolute failure.
In 1983, The World of Don Camillo (it. Don Camillo) was remade 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 2001, The BBC made a radio series starring starring Alun Armstrong as Don Camillo, John Moffatt as the Bishop, Shaun Prendergast as Peppone and Joss Ackland as Jesus.
A comic-book adaptation authorized by Guareschi's children was launched in 2011. It is notable that every album also adapts a couple of the Mondo piccolo stories that do not contain Don Camillo or Peppone and that — not least for copyright reasons — the two main protagonists are not based on Fernandel and Gino Cervi, but on the author: Don Camillo was visually based on photographs of Guareschi as a clean-shaven young man, Peppone on the older, moustachioed Guareschi.
Also, there is a Colombian series, which changes the setting to Colombia in the fifties.
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).
- The Alleged Bicycle: Guareschi in a number of stories describes with great fondness the dilapidated kind of bicycles used in Italy between the wars and after 1945, at one point scoffing the lighter and more technologically advanced models used by city folk. For the narrator of the stories, a proper bicycle has to be heavy and dispense with such superfluous luxuries like complete pedals or fancy disc brakes. To get their bicycle to stop, users will often simply slide off the saddle and either sit on the fenderless back wheel or try to catch it between their knees.
- At some point in the books Peppone does have an alleged car: the narrator describes it as "the most broken-down Balilla of the Po valley, salvaged from the most rusty bunch of scraps of a junkyard and converted into a pick-up truck." People call it "the Sputnik".
- Alternate History: Il vittorioso (1950, "The Victorious"), one of the Mondo piccolo stories not collected into the books or adapted into film, has a plot that prefigures Good Bye, Lenin!: Togno the farmer has a heart-attack when in the spring of 1943 he receives the news of his youngest, favourite son being killed in action while serving in the Italian army. In order to spare his feelings — he does not want Giorgino to have died in vain — and to prevent him from having another, fatal heart-attack, his family keeps feeding the bedridden Togno stories of Axis successes while in actual fact Italy is invaded by the Allies, Mussolini is deposed etc. The story ends as communist partisans enter the village to the cheers of the populace, with Togno dying happily after his children told him the cheers were in response to the news that German, Italian and Japanese forces had just taken New York.
- 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 (equivalent to fifth grade in US schools). He's so nervous 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 kindergarten project.
- Barbarian Longhair: The bikers, including Peppone's youngest son, Michele (Veleno). He later experiences a Traumatic Haircut, leading into a Fake-Hair Drama.
- Beyond the Impossible: When Don Camillo is reassigned to a small village in the mountains in the second movie, his former flock miss their Good Shepherd so much they refuse to die until he's returned to personally administer last rites.
- Bolt of Divine Retribution: Don Camillo argues with Jesus until there's a roll of thunder, then he backs down (although Camillo was in the wrong on that one).
- Book Dumb: Peppone dropped out of school after third grade and is literate only in the most technical sense. That doesn't in any way stop him from coherently and eloquently arguing some rather obscure points of Communist doctrine, getting re-elected as Mayor four times, turning his flagging blacksmith's shop into a successful auto repair business and out-scheming the far more intellectual Don Camillo on a fairly regular basis.
- Brick Joke: Early on in the third movie, Don Camillo uses a fake 5000 Lire bill to buy one of Peppone's communist news papers. The bill is forgotten about afterwards until, at the end of the movie, Peppone hands it back to Don Camillo as 'payment' for Don Camillo helping him carry his suitcase.
- 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.
- Charles Atlas Superpower:
- 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.
- Chekhov's Skill: Or rather lack of. When the flood starts to threaten the village in the second film (The Return of Don Camillo), Peppone asks Don Camillo if he can swim. Don Camillo replies, "Hah! Like an iron." Later, when there's a metre of water in the church, and the bell tower collapses and knocks out Don Camillo, Peppone saves him from drowning.
- The Coats Are Off: Every time characters settle things with their fists, i.e. often. They also roll up their sleeves.
- 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". Peppone confesses to Don Camillo that he hit him over the head with a club. It would neither be the last story featuring a confession, nor the last time someone used that gambit on Don Camillo, despite the way it turned out in this one.
