The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola (1913)

Directors: Marcel Fabre and Luigi Maggi
"Tenth parallel north, latitude 150. We are sinking. In a few moments we won't be any longer. We entrust to God and to the waves our beloved child Saturnino Farandola."
So begins Saturnino's bizarre life of adventure. Orphaned by a shipwreck, raised by apes and destined to travel the globe in search of excitement, our hero Saturnino squares up to wild beasts, cannibals, insane naturalists, murderous Mandarins and the villainous schemes of an evil Phineas Fogg in this demented pastiche of the works of Jules Verne.

Baby Saturnino arrives on Monkey Island
Part 1: Monkey Island
The only survivor of a shipwreck, the infant Saturnino is washed ashore on Pomotu, an island inhabited by apes, who raise him as one of their own. Years pass, and Saturnino, by then a hairless, tail-less social outcast, leaves the island and is picked up by the sailing ship 'Bella Leocadia', where he quickly rises to the rank of ensign. When crew members are later captured by Chief Bora Bora's pirate horde, Saturnino leads a daring rescue mission. The ship's Captain is killed by the pirates but the crew unanimously elect Saturnino to be his successor.

Later, Saturnino and his beloved Mysora are deep sea diving when Mysora is swallowed by a whale. Saturnino calls on his old simian friends when rescuing Mysora from Professor Cronknuff, who holds Mysora and the whale in captivity at the Melbourne Aquarium, believing her to be some kind of mermaid. Mysora and Saturnino are reunited, and Cronknuff is eaten by the Aquarium's giant squid.

Part 2: Search for the White Elephant
Saturnino and Mysora learn of the theft of the King of Siam's precious white elephant, and offer their help in returning it. The elephant has in fact been stolen by the King's police chief Ching-Nao, working with a rival Mandarin. He captures Saturnino and his crew and condemns them to death. Meanwhile, Ching-Nao has taken a shine to Mysora -- she seizes an opportunity to dope her guards with opium and help Saturnino escape. His crew, confined in barrels, are floated downriver to safety, and the elephant safely returned. 

Marcel Fabre and Nilde Barrachi (in bearskins)
rescue the Makalolo queens
Part 3: Queen of Makalolo
While boating on the Nile, Saturnino and Mysora rescue two queens of the Makalolo from the cannibalistic Nian-Nian tribe by dressing in bear skins to scare off their captors. Saturnino protects the girls from hungry lions using a lion-proof safari suit, only to have them captured by gorillas. Fluent in ape language since childhood, Saturnino persuades the gorillas to let the two queens go, and they are safely returned to their homeland.

Part 4: Farandola v. Fileas-Fogg
Eager for more adventures, Saturnino joins forces with the people of South Milligan, USA in their scheme to move the whole of Niagara Falls into their territory. Also involved is the explorer Fileas Fogg, who teams up with Indian chief Red Bison to sabotage their plan. Red Bison's warriors capture Saturnino and Mysora, but their tribeswoman Rising Moon takes pity on Saturnino and helps him to escape. While Mysora is still held captive by Fogg, Saturnino sides with the South Milligan people and a civil war ensues. Fogg is ultimately killed in an aerial battle and Saturnino returns to Monkey Island to raise a family with Mysora.

And here is one of those instances where you can justifiably dredge up the old cliche, "they don't make them like that any more". L'Avventura Straordinarissime Di Saturnina Farandola, to give the film its full and grandiose title, was created before the rule book was written about how movies should be. It merrily and unselfconsciously skips from fantasy to maritime adventure to science fiction to slapstick comedy, often in the space of a few minutes. The film's mission is to entertain, and it's method is to refuse to let its audience get bored for even a minute.

Saturnino (Marcel Fabre) in his
lion-proof suit
The story originates with a novel by Albert Robida written in 1879 as a pastiche of the works of Jules Verne. Part parody, part tribute, it's full title was 'The Extraordinary Voyages of Saturnino Farandola, in the Five or Six Parts of the World and in All Countries Known and Unknown to Mr Jules Verne'. Illustrated throughout by the author, it featured many of the characters from Verne's novels, and was popular enough to be translated into French and Spanish. According to some sources, this film adaptation was, like the novel, originally released in serial form, consisting of eighteen two- and three-reel episodes. Sadly, we only have four left, which were restored by Lobster-Film in 1997 and screened in the feature-length form discussed here.

The star of Saturnino, Marcel Fabre, was a Spanish comic actor and ex-circus clown (real name Marcel Perez) well known in Italy for his character 'Robinet', whom he portrayed in around forty films for Arturo Ambrosio's studio from 1910 onwards. Marcel makes an engagingly good-natured hero amidst the mayhem, hard to dislike despite Saturnino's occasional lapses into animal slaughter, violence and racism; present-day viewers will have to make their own excuses for the toe-curling parade of ethnic stereotypes seen throughout Saturnino

Depth of field: the war in the clouds
Fabre's (uncredited) co-director, Luigi Maggi, made his mark with The Last Days of Pompeii in 1908, also for Ambrosio. Not having seen either man's other films, it's hard to say whose, if any, is the guiding hand. There's a hint of the influence of Méliès in some of the more fantastical scenes here, but with a major difference: depth. Even with his later films, Méliès was still moving his players from right to left, as on a theatre stage. In Saturnino, though there are very few close-ups, many individual shots make effective use of perspective, with the actors emerging from or disappearing into the far distance. And even when this device is not used for dramatic effect, there is usually some kind of business happening in the background to add  visual interest to expository scenes.

All of which makes Saturnino a more appealing experience for today's short-attention-span audiences than many of its contemporaries. The pace of the film in the form we can see it now never lets up, and makes just as much sense (or just as little) as a single narrative as the four episodes would have individually. In the end, events come full circle as Saturnino returns to Monkey Island to start a family; the film's suggestive final shot is one of baby Capuchin monkeys climbing over rose bushes.

Saturnino, in Italy at least, has proved his longevity as a character: Robida's novel stayed in print well into the nineteen thirties and has inspired several comic books and a 1970s TV series as well as this film adaptation. Not bad for a boy raised by monkeys.
Saturnino (Marcel Fabre) boards the Bella Locardia
End Credits:
Marcel Fabre (Saturnino Farandola), Nilde Baracchi (Mysore), with Alfredo Bertone, Filippo Castamagna, Oreste Grandi, Luciano Manara, Felice Minotti, Armando Pilotti, Norina Rasero, Dario Silvestri, Luigi Stinchi, Vittorio Tettoni
Screenplay: Guido Volante, from the novel by Albert Robida, Producer: Arturo Ambrosio, Cinematography: Ottavio De Matteis, Art Director: Decoroso Bonifante, Enrico Luigi.
Ambrosio Film, Italy
Running Time 77 mins.

No official release. The current version first appeared on German television in 2010, restored and with a new soundtrack, and is available to view online

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