An incomparable comedy that shows De Sica to be the equal of his compeers in Hollywood, very close in manner to Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey, for instance, and above all looking forward to Jay Sommers’ Green Acres in the wittiness of its deadpan surreality. The plot is a careful construction worthy of Capra, it plows back its effects into something like classical farce, and so prepares the wealth of invention and freedom in De Sica’s postwar films.
A young doctor is visited by his mistress, who is starring in a revue. His expenses are too many, his only patient is a boy with chronic poison ivy. His father arrives, why is the doctor in his dressing gown? “It’s sterilized,” says the pediatrician, who still consults his books. And here, perhaps, is the premise of the comedy under Mussolini, “your creditors think unity is strength, but you’re stronger because you don’t pay anyone.” The issue is forced, he must accept a salaried position as Health Inspector at an orphanage for girls, but first there is the explanation of a woman in his reception room, “it’s a new treatment, first the mothers, then the children.”
Teresa is an assistant nurse at the Santa Chiara Orphanage, her last name is the day she was found, her father was a celebrated actor, a box of costumes is in the attic, she gets into trouble for rehearsing Romeo and Juliet.
The girls are lined up for inspection. “How do you feel?”, he asks. “How is your appetite?” Castor oil is the regimen for hay fever and thyroid, a recalcitrant patient says, “you take it!” He does, but recommends in future “a cool drink with seltzer and lemon,” if he’s to show how.
The creditors are a trio of bitter clowns in mufti, fighting over the one stuffed chair in the waiting room. The house must be sold, a colleague handles it, there is a wealthy mattress manufacturer out to marry off his daughter, who has developed a penchant for rhyming and thinks she’s a poetess (“at the upholsterer’s she said, ‘it’s not a whim, I like that trim’”). She is sweeping the tennis court and composing an ode when the doctor appears, mistaking her for the maid, they rally and kiss, her parents see this and announce an engagement. The upshot is, the house remains in the family and need not be bought for the daughter.
An envious snitch at the orphanage reports Teresa for her dramatics, and puts a love note in the doctor’s hat, signed with her rival’s name (and misspelled). The directress ascertains the truth with a blackboard, followed by a slap, but circumstances are such that Teresa is sent to sweep up at a butcher’s shop. The Countess who serves as President of the orphanage is told the whole story and inquires, “what time is it?”
The doctor’s mistress is rehearsing a musical number, the girls lumber through it lifelessly like cattle on a cloudy day (their inspiration comes from life), she slaps her thighs and sings the song with a most comical blasÚ, the director moans, “there is no love of art any more!”
A middle-aged houseboy presents himself to the doctor, he is a stable boy, no other experience, and has a letter of introduction from the doctor’s mother. “But, my mother’s been dead for four years.” The man tells a tale of hoof and mouth successfully cured, years of service, the horses sold by “the Count, her husband”, and his present solicitation.
The creditors are amazed to see their client has a servant. A telegram from the doctor’s sister initiates the grand finale. Teresa has run away, comes in out of the rain and is taken for the sister, the mistress arrives, sees a girl in a robe, she is furious about her lover’s engagement, he arrives, she bids him addio. Teresa explains the doctor’s poverty to the fiancÚe, who breaks off the engagement, his colleague resumes a courtship interrupted by mischance. The mattress tycoon buys Teresa off, she steps into the next room and asks the creditors the exact amount which she then demands, “and fifty cents for the bus”. The mistress telephones with a dressmaker’s bill that still has to be paid.
Teresa marries the doctor, he goes to work at a hospital. Memorable images abound, the orphans arranging apples on straw-covered shelves, Teresa in the doctor’s rear-view mirror, the matrons of St. Clare’s, whose charges set the refectory table by tossing plates one to another, and the calm Italianate rationality of the whole business.
Un Garibaldino al convento
As Bu˝uel’s Mexican films could not be perceived and still are largely unknown as the masterpieces they are, so De Sica’s first films in Fascist Italy are quite ignored.
