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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

(LES AMANT DE) VILLA BORGHESE / IT HAPPENED IN THE PARK (1953)

A trifle, though not without nostalgic charm. Less in the film itself than in how it recalls the experience of college-town Art House cinema in the ‘50s: foreign-language omnibus pic; subfusc print (in this TeleVista DVD); spare subtitles; multi-national cast dubbed in French though mostly acting in Italian. Ah, the good old days . . . which were kind of the bad old days. Gianni Franciolini directed a few of these portmanteaux; here, six tales set in Rome’s Villa Borghese park (the short opening sketch is dropped in this U.S. release print), with enough major names (Vittorio De Sica, Gérard Philipe, Eduardo De Filippo) to lend marquee value. Story 1 has a failing student hoping to blackmail her professor with a kiss in the park.; Story 2 finds De Sica ditching his wife for a rendezvous with a young prospective mistress, only to be shadowed by her mom & jealous fiancé. (De Sica may have directed this segment, but not so you’d notice.); Story 3 sits De Filippo’s small-town father at a café in Rome’s famous park to settle an arranged marriage for his charming daughter. (The most stylish & assured piece in here.); Story 4 sends two kids & a nanny off on a boat ride so Mom can meet one last time with departing lover Gérard Philipe.*; Story 5 watches two competing hookers (one a knock-out/one second-choice) run away from the cops, then hiding out at a beauty contest as contestant & judge. Twice as long as the rest, this last story could have supported a feature, especially with Franca Valeri showing off assured comic technique as the girl least likely to. The stories all end with the Italian version of an O’Henry twist, it keeps them from being too obvious. But even without it, they give off a musty charm. And how clean & under-populated the great old park looks.

DOUBLE-BILL: The year before, five stories made up O’HENRY’S FULL HOUSE/’52 (see Write-Up below), but a better bet might be from the following year when De Sica made an omnibus masterpiece in GOLD OF NAPLES/’54. It also lost one of its six stories in the original Stateside release. Look for the complete cut of 2'18". (Worth every minute.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Shortly before he died, Marlene Dietrich told Ernst Lubitsch she’d found the perfect young actor to play Octavian (against her Die Marshallin) for his dream project, a non-operatic version of ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’ It was Gérard Philipe who might well be playing a test-run of the role here, especially in taking his leave. A real might-have-been moment.

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