Major Andrea Rossi-Colombotti (Marcello Mastroianni) is an insatiable womanizer but cannot get aroused unless his life is in danger. Bored on an ordinary date, he dumps his girlfriend only to pose as a prowler trying to sneak into her bedroom before she almost shoots him dead. Troubled by his curious condition Andrea consults a quirky woman-hating psychiatrist (Enrico Maria Salerno) who advises him to renounce 'bestial lust' in favour of more 'platonic' or 'spiritual' relations with women. On an adventure in Switzerland, Andrea falls for the sweet and vibrant Gigliola (Virna Lisi) only to find her willingness to love fails to turn him on. Fed up with a ceremonial job at NATO, Andrea seeks out more dangerous conquests including a lion tamer, an American general's wife and above all the enticing Thelma (Marisa Mell, of Danger: Diabolik (1968) fame). She ends up luring Andrea into a plot involving her abusive aristocrat husband (Marco Ferreri who went on to direct many outrageous satirical comedies starring Mastroianni including La Grande Bouffe (1973)) that lands our modern-day Casanova on trial for murder.
As well as the heyday of Italian auteur filmmaking the Sixties were also the era when 'commedia all'italiana' drew mainstream acclaim. Which in the case of Casanova '70 meant an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay, a rare occurrence for a foreign film even today. Mario Monicelli was among the leading lights in chic Italian comedies of the sort Woody Allen presumably had in mind when he wrote What's New, Pussycat? (1965). After a run of early vehicles for Italian comedy icon Toto, co-directed with that other notable comic auteur Steno, Monicelli scored an international hit with his delightful and influential Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) also starring Marcello Mastroianni. He continued crafting critically acclaimed works right up until the ripe old age of ninety-five although came to a sad and unfortunate end.
Only tangentially inspired by the exploits of the legendary eighteenth century womanizer Giacomo Casanova, subject of course of a very loose biographical fantasy by the great Federico Fellini, Casanova '70 would appear to be Monicelli's attempt to skewer the stereotypical macho Italian male psyche. Even though, for some reason, he made his protagonist French. The film plays Andrea's sexual conquests for surreal farce casting him as both smooth seducer and blundering buffoon who can't satisy a woman or himself unless in mortal danger. According to Andrea's way of thinking, beauty is boring when placed on a pedestal as he does with the angelic Gigliola, a lady so feminine she swoons at the mere sight of him. He can only achieve sexual satisfaction knowing a woman is somehow dangerous or to put it more bluntly, a whore. The problem with Casanova '70 is that it treads a fine line between satirizing such an idea and merely taking it at face value.
Barely a moment goes by without the admittedly ideally cast Mastroianni working his charm on an array of glamorous guest stars: Michèle Mercier, Rosemary Dexter, Margaret Lee, Beba Loncar and of course Marisa Mell. Only in an Italian movie could a hero score with some of the sultriest Euro-starlets in Sixties cinema and still get to marry the sublimely lovely Virna Lisi. Yet as with many Italian sex comedies the film worships their beauty yet remains contemptuous of their personalities, save perhaps for the idealized Gigliola. In the midst of so much frothy fun Monicelli throws in odd, off-putting scenes wherein the satirical intent is unclear or plain unfunny. Such as when Andrea poses as a doctor to seduce a Sicilian whom we first meet being brutalized by her family into marrying a young man who is none too enthusiastic ("I don't want her because she isn't a virgin!") It is meant to be funny because it turns out she is anything but innocent, but since when does endorsing misogyny count as satire? Or take Andrea's encounter with Santina (Moira Orfei), a woman local townsmen consider 'evil' and pelt with stones (!) because misfortune befalls every man that seduces her ("I'd rather sleep with a man", jokes one pub bore) After a night of passion with the grateful woman, Andrea promptly falls off a roof which the men smugly interpret as justifying their suspicions.
Although mounted with no small amount of directorial style, ingratiating performances and impressive scope, the film is episodic and overlong. Plus it is hard to discern how seriously we are meant to take the climax wherein the psychiatrist blames the problems of men on 'vile sluts' and Andrea argues women 'are too easy these days' and all he wanted was a challenge to validate his manhood. Andrea basically has rich guy problems: too much money, too many beautiful women falling at his feet, that are neither all that compelling nor especially funny.