There are more than a dozen film & tv adaptations of this Neapolitan dramedy, including one helmed by author/star Eduardo De Filippo. But Vittorio De Sica’s film, with Sophia Loren & Marcello Mastroianni. is the one everyone thinks they know. But do they? It’s not the silly, light-hearted romantic comedy promised on posters or squibbed in review books, but a surprisingly dark, even cruel, tale of lust, lies & a self-centered lothario. For twenty odd years, Marcello serially uses Sophia as a prostitute, as a family nurse, as a mistress, as an employee at one of his shops and finally as manager of his business interests. Marriage isn’t in the picture. The film neatly divides the story in two with Sophia at first tricking Marcello into marriage and then convincing the jerk to do the right thing for the right reasons. De Sica’s work feels hemmed in during the first half, Filippo’s sour comedy doesn’t always give him much breathing room. But everything clicks in the second half when the sentimental drama & the gags feel perfectly integrated, and perfectly calibrated. Modern audiences may be surprised at just how much of a sexist shit Mastroianni’s character is, especially since he doesn’t sweeten the bitter comic pill. (The Berlusconi mindset shows how little some Italian attitudes have changed.) And in a real tour-de-force perf, Loren is outstanding. Has any movie Goddess ever looked so enticingly beautiful in so many different ways as she does in this film? But beyond the va-va-va-voom, what an actress she could be when (and only when) working with De Sica. As Filumena she seems capable of giving everyone from Chaplin to Anna Magnani a run for their money. (WARNING: Beware of Public Domain copies. Look for the new KINO/Lorber DVD which has a fine WideScreen image.)
CONTEST: Name two British Dames who tried on Filumena in stage productions to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD.