Alberto Casella

Born - Nov 1, 1891   |   Died - Sep 10, 1957   |   Genres - Fantasy, Romance

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In the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world, Alberto Casella is a playwright known for a single work: La Morte in Vacanza (1924), a supernatural comedy that made its way to Broadway in 1929 as Death Takes a Holiday. Casella was the son of an attorney, but he was drawn to the theater from an early age, and became a well-known writer, critic, and dramatist. His early works, Vautrin (1921) and Prometeo (1923), were critical successes without making much impact, but La Morte in Vacanza (1924) made his reputation; from its premiere in Florence, it became a hit on-stage, and was particularly compelling with Ruggero Ruggeri in the lead role. In the play, Death manifests himself to a nobleman and announces that he intends upon entering his household as a guest, in the guise of a visiting European prince, in order that he may see what it is about life and living that makes people try to cling to it as fervently as they do; he then crosses paths with a young woman who seems more serious than any of her compatriots, and eventually takes her with him. On Broadway as Death Takes a Holiday, it was a success as well, the roles of the Prince and Grazia taken by Philip Merivale and Rose Hobart in the original 1929 production, and there was a revival mounted in 1931 as well. Paramount Pictures bought the screen rights soon after and director Mitchell Leisen showed an unusually light, deft touch in handling the resulting film, capturing the careful shadings required to mesh the comedic touches, the philosophical musings, and the fantasy elements that bound them together. Fredric March and Evelyn Venable starred as the two leads in the 1934 film, which was one of the more fondly remembered fantasy movies of its era. The plot of the play was undoubtedly an influence on such works as On Borrowed Time by Lawrence Edward Watkin, and -- in tandem with the latter, and such vehicles as Outward Bound (on stage and screen) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (in print and on screen) -- Death Takes a Holiday heralded a new and surprisingly vital interest in supernatural fantasy during the interwar years. Unfortunately for Casella, at least in terms of his international reputation, Death Takes a Holiday was as far as his success went outside of Italy. In his own country, however, he remained well known as a playwright, with two more theatrical successes later in the 1930s, and as a critic. During the early 1940s, he also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for the Italian features Carne e l'anime, Il romanzo di un giovani povero, Mater Dolorosa, and La Fornarina. Casella passed away in 1957, largely unrecognized outside of his native country. During 1971, Death Takes a Holiday was remade as a television movie-of-the-week, starring Monte Markham, Yvette Mimieux, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas And in 1998, director Martin Brest directed a ponderous updating of Death Takes a Holiday entitled Meet Joe Black, which added nothing to the original film or play except lavish production values and a snail's pace to the plot development; that movie's release on DVD did result in the reissue in digital video format of the 1934 film, as a "bonus" to the remake (though most viewers, looking at the two, might well decide that it was Death Takes a Holiday that was worth paying for, and Meet Joe Black that was the "bonus").