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.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Sophia - two more rarities

A BREATH OF SCANDAL, 1960. This, the last of the films Sophia Loren made for Paramount, seems rather forgotten now. I last saw it back in the days when revival houses ran double bills, coupled with BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS – gosh, one got value for money then! This though was not really a success, despite the opulent sets of palaces, hunting lodges and stunning interiors, set as it is in the Austrian empire circa 1900, shortly after Mayerling, as automobile salesman John Gavin from Pittsburgh gets involved with princess Olympia (Loren) who has been banned from court for being indiscreet. Maurice Chevalier and Isobel Jeans (so splendid in GIGI) are improbably her parents. Loren thinks papa has a mistress, but he only pretends to, as it is expected of him! Gavin though lacks the light comedy touch required here. Like THE SWAN it is from a play by Molnar and what sinks it is the leaden direction from old timer Michael Curtiz – I thought this was actually his last film, but he helmed a few more.

The best thing about it now of course (apart from Sophia) is another scene-stealing performance by Angela Lansbury – rather reprising her similar one in THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE – as the catty Countess trying to get everyone into trouble at the Royal Palace. An amusing soufflĂ© then with a few nice moments. I enjoyed it a lot when I was 12 though. Cukor regular George Hoyningen-Heune is credited with the costumes and he creates some stunning ones for Loren, incuding that hat which looks like she has a dead bird on her head!

DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS. The one Sophia Loren title I had not seen of her early American films - perhaps it was considered too strong for Ireland in the '50s? This Delbert Mann film, scripted by Irwin Shaw from the Eugene O'Neill play must have been heavy stuff back in 1958 – but it all seems rather risible now. There is something inherently funny in the sight (and sound) of Burl Ives’ portrayal of the despotic biblical patriarch Ephraim (who has already buried two over-worked wives) returning with Anna, his new Italian wife (Loren) a shrewish woman who married him for security and the farm. Resentful son Tony Perkins gets rid of the two other sons (who not only share a room but also a bed, common practice then, but would raise eyebrows now) and the stage is set for a variant on Greek tragedy. The actors do their best with the material which gets rather ponderous towards the end, with the party and the return of the other sons and their “fancy women”. Mann from MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES to some Doris Day films certainly helmed some interesting choices then, rather like Martin Ritt did. Certainly an interesting oddity and very stage-bound; Sophia and Tony were better cast in 1962's FIVE MILES TO MIDNIGHT.

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