He was no more than a boy, that university student in Naples, who in 1904 decided not to become a lawyer in order to give life to an undertaking that would be confirmed in time as the greatest, and maybe the most celebrated, Italian film production company: Titanus. Gustavo Lombardo was not yet twenty - born in 1885 - and the cinema was still called the cinematograph (the first public screening by the Lumière brothers was in Paris, in the basement lounge of the Grand Café on Boulevard des Capucines, on December 28, 1895). Yet intuition about the extraordinary potential of this new means of expression prompted that boy to make his choice, without hesitation, between legal pandects and film, moving from the severe lecture halls of the faculty of law to the first studios, paint still wet, of the "seventh art".
His encounter with Leda Gys told the rest of the story. It happened a few years later when the young actress (born in Naples in 1892, baptised Giselda) was already building a career that was to make her the actress most in demand in Italian silent films, until then dominated by stars such as Francesca Bertini or Lyda Borelli. Cinema of short stories, nearly always inspired by the D'Annunzio models that dominated the taste of that period.
Dozens and dozens of films were produced by Lombardo (and by other "cinematographic manufacturers", as production companies were called at the time) where Leda Gys was the applauded and beloved star. And Gustavo Lombardo took her as his wife, and above all as mother of his son Goffredo, born in Naples in 1920. This son was to inherit Titanus in the early post-war years, and then become the reference mark for hundreds of works, amongst which stand out some unforgettable masterpieces of world filmography in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
Enlivened by Gustavo and Leda's very passion, Goffredo soon began breaking records. In 1920 (the year he was born) his mother starred in five films (amongst them "Nobody's Child", taken from a popular novel by Ruggero Rindi), then in 1938 he brought home his degree in law, his thesis on copyrights for cinema works. Cum Laude at age eighteen, he was the youngest graduate in Italy.
But this was just the beginning. Upset by the bloodiest world war ever known to history, even the Italian film industry was backed into a corner. It may have stayed there for a long time if the Titanus studios at the Farnesina, in Rome (where the university graduate Goffredo put overalls on as he learns the trade of building movie sets), hadn't released several films that encouraged the rapid relaunching of an activity that had by now embraced the entire movie production cycle: from shooting, to editing, to national distribution and even exhibiting.
In the meantime neorealism had started to come about in Italy, and authors such as Rossellini, Visconti, De Sica, and Zavattini make works that are precious for culture but have little following by the public. This is when Gustavo Lombardo released three films that broke all box office records and made Titanus the top national production company. They were very average stories, titled Catene, Tormento, I figli di nessuno. They were directed by Raffaello Matarazzo and interpreted by one of the most applauded Italian actors of that period, Amedeo Nazzari, with at his side a dark, buxom Mediterranean beauty, Yvonne Sanson.
To tell the truth, Goffredo was to follow with the third of these three films (remake of a film his mother played in many years earlier), having taken over from his father in 1950. Now it was Goffredo who followed the Titanus policy of using box-office successes to invest money in research and experimentation, to give space to new talent, to draw the public's attention to new topics of greater cultural or social value (the year following Nobody's Child, the film Roma, ore 11 by Giuseppe De Santic was started, the script written by Cesare Zavattini about the true story of the collapse of a stairway where a group of aspiring typists were waiting for job interviews).
With Goffredo the locals weren't to be disappointed in their expectations. His father discovered Totò and launched him to become an icon for special adoration in the sanctuary of national entertainment; Goffredo discovered an eighteen-year-old in the Portici suburb of Naples called Sofia Scicolone, who he re-baptised Sophia Loren, and launched her into a star system where her light still shines. For years, even decades, Goffredo Lombardo's Titanus keeps ranks of bill-pasters busy papering the walls of Italian cities with faces and titles to fill our evenings (or afternoons) at the cinema. These stories will make us smile, make us dream, make us think. They may even help us to grow, see ourselves and become what we really are.
Some of us weren't even born when the Titanus logo appeared on the screen of Italian cinemas showing scenes of Rome from Poveri ma belli. Or the rural frescoes of the trilogy titled Bread, Love and something. But others, many other spectators, with their applause had already placed Titanus works in cinema history. Some of them were Fellini's Il bidone or Francesco Rosi's Rocco e i suoi fratelli (produced not by chance by Lombardo the same year his company produced for the mass audience a purely entertaining work such as Il corazziere interpreted by Rascel).
Lombardo alternated more and more often from career directors, whether grand masters of the cinema or ordinary routine directors behind the camera, to young nearly unknown directors. Films like Olmi's Il posto, or Zurlini's La ragazza con la valigia, or Petri's I giorni contati (not to forget Il camorrista by Giuseppe Tornatore making his debut, to later win an Oscar with his Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) were imposed and proposed by Goffredo making an appeal to a passion - his own - no less intense or less lucid than that which animated more costly, spectacular productions such as Nanni Loy's Le quattro giornate di Napoli or colossals like Sodoma e Gomorra, or matchless masterpieces such a Luchino Visconti's Il Gattopardo.
From 1963 onwards Goffredo Lombardo dedicated himself to a wide range of genres of distribution and production - as was customary in the times Gustavo lived in - proposing popular cinematography starting with the musicals of Wertmuller with Gianni Morandi and Rita Pavone, movies from De Philip, Steno, Vanzinas, Parenti, Verdone, Tognazzi, Vitti, Celentano, Nuti, Bud Spencer and alternating with deep titles such as Fellini's Casanova, the Gospel according to Matthew, movies from Lattuada, Pietrangeli, Pasolini, Scola, Olmi, Fellini, Moretti, the film starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, the newcomer Tornatore and spacing to the "thriller" genre with the emerging film director Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava's films, Gianluigi Rondi etc; All these films are characterized by unforgettable soundtracks, the work of famous musicians such as Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Carlo Rustichelli and Armando Trovajoli
Even in the distribution of foreign films Titanus has been able to offer to their audience very different movie genres such as "Apocalypse Now", "Once Upon a Time in America", and highlighting names like Henry Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola, Brando.
Today Titanus is no more Goffredo Lombardo but is Guido Lombardo, his son. Thre legacy of Titanus carries on from Grandfather, to father, to son for 110 years. The scenery is different. The reference screen has become television. But the most famous Italian factory of "moving images" continues to produce emotions that come every night in our homes with the same respect for all of us.