It Started in Naples (1960)

 

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It’s thinking in Italian I need to learn.  The younger black sheep brother of American lawyer Michael Hamilton (Clark Gable) has died with his wife in a car crash in Italy so it falls to him to take care of business which includes their eight-year old son Nando (Marietto Angeletti). He decides he will bring the boy back with him to Philadelphia. But when Nando’s gorgeous aunt, Lucia Curcio (Sophia Loren) protests a lengthy and heated custody battle ensues. The boy is a bit of an endearing wiseass and Lucia is a lady of infinitely risque abilities starting with her dancing job at a club. So when he takes charge of the kid who doesn’t want to leave the pigsty he’s living in there are complications not least Michael’s own growing feelings for Lucia … There are a lot of inconsistencies in this film – not the least is the mismatch between the ageing Gable and the very young Loren – and his expanding girth didn’t help:  apparently he developed such a craving for Italian food on location his weight ballooned. Watch him get bigger as the film progresses! However his evolving friendship with Nando, the romance between himself and Lucia which at first seems fake but then it’s not, and the astonishing scenery shot by Robert Surtees make up for a lot. And there’s the chance to see Loren’s mentor the great Vittorio De Sica in the role of her lawyer, not to mention her version of Americano. That and the religious procession reminds me of the scene-setting in The Talented Mister Ripley decades later. The story by Michael Pertwee & Jack Davies was developed as a screenplay by Jack Rose, the legendary Suso Cecchi D’Amico and director Melville Shavelson who does Loren a disservice in the musical sequences. Heck, it’s so pretty! Tu vuo fa americano!

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Houseboat (1958)

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Try to be a parent, not a policeman. When newly widowed Tom Winters (Cary Grant) arrives back to the home of his sister-in-law (Martha Hyer) he finds his three kids in understandable disarray and doesn’t want to leave them in her care. But they don’t fit easily into his life at the State Dept. in Washington.  Younger son Robert (Charles Herbert) takes off at a classical concert with the grown up daughter Cinzia (Sophia Loren) of a renowned visiting conductor who returns him to the family’s apartment the following day. Not knowing who she is, Tom asks her to be the family’s maid. She’s unhappy tagging along with her father so she joins them, dressed to the nines. He decides to remove everyone to Carolyn’s guesthouse – which is destroyed by a train when the tow truck driver Angelo (Harry Guardino) is distracted at the sight of Cinzia en route to the new location. He gives Tom his neglected houseboat as compensation. Unable to cook, launder or sew, Cinzia miraculously brings Tom together with his lost children as the houseboat lurches, cuts loose and gradually settles into metaphorical balance. She has to avoid the leers of Angelo while Tom is rationally persuaded into proposing marriage to freshly divorced Carolyn who’s been in love with him since she was 4 and he married her older sister:  he is blissfully ignorant of Cinzia who desperately craves his attention …  There’s so much music in this very fun romcom it might as well be a musical:  from the orchestral pieces to Sophia’s regular songs – Bing! Bang! Bong! being the most popular on a very bouncy soundtrack. Gorgeous stars, funny kids, agreeable supporting performances and a good setup combine to make this a delightful, charming ode to simply being: dolce far niente, as Loren urges. I couldn’t agree more! There’s a great scene in a laundromat when Grant gets embroiled in women’s gossip. Written by Jack Rose and director Melville Shavelson, with an uncredited screenplay by Betsy Drake (aka Mrs Cary Grant) who was supposed to co-star – until her husband allegedly had an affair with Loren on The Pride and the Passion, a liaison long over by the time filming on this commenced. Awkward!

