Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

People we Like: Vittoria De Sica

Vittorio De Sica [1901-1974] was of course, along with Roberto Rossellini, one of the greats of Italian cinema, from the neo-realism of the '40s through to the glory days of the '60s and '70s. He was a matinee idol in the '30s and then turned to directing, with THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US, showing an extraordinarily sensitive touch with non-actors, especially children. It was also the first film he made with the writer Cesare Zavattini with whom he would subsequently make SHOESHINE (1946) and BICYCLE THIEVES (1948), heartbreaking studies of poverty in postwar Italy which won special Oscars before the foreign film category was officially established. UMBERTO D in '52 is a very downbeat look at old age - proud stubborn Umberto facing poverty and homelessness and his little dog Flick will break your heart, like those closing scenes in BICYCLE THIEVES.

TWO WOMEN is by comparison lighter fare and was a huge international hit in 1960 just as interest in European cinema was taking off, and making Sophia Loren (here at 25 playing the mother of a 14 year old) an even bigger star than she was in her American films. Loren and De Sica could have written their own ticket after that - she got the Best Actress Oscar in 1961, a year of 5 great nominees - but they chose the little seen THE CONDEMNED OF ALTONA from the Sartre play. I finally caught up with that last year!

Then followed those '60s hits with Loren and Mastroianni: YESTERDAY TODAY AND TOMORROW, the Naples section with the endlessly pregnant Loren is the best segment here, and - my favourite - MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE from the great Italian play FILUMENA. BOCCACCIO 70 was an amusing quartet of stories in 62, again with Loren, the other episodes were by Fellini and Visconti, the Monicelli segment being cut out from the original release but is now on the dvd. SUNFLOWER made partly in Russia was a misfire, being wildly old fashioned in 1970, as was A PLACE FOR LOVERS with Dunaway and Mastroianni in '69. Vittorio had a last great success (and another Oscar) with THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS from the Bassani novel, in 1971. His last few though went unreleased here in the UK: A BRIEF VACATION with Florinda Bolkan as a working class woman who is sent to a sanitarium for a cure which changes her life, was only shown on BBC television, and we never saw THE VOYAGE a less than successful final film with Loren (and Burton) until its recent dvd release! It comes across now as an old man's farewell to life and the cinema...

Vittorio though was a larger than life character - he gambled incessantly and apparantly had two families. Like the rather similar larger than life John Huston he acted in other director's films (over 100 actually), maybe to finance his gambling - in classics like Ophuls' MADAME DE... in '53, and IL GENERAL DELLA ROVERE in '59, he is fun with Angela Lansbury as impoverished aristocrats in the merry romp THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF MOLL FLANDERS in '65, he pops up in Sophia's THE MILLIONAIRESS as the sweatshop factory owner, and he is her lawyer in the delightful IT STARTED IN NAPLES with Gable. He co-stars with Dietrich in the '57 romance THE MONTE CARLO STORY, and with Gloria Swanson and the young Bardot in the '56 NERO's LOST WEEKEND which is an interesting curio to see now, as well as popular movies of the time like SCANDAL IN SORRENTO and those BREAD LOVE AND ... with Lollobrigida and GOLD OF NAPLES . He is terrific with the young Loren and Mastroianni in 1954's TOO BAD SHE'S BAD as the father of the family of criminals - this was a major treat for me to discover last year! His final role was as the father of those daughters in the Warhol BLOOD FOR DRACULA in '74. There is an interesting documentary on him in the recent BICYCLE THIEVES dvd release showing him at his busiest in the early '60s. Its always a pleasure seeing Vittorio (often hamming it up) in any film and I really should catch up with his directing efforts I have missed.

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