Monday, June 9, 2014

What do James Stewart, Billy Wilder, and Connie Francis Have in Common?

The answer is the melodic strains of the of the song "Senza Fine."

Italian composer Gino Paoli wrote "Senza Fine" in 1961. Although a popular success, it was not his biggest hit in his native country. That would be "Sapore Di Sale" or "Il Cielo in una Stanza." While those songs still have their ardent fans (Martin Scorsese used the latter in Goodfellas), it's "Senza Fine" that would be immortalized in two English-language films.

It first appeared in Robert Aldrich's gripping The Flight of the Phoenix. The song is playing on the radio as James Stewart and Ernest Borgnine watch over a fellow airplane crash survivor destined to die from his injuries. As Connie Francis croons "Senza Fine" in both English and Italian, the dying young man (Gabriele Tinti) finds solace in its lyrics. It's a poignant scene--a moment of tranquility--in a film filled with conflict, hardship, and suspense. You can view the scene below.

Alec Wilder wrote the English lyrics for "Senza Fine," since Paoli's original was in Italian only. When The Flight of Phoenix was released in Italy, though, the song was sung by Ornella Vanoni completely in Italian.

Although Connie Francis was near the height of her popularity in the mid-1960s, her recording of "Senza Fine" was never released as a single in the U.S. (although it was in Great Britain). Francis' version did appear on her 1966 album Movie Greats of the 1960s, where it was billed as "The Phoenix Love Theme (Senza fine)."

Thus, it was left to an instrumental group called The Brass Ring to record the only version of "Senza Fine" to chart in the U.S. Punctuated by Phil Bodner's saxophone solo, it's an upbeat interpretation which is pleasant enough, but without the poignancy of Francis' rendition. Still, it reached #21 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart as part of a two-sided single that also included "Lara's Theme (from Dr. Zhivago"). 

Despite its fame (and having watching The Flight of the Phoenix multiple times), I never took note of "Senza Fine" until I saw Billy Wilder's Avanti! (1972). Charming and under-appreciated, the film is about a reserved businessman (Jack Lemmon) who travels to an island near Naples to bury his father. He meets the daughter (Juliet Mills) of his father's mistress and, though married, finds himself falling in love. Wilder incorporates "Senza Fine" throughout the film, giving this scenic romance an effervescent charm. It's a lovely arrangement by Carlo Rustichelli (who also composed the original music for Avanti!).

And, of course, there have been numerous other version of "Senza Fine." It has been covered by recording artists as diverse as Andrea Bocelli, Boz Scaggs, and Dean Martin. Interestingly, it's rarely listed by its English-language title: "Without End."


  1. The Flight of the Pheonix was one of the early films that my father showed my sister and me when we were young, and the scene where Senza Fine played was always my favorite. I took a mini cassette recorder and taped it off the TV as the video was playing and use to listen to it for years. It wasn't until we were on a cruise ship ( the Italian MSC line ) that I heard another version of it. It was a newer 1990s jazz style recording by an Italian woman, but almost as lovely as Connie Francis'. And then, I stumbled on The Brass Ring's version a few years later and the Avanti album and released just how popular that tune was. Thanks for highlighting this great song! I never knew the composer was the same man who wrote Il Cielo in una Stanza. I wonder what other lovely melodies he penned!

  2. This post is a treat that brought back lovely memories. Let the song play on.

  3. Rick, what a delightful post! Thank you so much for including the three samplings of "Senza Fine" because I really enjoyed each, for very different reasons, though Connie Francis' version especially touches my heart.