Emilio Fernandez treated the same theme as Maria Candelaria, and there is Michael Anderson’s Pope Joan for a correct application of style. Here, there is a director like a boy in a bordello, whose idea is to play charades. This is all the more remarkable in that the script specifically deals with hackwork, among many other things.
It’s the biography of Veronica Franco, who rose to eminence among the courtesans of Venice. Her greatest exploit came during the war over Cyprus, when she enlisted the aid of France against the Turks by giving King Henry a banana, or possibly a zucchini.
The costumes are sumptuous and worn on location. The script rises to the occasion in rhyming couplets for the lady’s poetry jousts, and displays every ability in the administration of the complete theme along a tightrope between pornocracy and Savonarola.
“What do you yearn for, King Henry?”, she wants to know, like Oprah Winfrey asking Johnny Carson, “What pleasures you?” The poet Maffio Venier, a civic booster, is bested by her, and leads the prosecution in her trial by the Holy Inquisition on a charge of witchcraft. Her greatest admirer stands up for her in court, and so does every one of her illustrious clientele (the joke is from A Woman Under the Influence, with a difference).
A champ contre champ of the Doge and the King looks like Italian portraiture, but the actors are mostly defeated, particularly Catherine McCormack and Rufus Sewell, reduced in the last extremity to wishing upon a star (Robert Powell or Helen Hunt). The score is no help whatsoever.
Here is the masterpiece manqué, greenlighted in advance of a proper consideration of its requirements, a raid on “the auteur theory”.