Even more to the point, Un Garibaldino al convento directly emulates the style of Robert Z. Leonard’s Pride and Prejudice, unless De Sica found the necessity of inventing it, the way Bergman had to invent Renoir sight unseen.
His great deaf Excellency is receiving a toast, at last an advisor lets him know what is being said, on his feet with glass in hand His Excellency toasts His Excellency.
The totally bald generalissimo is another minor character. The director plays a secondary garibaldino.
Antonioni pays homage in Il Mistero di Oberwald from Cocteau’s L’Aigle Ó deux tŕtes.
Somber nuns and lively convent girls receive an injured garibaldino, sword on sash. The marchesa likewise receives at length an admirer.
The tale is a reminiscence, which avails De Sica a summoning of the tenderest youthful feelings and the pointed consideration that visibly (in the eyes of the aged raconteuse) girls were more beautiful then.
Two shoeshine boys buy a horse. The last fillip is an unexpected windfall from a swindle that goes over their heads. In jail they’re divided, the conviction sends the younger one on an escape, the older one leads the police to the stable and accidentally kills his former partner.
The general statement of purpose outlined in the New York Times (T.M.P.) was that SciusciÓ came across as “a social document” and “no entertainment”. All well and good, but the humor and the fantastic elements put it right where it is, between Teresa Venerdý and Umberto D. or Miracolo a Milano.
Take the caper, the younger one has a big brother in the rackets, the shoeshine boys sell two American blankets to a middle-aged lady fortuneteller in an upstairs apartment. One of her clients is a police inspector’s wife, “she wants to know when I’ll be dead,” he repines after the case falls in his lap. Having made the sale, the boys are leaving when the gang enter as cops pursuing the contraband, they usher the boys out with a tip and fleece the fortuneteller.
In juvenile prison, the boys are shown a newsreel of MacArthur in the Pacific while the escape is made. The priest running the projector loses sight of it in the sudden uproar, the film catches fire and the projector is ablaze.
Ladri di Biciclette
Style is substance, stripped of the allure in his magician’s hat, matching his sparse interiors to the dour reality around him, De Sica relates a fraction of the story (which is his) to the unfortunate dilemma of the time. No going on, no other predicament than the general idea of going on.
Out of nothingness, a career in the movies, a certain apparatus is needed for this. Sinbad’s old man and a German-hatted kid purloin it.
The old man is a charity case of matron and lawyer and church, the kid is sick, an epileptic. No move is possible, this film is the sufficient history.
Cf. Laurel and Hardy in Air Raid Wardens (dir. Edward Sedgwick). The Bicycle Thief in English, but the Italian title really means Bicycle Thieves.
Miracolo a Milano
In which De Sica invents Fellini.
“‘Change our fates, flitter the curses, to begin with the weather,’ these children sing at you. ‘Lift anywhere our fortunes’ and our wishes’ substance,’ they beg of you... really from beyond the grave, and no commissions.”
Grand Prix, Cannes.
You get to see Baudelaire’s old clown at his disused booth and a fullfed ox kick the empty dinner pail, she is a blonde, she belts out opera arias. “Once, during the War, I fed her with my bread, I don’t eat much,” now she wants lebensraum.
It’s a matter of style, payments by the hour don’t quite fill the lustrous urge of a born madam.
Variously De Sica borrows from Chaplin or Eliot to achieve an effect or paint a picture.
Cf. Tennessee Williams’ The Strangest Kind of Romance.
