In Hot Potato a factory worker rescues a gay man from a hate crime and takes him in as a roommate. Eventually he’s mistaken for gay by his co-workers. They’re proud communists, devoted to workers rights, but can’t handle the “hot potato” issue of homosexuality. This forgotten buddy comedy swings between darkness and slapstick but never bothers to tell a compelling story. Massimo Ranieri maintains his dignity in the gay best friend role despite the script using him as a punching bag.
You do not need to watch this film. But you can check out my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: A Cranky Hero
Scene One: Workday
CAB DRIVER: GET AWAY YOU FILTHY COMMUNIST PIG!
BERNARDO (A communist): I’ll beat you up! (He does.)
CO-WORKER: I can’t breathe in our smoky paint factory! (Passes out.)
BERNARDO: Fix this boss, or I’ll cough paint on your wall! (He does.)
BOSS: Gross. Have an air purifier.
CO-WORKERS: Bernardo saved us!
MARIA (Bernardo’s girlfriend): But he still won’t take me dancing!
BERNARDO: Shut up woman! Communists don’t dance.
Scene Two: A parking lot at night
(Bernardo sees four fascists beating up a young man.)
BERNARDO: Good thing I used to be a boxer. BAM! POW! CRASH! (They flee.)
CLAUDIO (A book store clerk): My hero.
BERNARDO: You’re injured. I’ll take you home.
Scene Three: Bernardo’s Bedroom
BERNARDO: You need salve on those bruises. I’ll take off your shirt. (He does. Claudio moans.)
You should sleep in my bed. I’ll take off your pants. (He does. Claudio moans.)
You need a shot of painkillers. I’ll take off your underwear. (Before he can, the phone rings.)
MAN ON PHONE: Is my boyfriend there? Are you his side piece?
CLAUDIO: Ex-boyfriend. Don’t call me again. (Hangs up on him)
BERNARDO: Say whaaat? You don’t act gay.
CLAUDIO: How do gays act?
BERNARDO: Like this.
(Bernardo does an exaggerated sassy gay walk in his briefs. Creepy Land Lady watches them through the window.)
CREEPY LANDLADY: This is so hot.
Act Two: Mistaken for Gay!
Scene Four: Hijinks montage.
MARIA: I’m naked!
CLAUDIO: I’m depressed. (Attempts suicide)
BERNARDO: Dark. I’ll save you! (Gives Claudio mouth to mouth)
CREEPY LANDLADY: Hot. Potato.
CLAUDIO: The fascists burnt down my bookstore. I lived there.
BERNARDO: So come move in with me.
MARIA and CO-WORKERS: Is Bernardo turning gay?
Scene Five: Bernardo’s Apartment
(Claudio redecorated in pink and cooked a fancy dinner. He wears a sexy robe.)
BERNARDO: You’re a great cook. Why do all this? (Drinks)
CLAUDIO: Because I love you……… Say something.
MARIA: (Arrives in a sexy red dress.) How romantic. But can he compete with this!
(Does a strip tease. Bernardo passes out drunk.)
MARIA: All I do in this film is get naked. (Cries)
CLAUDIO: Well all I do is get beat up. Here. This will make you smile!
(Claudio puts make up on the sleeping Bernardo. Maria giggles.)
CO-WORKERS: Wake up Bernardo. Egad! He’s wearing makeup! (They flee.)
BERNARDO: Oh no. I sorta like Claudio. Am I gay? (Maria strips naked… again.) I’m not gay.
Act Three: Comrades
Scene Six: Union Party
(Hammer and sickle decorations. Co-workers are dancing outdoors.)
CO-WORKERS: Drop Claudio or we’ll kick you out of the Union.
BERNARDO: Stop that! The fascists came for the Jews, then the Communists, then the homosexuals. We need to support each other. Dance with me Claudio!
(Bernardo and Claudio tango together. The Co-Workers are scandalized.)
MARIA: I guess he can dance. Character development!
CLAUDIO: I just realized… I’m the potato! I won’t let you wreck your career. (Shoves him.) GET AWAY YOU FILTHY COMMUNIST PIG!
BERNARDO: WHAT!? I’ll beat you up! (He does.)
CO-WORKERS: Hurrah! Welcome back to the Union!
MARIA: Kinda wish this movie had ended with the tango.
Scene Seven: Months later. A Gay Bar in Amsterdam.
(Claudio’s a cook. The servers are Drag Queens.)
BERNARDO: I’m sorry.
CLAUDIO: Apology accepted. You married Maria? I got married too!
BERNARDO: To a woman?
DRAG QUEEN: To a drag queen.
BERNARDO: Say whaaaaaat?
The Potato is a Metaphor
The Partito Comunista Italiano, or PCI, maintained a strong presence in the 70’s and 80’s before changing to the Democratic Party of the Left in 1991. We don’t learn much about them in the film, despite Bernardo’s speechifying.
The leads have lengthy careers in Italian cinema. Director and co-writer Steno was making movies as far back as the 1930’s. Still there’s a slapdash, amateurish feel to Hot Potato. It never commits to the union plot, the love triangle or the fascist threat.
Bernardo’s the one with the arc, learning that gays are people too and discrimination is bad. He also briefly considers his sexual fluidity. Claudio himself survives two assaults, a fire and a suicide attempt. On the plus side he’s allowed to maintain his dignity and, more interestingly, become an object of lust. That bedroom scene is racier than anything you’ll find in 1978’s La Cage Aux Folles. Still La Cage has a well-constructed plot and many more laughs. There’s a reason it’s remembered while Hot Potato is forgotten. I’m glad I stumbled upon it, but have little reason to watch it again.
Next up: Get ready for Halloween with 1985’s gay adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.