Archive | August 2012

StarChoice 3: The Secret of Santa Vittoria

In an illustrious career spanning more than 30 years, American film producer/director Stanley Kramer (1913 –2001) made many hit films which include “The Pride and the Passion”, “The Defiant Ones”, “Judgment at Nuremberg”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, etc. But the one I like most is “The Secret of Santa Vittoria”, a Stanley Kramer production shot in the tiny Italian village of Anticoli Corrado near Rome.

Set in the summer of 1943, just after the fall of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, it tells the story of the simple people of the wine-producing hillside village of Santa Vittoria who desperately attempt to hide 1,317,000 (more or less) bottles of wine from the German army who are coming to occupy their village and commandeer the wine which constitutes its wealth. Starring my favourite Anthony Quinn (in a performance that somewhat equals the one in “Zorba the Greek”), his old friend volatile Italian actress Anna Magnani (La Magnani), sultry Virna Lisi (her second teaming with Quinn after their outing in The 25th Hour), and German actor Hardy Kruger (Hatari!), it is a wonderful movie that’s not to be missed.

Following their sterling performance of fleshed-out characters in “Wild is the Wind” (1957), the combination of Anthony Quinn as Italo Bombolini, the bumbling, drunken Mayor and Anna Magnani as his shrewish, nagging wife Rosa Bombolini is so hilarious at times, that this comedy drama has now gained a cult following. Who could forget the antics of Quinn on top of the water-tank; the fight scene of flying utensils, rolling pins and cooked spaghetti between Rosa and Bombolini; Rosa explicitly explaining about sex with a stalk of celery and two apples; the final transformation of the village clown into great esteem as the village’s hero; and the wonderful dance riot of the village folk?

An extraordinary fictional story that resonates with realism, no wonder this film was nominated for two Academy Awards (Editing and Best Music Scoring). It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Comedy. The musical score by Ernest Gold is so fantastic that it will hang around you long time after the movie is finished.

For a detailed storyline of this charming and inspiring movie, read the book “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” by Robert Crichton (Carroll & Graf Publishers – 1966).

This review is based on my book “A Visual Documentary on the Making of The Secret of Santa Vittoria” (Feb. 2011). Enjoy this bumbling, hilarious movie with a glass of red wine.

(© JS/Manningtree Archive.)Image

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StarChoice 2: Interrupted Melody

INTERRUPTED MELODY:

MGM’s production Interrupted Melody (1955 – colour) starring gorgeous Eleanor Parker, Glenn Ford and Roger Moore, is one of the films I inadvertently lost when I left Yemen for good where I was staying with family for almost a decade. Luckily, I recently found this little gem amongst the collectables of a serious movie collector in Madrid who was generous enough to sell it to me.

The movie depicts events from the life of Australian farm-girl Marjorie Lawrence (1907-1979) who rose to stardom as a great Operatic soprano in spite of her fight against polio. With excellent cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg/Paul Vogel), fine art direction (Cedric Gibbons/Daniel B. Cathcart), realistic make-up(William Tuttle), fabulous costumes (Helen Rose), and direction by Curtis Bernhardt, this melodramatic biography features many opera segments/arias (Carmen, Samson et Dalila, La Bohème, Il Trovatore, Götterdämmerung, Tristan and Isolde, ….), sung by 1940/50s soprano-legend Eileen Farrell (uncredited in this movie) since Marjorie was physically unable to do it though she wanted to record the song for the movie herself. Though Farrell’s vocal performance is brilliant in the movie including the aria from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, the aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly unfortunately didn’t rise to the level of the version by our darling Maria Callas – an aria which has never failed to pull at my heart strings every time I listen to it – which is almost daily.

Eleanor Parker, for the third time, was nominated for an Oscar for her role of prima donna Marjorie (she lost to Italian actress Anna Magnani for her role in The Rose Tattoo), a role for which Geer Garson, Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson were initialed considered by MGM.

With great music, wonderful operatic scenes, emotional performances, this romantic classic film from MGM library screams for reappraisal. How sad, they really don’t make them like this anymore.

(© This review is in tune with my project to promote my favourite movies from a bygone era. The past asks only to be remembered. JS/Manningtree Archive.)

StarChoice 1: La conjura de El Escorial (The El Escorial Conspiracy – 2008)

I added another 181 films from Madrid to my collection which included the movie La conjura de El Escorial (The El Escorial Conspiracy – 2008) by Spanish director Antonio del Real starring Jason Isaacs, Julia Ormond, Jürgen Prochnow….. A Spanish-Italian co-production co-written by Antonio del Real and mainly shot on location at the Monasterio de el Escorial San Lorenzo de el Escorial, Toldeo Cathedral (both of which we visited last month) and other places in Spain, it portrays a partly fictionalised story line of deceit and betrayal in the court of the “Prudent King” Filipe II of Spain (1527-1598), the only son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Isabella of Portugal. With excellent performances by Juanjo Puigcorbe (Felipe), Julia Ormond (Ana of Mendoza/Princess of Eboli), Antonio Perez (Jason Isaacs), Blanca Jara (Damiana) and superb Costume Design (Javier Artiñano/Delfín Prieto), Cinematography (Carlos Suárez), Production Design (Luis Vallés), melodious orchestral score (Alejandro Vivas Puig), and made in both Spanish and English version, the film was a joy to watch last night. The film earned Goya Awards for: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up and Hairstyles (José Quetglás and Nieves Sánchez), Best Production Design, and Best Supporting Actress (Rosana Pastor in the role of Doña Juana de Coello).

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Check this movie out.This movie was earlier filmed by director Terence Young (James Bond fame) in 1955 titled “That Lady” starring Olivia de Havilland and Gilbert Roland, based on For One Sweet Grape by Kate O’Brien (Publisher: Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday & company, inc., 1946).

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(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)