Indiscretion of an American Wife
Selznick’s rescension and embellishment of Stazione Termini perhaps adds a note of accentuation highlighting a certain resemblance to Duvivier’s Anna Karenina, this is very useful as it isolates a thematic strand of thought from Minnelli’s Madame Bovary, Lean’s Brief Encounter (which, as often noted, takes place in a train station), and leading to Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County. The position is absurd, in whatever technical sense, for De Sica, who nevertheless has found a way out of the impasse set for him by the aged madonna who leads to Heaven in Miracolo a Milano and the brutal whore who presides over Hell in Umberto D., by combining the two as a volatile image that here appears as a fascinating, concentrated model for la Ciociara amid the devastation of the war (but doubtless see also I Bambini ci guardano).
└ bout de souffle artfully remembers the President’s carpeted passage through the station past the Commissariat of Police where Mrs. Forbes is terrified of the scandal caused by her lover Giovanni Doria inveigling her into an empty railway car for an embrace.
This is much magnified and celebrated in Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini, and on the contrary is humorously belittled in Glenville’s The Comedians. Montgomery Clift’s performance as the shipwrecked lover casts a light upon the very cold savagery of Wyler’s The Heiress that is illuminating.
The difficult filming in the station is prodigious and affable beyond technical constraints in just the easy way De Sica’s name instantly brings to mind. He shifts the river of a Roman crowd to suit his backgrounds like Hercules articulating every point of his screenplay by Zavattini et al., which must needs have impressed the dreamlike mind of Schlesinger’s Billy Liar.
Jennifer Jones exercises the part in its first airing, it seems to her creative mind a properly demonstrative surface for the chambered nautilus that is the lady’s secret recess of understanding, the world and her oyster thus equated.
L’Oro di Napoli
The true De Sica in all his glory as a functionary taking on the Mafia, a pizzamaker’s wife looking for her lost ring, a young boy’s funeralino, the gambling fool of a Count, “una di quelle” da Roma “loved at first sight in Piazza Dante” and married on the rebound “to atone”, the raspberry of raspberries.
The London dub (The Gold of Naples) is a work of art, perfectly idiomatic, an ideal translation. It gives the order as “The Boss”, “The Gambler”, “The Wedding” and “The Ring”, which makes a perfect evaluation of Dreyer in Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife and leaves the omitted portions for the original.
Crowther saw a different arrangement with subtitles, and wrote in the New York Times that it, “in sum, is good acting (with good direction) and little more.” Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) speaks of “strained sentimentality.”
From the Commedia dell’arte to Hodiak and O’Hara, De Sica’s art, a masterpiece of masterpieces.
A wedding is a happy occasion, so is a job, a place to sleep, De Sica gives you that in the first few minutes, “a roof over your head.”
Her father is very angry, the fisherman, so it’s Bu˝uel and Fernandez beside the sea.
But on, to the new construction and the apprentice bricklayer’s family home, a crumbling crowded dwelling where De Sica’s art at its most magisterial passes for a magician’s or a ringmaster’s, sotto voce.
Much later there is Schlesinger’s A Kind of Loving. It’s a trip to the moon, a home of your own. Leaving home is a sad occasion...
A major influence on Antonioni (Il Grido). The down-and-outs of Miracolo a Milano build themselves brick shithouses to live in, the police are averse.
Zavattini-Montuori-Cicognini. “My father was right, he said don’t get married without a house.”
“Who’d get married, then?”
An expert is cited, “Signor Bergman” (Hamnstad), on lunar voyages. Question of a domicile for two and baby in a single night, from foundation to title.
You get this sort of thing in the Depression, Man’s Castle (dir. Frank Borzage), for example. By the railroad tracks, where the rats are as big as cats. Our Daily Bread (dir. King Vidor), also. Question of a light to see by.
Amid the incidental resemblances (Richardson’s a taste of honey flits by), Frankenheimer can be noted for the car-painting in The Train.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times bumbled onto “a kind of poetry” that took three years to cross the Atlantic.
Anna di Brooklyn
She comes back from America a widow, up-to-date, well-to-do, Fast and Sexy as the English title has it.
Lollobrigida, forza bella, has suitors but no lovers, De Sica, village priest, coaches the local team, Robertson, blacksmith and man of all work, marries her.
