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, 1 June 2012

Cinderella, Italian style ...

Italian week: 3 - Sophia Loren trio, rarities by Francesco Rosi, Vittorio De Sica, Alessandro Blasetti
Sophia escapes from the barrel
Three Sophia Loren rarities, which have never played in London as far as I am aware since I arrived here in 1964 - particularly surprising regarding C'ERA UNA VOLTA (MORE THAN A MIRACLE or CINDERELLA ITALIAN STYLE!) as surely Loren and Sharif were big box office in 1967. This is a very realistic fairy tale (unlike Demy's DONKEY SKIN, a recent post here, see below) by Francesco Rosi (SALVATORE GUILIANO, LUCKY LUCIANO etc), and co-scripted by Tonino Guerra; with marvellous widescreen compositions and set in a wonderfully colorful countryside where prince Omar Sharif seems more at home taming his wild horse than seeking a bride as urged by his mother Dolores Del Rio, looking splendidly regal here. Also splendidly regal is peasant girl Sophia - she really was looking her best here after her mid-'60s hits like ARABESQUE - as she as the prince are drawn to each other. 

Cue monks who can fly,  other saints in the air (we can see the wires holding them) and those cackling old witches, as well as a mountain of eggs hatching out little chicks. Sophia is accused of being a witch too and is put in a barrel which rolls away to the sea and she is rescued from it by some children. Then we have the seven princesses at the palace who have to win the prince by winning the dish-washing competition - our peasant cinderella is doing fine until the plates mysteriously start to break .... leaving one scheming princess the winner. Sophia though is advised by a flying monk as to how she was cheated and she returns, leading to the inevitable happy ending. This is an Italian only dvd, no English sub-titles but they are not necessary.
This is truly delightful stuff and a vivid feast for the eye with those marvellous compositions, and again, did Sophia ever look better?

1962's THE CONDEMNED OF ALTONA is very different fare. What surprised me is how much I was engrossed by it as  had imagined it would be very tedious if not boring,. It is hardly that. The first 10 minutes is all Fredric March as Gerlach, a wealthy industrialist in Hamburg who is being told he has inoperable cancer - he bargains for 6 months more and returns to survey his empire at the Hamburg docks, and then summons his son Werner (Robert Wagner) and his actress wife Joanna (Sophia) to his country estate at Altona. He wants the son to take over the business but Werner is reluctant to give up his lawyer practice. There was another son Franz who died in the war .... This could all be heavy going but De Sica and Loren know how to engage an audience and retain our interest. The credentials though are top notch: the play by Sartre, music by Shostakovich, an excerpt from Brecht's "Arturo Ui".

Gradually though the family secrets begin to unravel as Joanna sees who Gerlach's daughter Leni (Francoise Prevost) visits at night - the Nazi son Franz is hidden in the attic - or is he hiding from the world, as he imagines the destruction of Germany after the war. Joanna, at first appalled, begins to have meetings with Franz (1961's other Oscar winner, Maximilian Schell), who then escapes the house and goes out to see the new Germany for himself and we see his wonder at the successful Germany of the '60s as people stare and laugh at his Nazi uniform.
This was the era of course, 15 or 16 years after the war, when the guilt about what happened was still very vivid and discussed. I was a teenager at the time and remember those books by the likes of Hugh Trevor Roper and Lord Russell of Liverpool (now its Anthony Beevor and Max Hastings). The sombre drama (scripted by Abby [JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG] Mann) plays out with the risible scene where Franz wanders into a production of the Brecht play with Joanna on stage. The ending is highly dramatic too when Franz deliberately plunges to his death from a dockside crane taking his father with him ...
One wonders what audiences at the time made of this, it must have been hard going in the cinema and surely must not be what audiences were expecting from the latest Loren-De Sica effort. March is terrific as usual as the dying patriarch expediating his guilt at the crimes of the Nazi son and that concentration camp nearby. The film of course was not a success at the time and hardly seen since, but is certainly a fascinating oddity now.

1955's LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN (La Fortuna di Essere Donna)  is I think Loren's last Italian film before she went off to those American productions made in Europe (THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION, BOY ON A DOLPHIN, LEGEND OF THE LOST) which I liked so much at the time ... This is a breezy, inconsequential, but likeable comedy about a photographer, played by Marcello Mastroianni (his 3rd with Loren) who snaps a Roman beauty thus launching her on a successful career as a model, thus attracting the attention of wealthy Charles Boyer. Elisa Cegani is marvellous as Boyer's long-suffereing wife who gets her revenge in a delicious restaurant scene (rather like Dolores Gray with Greg Peck in DESIGNING WOMAN, 1957). Again, no English subtitles in this Italian only dvd, but they hardly matter. Like TOO BAD SHE'S BAD (also by Blasetti the previous year 1954) and WOMAN OF THE RIVER (as per my previous Loren posts on these favourites of mine) this is enjoyable stuff from before Sophia went international ....now where can I get SCANDAL IN SORRENTO, also 1955 ?

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