- Conscription: Michele is in the age of being drafted. He ponders about Draft Dodging but instead applies to the Paratroops.
- 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.
- Cool Guns: The Beretta MAB-38 can be seen in WWII flashbacks. Also, Don Camillo still owns one, stolen from Peppon's secret arsenal before setting it on fire.
- Don Camillo also owns a Carcano rifle, and grabs it at the start of the first movie when it looks like Peppone's supporters, that Camillo had just pissed-off, were about to storm the church.
- Cycle of Revenge: Between the families of Ciro (Communist) and Filotti (clerical) in the story Juliet and Romeo (adapted in the first 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 the second film, one of Peppone's men, a barber, brags that if Don Camillo ever had the nerve to cross his threshold, he would get one of those. When Don Camillo hears about it, he comes in to get shaved, and leaves unscathed.
- 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. Then heavy snow.
- 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 two 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 make sure that the child of the "unknown" dead woman is adopted by the boy's family.
- Drinking Contest: In Don Camillo in Moscow mayor Peppone engages in one of those with a Soviet official to stall for time so Camillo can get back to the hotel before the Russians discover that he is missing. When Camillo finally gets back he is shocked to find out that Peppone actually won the contest against a Russian.
- Escalating War: In classic slapstick fashion, when Peppone does something to Don Camillo, the priest retaliates and it goes on and on.
- Face Doodling: In the third movie, Don Camillo draws a goatee and two evil horns on Peppone's giant portrait. General hilarity ensues when said portrait is publicly revealed for the elections.
- 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 was killed in the action on the Eastern Front.
- Friendly Enemy: Don Camillo and Peppone can't live with each other, but they also can't live without each other. They might fight each other all the time, but it's for ideological and/or political rather than personal reasons. Peppone even names his son after don 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 first book, and the fourth movie (he arranges a revenge later on the culprit, a communist woman, with the help of her husband).
- 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.
- Heel Realization: Don Camillo has a moment of this when he graffitis "Peppone is a donkey" regarding the mayor having to retake grade-school exams. Jesus, less-than amused, points out that mocking the guy for being Book Dumb (having to work instead of going to school) is a most witty insult indeed, and Don Camillo makes it up by giving Peppone the answers.
- 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.
- It's Raining Men; Cat picks up skydiving, as his father had been a paratrooper in WWII. Peppone's son Michele (Veleno) then applies to Italian airborne...
- Jesus Was Way Cool: In a gentle, Reasonable Authority Figure (though only Camillo hears) way.
- Kicked Upstairs: in the fourth 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 there. This was undone for the fifth movie, where they are both back in the village in their old positions as priest and mayor.
- 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, meaning literally "Big Joe". There's only one instance of anyone calling him "Giuseppe" in the 368 short stories, although he does sometimes sign e. g. proclamations as "Giuseppe Bottazzi" or "Giuseppe Bottazzi, called Peppone".
- Even YOU didn't know Don Camillo's family name 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.
- Laxative Prank: A number of short stories reference the Fascist signature practice of forcing their political enemies to drink castor oil. One story features Dario Camoni, who back in the day had forced both young communist Peppone and young cleric Don Camillo to drink a glass of castor oil each; then, when Dario Camoni makes a reappearance after the way, Peppone tries to get his own back... with mixed results.
- In another story, when two Maoists bad-mouth Peppone, his son Michele becomes so incensed that he forces them to drink a glass of... cod-liver oil each. Peppone is almost relieved: "God be praised, at least they can't say I raised a fascist son!"
- 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!"
- Peppone also resorts to this every now and then, especially when one of his men has done something stupid.
- Morality Pet:
- Peppone's second-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.
- Jesus to Don Camillo.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Played with. Fernandel was voiced over by Carlo Romano in the Italian version for the most part, but in the French version everybody talks with South Eastern France (Marseille and Provence) accents throughout the whole series, even though the story is set in Northern Italy. In the British 2001 radio version, everyone except Jesus had a Yorkshire accent.