Godard (Cahiers du CinÚma) thought little enough of it, Eugene Archer (New York Times) saw “total inanity... stupefyingly soporific” in the English dub.
Co-directed with Carlo Lastricati (and Reginald Denham).
The English title accentuates the final image of Two Women forming a PietÓ by way of Picasso’s “weeping women” and an extraordinary atypical construction of the rape scene from Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver (the bomb hole in the church roof) and Renoir’s Partie de campagne (the look of recognition).
The Woman from Ciociaria adds the balance of the picture, a study of the peasantry. The war is brought home to their equilibrium in most unfortunate ways. Her shop in Rome is nearly struck by Allied bombs, she flees to the village with her daughter. The farmers start hiding their grain, she returns to Rome and both are raped en route by United Nations soldiers from Morocco.
The curious invention of the title character is young and maternal, aloof and at home, quite natural and very guarded towards men in particular.
The married shopkeeper next door in Rome covets her, the village intellectual loves her, she lets the one guard her shop while the other could marry the girl if she were old enough.
The mother is a widow who married for Rome an old man she didn’t love, “I married Rome,” she sells the perennial commodity, groceries.
Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini has a different angle on alliances, political or otherwise, within women’s observations. De Sica notes the inconveniences that affect daily life, newspaper accounts of His Imperial Majesty or the Holy Father expounding on events, the affability of young German soldiers (“home by Christmas” they signal in smiling gestures and elementary German), the Fascist pins worn carelessly in the village, the irony of a future built on peasant virtues in the mind of the intellectual, who is marched away by hard-bitten German soldiers leaving the country.
“Ask your sister,” shouts the Ciociarian to a passing American tank commander with a camera, who wants to see her legs. A dead man on the road to the village killed before their eyes by a strafing plane is something for mother and daughter to walk around in the early part of the picture. The light from the hole in the church roof shines directly down on the gang-raped daughter, “my angel”.
Il giudizio universale
With prescient reference to the Kennedy-Khrushchev showdown, The Last Judgment at Naples and elsewhere, according to a capricious god.
Even The Bicycle Thief is there to witness the game called on account of rain, but it all blows over.
Ultrafine satire is the constituent element.
I sequestrati di Altona
The Condemned of Altona are the prisoners in the concentration camp ordered by Himmler on property adjacent to the Gerlach shipyard in Hamburg, but also Gerlach and his son Franz, a Wehrmacht officer accused at Nuremberg of genocide and other crimes in Russia.
The lessons of Capra (Here Is Germany), Siegel (Hitler Lives), Wilder (A Foreign Affair) and Seaton (The Big Lift) are evidently forgotten, Germany dominates Europe, Gerlach above all.
Visconti expands the dying shipbuilder’s journey by boat for Death in Venice, and general considerations of the drama for La Caduta degli dei.
“Undoubtedly anti-German,” said Variety. “A disappointing film,” said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. “Very glum” (Halliwell’s Film Guide). “An awful film” (Don Druker, Chicago Reader).
All you have to do is give up one of your balls, an eyeball to be more exact.
One of the greatest jokes in the cinema.
Ieri Oggi Domani
Three amusing stories. Adelina must be pregnant at all times to escape the law (black market cigarettes), her husband wearies, she goes to jail. Forcella puts a voluntary tax on everything to pay her fine, her lawyer gets the President to pardon her.
Anna drives a Rolls-Royce to her lover, a journalist. He takes the wheel, “swerves to avoid a porcupine”, the car smashes. A passing motorist picks her up, the lover walks back to Milano the other way.
Mara is a hooker, she saves a seminary student from a fate worse than her, and her Bolognese client in the Ministry to make bribes for Daddy comes to the Holy Virgin.
Sophia Loren all three, with Marcello Mastroianni in comic support, superbly.
A fearful waif in a Naples whorehouse, she clings to him.
A full-blown whore, she is installed in a flat as his mistress.
