May 28, 1947
Mr. John C. Gall
Washington 5, D. C.
As we discussed in our telephone conversation, I phoned Superfilm in New York and obtained their permission to run the two Italian pictures of WE THE LIVING.[*] I am enclosing a copy of the wire I received from them, authorizing the screening.
I have now seen the two pictures. I had an Italian interpreter present, who translated for me the general action of every scene and the key lines of dialogue. But it was impossible for her to translate literally every single line. So I was able to form only a general opinion of the two pictures.
The cast, direction and production are excellent. The adaptation follows my novel closely—until the last part of the second picture, at which point some changes have been made.
My impression of the political nature of the pictures, as far as I could judge, is as follows: the story has not been distorted into Fascist propaganda in any major way, but it does contain some lines of dialogue stuck in without relation to the story, which are most objectionable and most offensive to me. The interpreter caught one blatantly Fascist, anti-Semitic line—and I do not know how many other lines there may be, which she did not get.
If we find it adviseable to negotiate with Superfilm and to settle with Scalera Films out of court, I will have to demand, before anything else is discussed, a complete literal transcript of the pictures’ dialogue. I will want to have it made here, by people of my own choice, and the cost of the job will have to be born by Superfilm or by Scalera. I have inquired at the studios here
and was told that such a transcript would cost between $1,200 and $1,500. If we agree to an American release of these pictures, I will have to have the absolute and final right to cut out of the pictures any lines or scenes which I find objectionable, and to approve the final versions before they are released.
However, before we undertake negotiations with Superfilm, I should like to have your advice on the following problem: even if the Fascist touches in the pictures consist of only a few lines, what decision must I make about the fact that the pictures were released and played all over Europe, without my permission, and that such lines appeared in a story bearing my name? (The screen credits mention the names of the adaptors, but also display my name very prominently, as the author of the novel, and even include a shot of the book itself, of its Italian edition.)
The objectionable lines could be easily cut out for the American release of the pictures, but it is the fact that they have been released in Europe that worries me, because it does constitute damage to my professional and political reputation. I am not sure that we would ever be able to collect for damages from Scalera Films, if we sue them. But on the other hand, if we settle out of court and permit the release of these pictures in America, it may be construed as my approving and condoning the use of such lines in previous releases.
This, incidentally, could serve as material for the Reds to smear me and brand me as pro-Fascist. I do not care about any Red smears, so long as some action of mine does not give them justification. Smears which are plain lies never work and cannot hurt anybody; but I do not want to give Reds a factual basis for smearing me.
Is there any way or legal form or procedure which would permit me to allow the release of these pictures in America and clear me completely of any connection whatever, even an indirect or implied one, with the former releases of these pictures? Would a formal, written apology, or a damage payment from Scalera Films made specifically for this particular aspect of the situation, accomplish this purpose?
If this can be accomplished, I believe that I would like to have these pictures released in
America, subject, of course, to my final opinion of the complete dialogue transcript—I cannot commit myself to this until I have checked the transcript. But the pictures are extremely well done, a great many scenes are magnificent—and I should like to see an anti-Soviet picture released in this country.
Would you let me know your advice about this?
Please let me know also what our next step must be. Will you now approach Superfilm yourself—or do you want me to write to them? I hesitate to make any inquiries or conduct any negotiations with them, without your exact instructions. I have not yet written to them to acknowledge the receipt of the films or their telegram of May 13th. If you want me to write to them, please give me the exact text of what I should say.
In regard to engaging an Italian attorney, I assume it would be best to wait until we know whether we will have to undertake legal action in Italy. If you find that we can settle the matter here, I wonder what steps we must take in order to ascertain what these pictures earned in Europe and what settlement we should expect from Scalera Films. Do we need a representative in Italy for this purpose?
In regard to Paramount Studios and the picture which was pirated from them, I was told that they have not yet decided what action to take about it and have not engaged an attorney.
Now in regard to the immigration visa of Mrs. Marie von Strachow, I have not heard from her yet on whether her application has been granted or rejected. But I had written to the Committee on Refugees in Salzburg, inquiring about the proper procedure to pay for her transportation—and in reply received from them the letter, a copy of which you will find enclosed. I believe that the definition of displaced persons to which the letter refers, applies only to people who had been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, which Mrs. von Strachow was not. Can anything be done in Washington to help her get a visa? If a letter from me to the American Consul in Salzburg would help, please send me the text of how such a letter should be worded.
With best regards,
*The original Italian We the Living was a two-part film, Noi Vivi and Addio Kira.