- Not So Different: Don Camillo and Peppone are both pugnacious, scheming, corrupt and unsophisticated, but generous and fundamentally decent people, who take their obligations to their people and town seriously and have a soft spot for sob stories. The only point where they really clash is politics (and even on that topic they don't clash as often as one might expect; Peppone has a great deal of respect for Don Camillo's social work, and Don Camillo regularly sides with Peppone when he thinks the local landowners are getting too greedy and full of themselves). Of course, if you were to point this out to them they would vehemently deny it.
- 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 (to the point that he's re-elected four times - his last re-election is in 1966). Guareschi points out in his narrative 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 chance of an 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 an honest and deceptively simple speech that sounds almost like a concession of defeat, asking voters to treat the election as a verdict on 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).
- Odd Name Out: Everyone in Peppone's gang (including Peppone) is pretty much Only Known by Their Nickname: Brusco, Smilzo, Bigio... except Stràziami.
- One Steve Limit: Averted in the books (in the original Italian) with Fulmine, aka Ful, don Camillo's dog, and Antenore Cabazza, also called Fulmine (which means "lightning"), who is one of Peppone's men. The narrator lampshades it and points out that, out of the two, the one with the most brains is the dog. On the other hand, the English version enforces the trope by calling the dog "Thunder" and the man "Thunderer".
- Pals with Jesus: Don Camillo often has conversations with Jesus himself whenever he is close to the crucifix of his church (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, nor when he's done something really stupid.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Peppone is Red to Don Camillo's Blue. Although it's not uncommon for them to swap places.
- 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, no car can go, and the parishioners don't really like him.
- Also Peppone's election as a representative to Italian Parliament in Rome feels like being reassigned to Antarctica as much as Kicked Upstairs to him.
- Recycled Premise: In the story Giulietta e Romeo, in which ultra-Catholic Gina Filotti and communist Mariolino from the Bruciata fall in love, Guareschi takes a break to lampshade the trope and explain that while in the cities people are obsessed with living original lives that are different from the way things used to be, people in the country don't give a hoot if they happen to find themselves living as characters in a rehash of Romeo and Juliet or The Betrothed or Cavalleria Rusticana.
- 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 wasn't exactly a partisan, although he did hide people from the Germans and celebrated Mass for the partisans in the mountains (and kept a lot of weapons and ammunition). 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. However 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. Granted, they only used the treasure to build Don Camillo's kindergarten under the threat of a sub-machine gun, but otherwise they would have used all of the money for the House of the People, not for themselves.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Giovanni Guareschi had his "little world" face the serious floods in the Po Valley in late 1951.
- A number of stories were based on real-life news stories, such as "The Baptism" (after a priest who refused to baptize a child "Lenin"), and "The Egg and the Hen" (after reports of an egg showing a relief image of a sacred host). Worldwide historical events like the Atlantic Pact, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution or the Sputnik launch also loom large in the context of some stories.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: Every conversation between Don Camillo and Peppone. Although they occasionally drop the snark and go into Sincerity Mode.
- Standing Between the Enemies: Played with in "The Dance of the Hours". Things between Don Camillo and Peppone escalate quickly and both grab a bench to clobber the other with; one of Peppone's men, Smilzo, is the only one who keeps his head and tries in vain to stop Peppone until he's right between the two benches. The fight is broken up by something entirely unrelated, and Smilzo is left standing alone in the middle of the square. Then, since nobody's watching, he goes to get himself a Coca-Cola.
- 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.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: Inverted by Peppone at the end of the third film. Don Camillo is watching the train depart with Peppone (who's just been elected senator and had to leave for Rome) on it, looking sad and angry... Except Peppone somehow got off the train and pops up behind him.
- Tank Goodness: In the third movie, in a scene adapted from one of the stories, Don Camillo and Peppone find out a peasant is hiding an American M24 Chaffee tank from World War II in his barn (and wants to get rid of it). While manoeuvring it, Peppone comments on how good its mechanics were, 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....
- We Want Our Jerk Back: One of Don Camillo's short stories dealt with him being reassigned to a town in the mountains, and being replaced with a young, nice priest. Most of the town - including Peppone - soon ask the bishop to have Don Camillo come back.
- 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.
- Wild Hair: Michele (Veleno).
- 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.