The Dark Side of
La Dolce Vita
"Little light, little shade... strong light, strong shade" says an old Tuscan proverb, which is perfectly suited to the Swinging Sixties in Italy. A growing flow of money, bearing a conception of carefree and bon-vivant life, generated a surge of social vices, chiefly gambling which created inevitable financial troubles in favor of gangsters and gamblers who ran illegal businesses. The night became the real protagonist in everybody's life, with beautiful women and champagne glasses to animate the nightclubs until dawn. In the midst of this turmoil, a young and talented painter, with brave and cunning opportunism, reached a remarkable double success, both economically and artistically.
Based on a true story
(from Giovanni Bruzzi’s autobiography “Professione biscazziere”)
|In 1960, a young Florentine artist (Giovanni Bruzzi) a graduate of the Fine Arts Academy goes to Paris to pursue his professional career.
|Living in a small studio in the Latin Quarter he enters in contact with the Parisian art world and holds a
n important solo exhibition in a prestigious public office and earns the respect of the poet Andrè Breton but in spite of these excellent achievements his paintings are difficult to sell.
To maintain himself he accepts a night job as a faux-c1ient in the nightclubs of Montparnasse and Montmartre, acquiring an enviable ease in moving within these unusual environments, full of beautiful and uninhibited women. It should be remembered that, at that time, there was a war between France and Algeria and that almost every night a plastique exploded in the streets of Paris, due to the extreme right group the O.A.S. (Organisation Arméè Secréte) and there were police raids and indiscriminate arrests.
A jazz music enthusiast, the young painter became a friend of the great drummer Kenny Clarke.
|In the summer of 1962, the young artist goes back to Italy and in a nightclub in Florence he meets a boss in charge of i1legal gambling. This was the period of economic boom that made the class of industrialists, doctors, surgeons, lawyers, notaries, shopkeepers and entrepreneurs very rich and they were finally able to live the good life and to spend and spread their money. And so the illegal gambling, which had always been relegated to seedy places, thought it was time to get organized in luxury offices located in stately neighborhoods.
| The boss proposes that the young painter with the debonair and suave manners becomes the President of the Clubs, which would be opened shortly. Naturally an agreement was quickly found and the most famous gang of gamblers of all time was founded. The gang consisted of five members
(Amos, the boss - Franco, factotum - Grattugia, croupier - Lillone, bouncer - Professor, alias the young artist, President).
|And so c1ubs such as the “Gold Cup Club”, the “London Club” and the “Fan Club” came into being, located in the city center and residential area, real “5 star” gambling stablishments (roulette, chemin de fer, baccarat, trente et quarante, lansquenet, craps, poker) with a financial level of play never seen before, up to twice the ceilings of legal Italian casinos.
|The inevitable situations involving failure to pay up were dealt with by heavy punishments meted out to the sound of slaps. Even the few police raids (a solid alliance had been agreed upon) were managed with the absolute certainty that the measures taken as countermoves (the “hats” of the gaming tables) would avoid unpleasant legal consequences. The 5 gamblers were by then much in demand by the entraineuses of the nightclubs and by eager ladies because they were considered the “owners of the Night” and “winners” by our imperfect society.
The young artist however also nurtured a sincere love for a beautiful girl who had healthy and upright principles.
In 1965, the boss entered into an agreement to open a “5 star” gambling den in a rich spa town in the heart of Tuscany, in the ground floor of a secluded villa (disguised under the name “Cultural and Recreational Club”), which was opposite a large and elegant high-c1ass nightclub called Villa Alta (orchestra, striptease, various shows). The public was to be selected from the best hotels and trustworthy sources. The Spa turnover rate was estimated at 20,000 admissions every fortnight.
|The opening night of the gambling den is set for June 1st. The local residents are not to be allowed access in order to reduce the number of telephone calls and anonymous letters to the Carabinieri. Gambling, women, rivers of champagne; like two communicating vessels, the nightclub and the den fed off each other, with high earnings for both. Various licentious events link the gamblers to the entraineuses and to the wealthy women who patronize the two premises in search of excitement. Some evenings are enlivened by brawls due to punters reluctant to sign cheques for the amount lost but these problems are managed by the decisive slaps of the bouncer.
|The stakes reach highest-ever levels with ceilings twice those of legal casinos. The Carabinieri carry out regular checks but a spy (a friend of the den) always warns of the unwanted visits beforehand. In late September with the end of the spa season approaching, the boss thinks about making a financial killing by outsourcing a no-limits baccarat (unthinkable even for the casinos of Montecarlo) and to this end he contacts Albert from Marseille (the top baccarat cardsharp in Europe) in France and proposes a fifty-fifty arrangement: on the one hand the well-established organization of the gambling den and on the other hand independent control over the game and strategies. It is to be a cash-only event but the den will be open to all, local residents included.
Albert from Marseille (it is to be his first and last visit to Italy) accepts and arrives by car with his woman and two bodyguards armed with pistols (the capital necessary to bank the baccarat is an outrageous quantity of cash). All interested players (even those in neighboring regions) are contacted by a never-ending word of mouth and the no-limits game begins.
|The results are immediately devastating for the players who flock to the large game room in huge numbers (from 80 to 120 per night). The players consider the no-limits game to be a rich one-off opportunity (that’s not actually the case but it's too long and complicated to explain here). After a week, Albert from Marseille decides the time has come to make a killing and grab all the money in circulation, which the players bring with them in ever-increasing quantities. That fatal night Albert from Marseille implements a series of “over the top” cheating set-ups which literally leaves the entire gambling congregation with nothing but the shirts on their backs. Amidst scenes of desperation including screaming and shouting the 5 gamblers keep the situation under control until the baccarat is over, coinciding with the rising of the sun.
The loot is immediately divided fifty-fifty as per the agreement (it should be kept in mind that it was a cash-only game) and while Albert from Marseille returned to France (with his two bodyguards and his woman), the boss and four gamblers - victorious and celebrating - went back to their headquarters in the city. The young painter got engaged to his beloved and left for a well-deserved holiday in Paris. In order to gauge the importance of the operation, it is worth keeping in mind the fact that Joe Adonis , the Italian-American gangster and undisputed king of the gambling sector in Italy, sent down two of his gorillas not only to check out the veracity of the situation and to carry out a ruthless murder but also to invite the boss and the president to a face-to-face meeting in his nightclub “Morocco” in Milan because he wanted to go into business with them. Joe Adonis was the right-hand man of Lucky Luciano and the co-founder of “Murder Incorporated”.