A capable and intelligent woman, she handles his affairs.
She has three sons now, one of them his. He marries her and still doesn’t know.
The baroque, Italianate composition of this fooled many of the critics, Bosley Crowther didn’t care, he liked it (New York Times).
There are two ways of marrying a man, she tries both.
After the Fox
How Flight from Egypt (dir. Vittorio de Sica) becomes The Gold of Cairo (dir. Federico Fabrizi). The American star Tony Powell is sold on it as “neorealistic”.
De Sica’s understanding of Hollywood comedy dates from his earliest films, here the Anglo-American style is just another perspective, another dialect he speaks perfectly.
He is played by Peter Sellers as an actor, and by himself as a director. John Huston’s Beat the Devil figures in the equation and is acknowledged in the actor who plays Moses.
What a crook thinks of Antonioni is also a factor.
Una sera come
Huston’s The Bible and Losey’s Modesty Blaise are on at the movies with a lot of other things, she dreams of a spectacle that is her as Salome, he works all day and brings home the bacon and snores at night.
The grand finale, Mangano prismatic.
Woman Times Seven
Seven works of genius by Zavattini, exemplarily filmed by De Sica.
Paulette is flighty (“Funeral Procession”), Maria Teresa maternal (“Amateur Night”), Linda essential (“Two Against One”, with its great reading of T.S. Eliot), Edith in love (“Super Simone”, the writer’s dilemma), Eve vain (“At the Opera”, a specific mystery), Marie lively (“The Suicides”), Jean feminine (“Snow”).
“Humourless after-dinner entertainment,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, and it would seem that critics agreed.
The lady in the palazzo with its Renaissance trompe-l’œil. The safety engineer with crash improvements he demonstrates on a raceway.
She is in fashion, and dying, and on morphine. He finds this out in the midst of their love affair at Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The exact nature of this poetic tale just went right by the critics.
A Place for Lovers it’s called in English.
She invites him to the palazzo, they go to the mountains. The truth sends her over the edge almost, but they drive down again with her at the wheel, until she stops and confesses her fear. “You drive,” she says.
The comedy side of this is Lubitsch’s That Uncertain Feeling.
The tale of an Italian soldier on the Russian front who promised his wife a fur and buys one at GUM.
He has become a good Russian husband and father, his new wife picks it out.
He travels to Milan to give it to his Italian wife.
The Italian contribution to the Axis defeat in Russia. The title is an image of the dead, sunflowers growing over their mass graves.
Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini
The encirclement and extinction of Ferrarese Jews under Mussolini, with a tale in the middle of love set at nought, a fatal decision.
This is the choice by Micol Finzi-Contini of a hardy goyishe lover to supplant the inept romancings of a scholarly and poetic shlemiel known since childhood, a nice young college student.
She and her family are arrested, the goy dies on the Russian front, the shlemiel and most of his family escape to consider these matters in retrospect, presumably.
Reviewers have a surprisingly inaccurate view of the events, and invariably describe the film as somehow lacking in substance.
The Spider’s Stratagem that same year has an escaped German lion to make the point more clearly even than, take it all in all, Monicelli & Sordi & De Sica do in Le coppie, and Malle in Au revoir les enfants has the Nazis decrying a lack of discipline amongst a subject people, but call “Il leone” a two-reel comedy about lovers beset by a lioness beyond the bars of their weekly villa, after “Il frigorifero” and “La camera”.
Lo chiameremo Andrea
Two schoolteachers, man and wife, cannot have children (dissemination and insemination), they go to a Germanic clinic, she has imperious “moments”, he submits, they prepare the nursery.
No go, a spiritualist sells her some drops, for his coffee, a guest goes berserk, the party’s over.
Clouds and moonlight and a passing train witness their love on a nearby hill.
The music throughout includes a children’s choir of the Bartok-Kodaly school.
We’ll Call Him Andrew, says the title.