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Friday, March 24, 2017

LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962)

This fine, nearly forgotten film, bobbed to the surface in 2005, thanks to the brilliant lyric drama Adam Guettel made from the same novel. (Structurally very close to the film, but for a delayed major character revelation.) And good as the film is (it’s probably director Guy Green’s best), it does seem to be missing emotional subtext; something beautifully supplied in Guettel’s rapturous score. Ironic, since the film is a rare non-musical for producer Arthur Freed, M-G-M’s Master of Musicals, as well as his last completed feature. Taken from Elizabeth Spencer’s well-received book, the unusual story concerns a vacation romance turned serious between young Florentine George Hamilton, caught by the fresh innocence & beauty of American Yvette Mimieux touring Italy with mother Olivia de Havilland. Unnoticed in the babble of half understood Italian & English, is that the girl isn’t merely childlike, but mentally handicapped, stuck with the capacity of a 10-yr-old. For the mother, the relationship promises the fulfillment of an impossible dream (marriage, children, normal life); for the daughter it’s simply unadulterated love. Played out in superbly chosen locations, many not used previously, all looking startlingly open & available, still relatively untouched by today’s mass tourist-riven culture. It’s also a very grown-up pic for the period, right down to the forthright, if unconsummated, flirtation between de Havilland (exceptionally lovely here) and a nicely relaxed Rossano Brazzi as Hamilton’s well-to-do father. Coming in significantly under budget, nicely reviewed and earning more than decent box-office, why Freed never managed to get another project going can best be explained by the musical chairs executive anarchy at the top of the flailing studio. No wonder Freed missed the autocratic decision making of former M-G-M chief Louis B. Mayer.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: George Hamilton comes across with a pretty decent, if inconsistent, accent as the lovestruck Italian. Infinitely better than the one Warren Beatty mangled in THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE/’61, or the embarrassing one attempted by Matthew Morrison playing Hamilton's role in the B’way musical.

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