Legend of the Lost (1957)

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A desert is full of bones that were looking for treasure. Experienced desert guide Joe January (John Wayne) leaves a Timbuktu police cell and reluctantly joins a Saharan treasure hunting expedition led by Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi), a man obsessed with confirming his dead father’s claim to have found a lost city. Dita (Sophia Loren) a woman of dubious reputation, becomes infatuated with Paul. She invites herself along and turns up on a camel in the middle of a caravan of Touareg – it’s quite the entrance. During the  ordeal Joe and Dita become attracted to each other and tensions escalate. As they run out of water, they stumble upon the ancient city and a well. There, they find three human skeletons, a woman and two men:  Joe figures out that Paul’s father found his woman in the arms of his guide, killed them and then shot himself. The treasure is nowhere to be found. Paul’s faith in his father is shattered and he becomes drunk and maniacal. They find the treasure after Joe deciphers the clues left by Paul’s father in a Bible. They load the jewellery and artifacts and prepare to leave in the morning. Paul tries to seduce Dita but she rejects him and he gets into a fight with Joe. Paul sneaks off in the night taking all the animals, supplies, and treasure with him and leaving the others to die. Joe and Dita chase after him on foot and eventually catch up, finding him unconscious from dehydration. While Joe and Dita dig for desperately needed water, Paul regains consciousness and in his delirium thinks they are digging his grave. He buries the treasure and attacks Joe from behind with a knife. Dita is forced to shoot and kill Paul. When they spot a caravan, Joe and Dita are saved. I can cook! I can breathe! I can live! Loren declares happily to Wayne and it’s this kind of snappy dialogue that enlivens what should have been a rather more fun outing. Written by Ben Hecht and Robert Presnell, with that cast it should have been a sizzler but they don’t entirely mesh. Henry Hathaway directed it for Wayne’s Batjac Productions and it was one of a half-dozen films they made together. It’s shot by Jack Cardiff and looks amazing – with wide shots of the Libyan desert anticipating the more luxuriant episodes of Lawrence of Arabia and the treasure hunt leading to the kind of thirsty delusion worthy of Greed. It’s wonderful to see the ruins of Leptis Magna, the 7th century Roman settlement. There’s a nice fight between the three points of this love triangle and guess who comes out on top? We must give thanks for Sophia Loren!

 

Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

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You’re talking to me as if I were a man of honour – I’m not! Phaedra (Sophia Loren) is a sponge diver on the island of Hydra who finds a valuable statue underwater. She and her idle Albanian boyfriend Rhif (Jorge Mistral) try to figure out how to sell the treasure so that they can leave their life of poverty behind. She goes to Athens, where she meets Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd) an American archaeologist working in Greece to restore national treasures. He can only pay them a small finder’s fee for the piece. Then  a millionaire treasure hunter Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb) wants the treasure for himself and organises to help Phaedra raise the treasure and smuggle it out of the country. He is happy to pay her for it – and for other things. Meanwhile, Calder joins in the chase for the statue and Phaedra lies to him about its whereabouts, hoping that he will give up or run out of money. Finally her little brother Niko (Piero Giagnoni) persuades her to do the right thing by giving the statue to her homeland, thus opening up the possibility of a relationship with Calder. Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor adapted David Divine’s novel and it was given the full Techincolor widescreen treatment in an attempt to emulate the success of Three Coins in the Fountain with that film’s director, Jean Negulesco. Cary Grant was supposed to co-star with his latest cinematic squeeze Loren (after The Pride and the Passion) but Ladd eventually replaced him because Grant’s wife the actress Betsy Drake narrowly escaped with her life when the liner Andrea Doria sank and he rushed home to be at her bedside. Ladd hated flying and while travelling to the set he and his wife were robbed on the Orient Express and arrived to less than adequate facilities on Hydra. He didn’t get on with Loren at all and insisted she be placed to meet him at eye level despite her being much taller. She looks spectacular and even if the film wasn’t the anticipated hit for the studio, that cling-on swimsuit made her a huge star. While interiors were done in Cinecitta, the locations are simply spectacular:  Hydra, the Acropolis, Rhodes, the Saronic Gulf, Meteora, Corinth, Mykonos, Delphi and the Aegean Islands:  this is why colour film was invented. The title song is performed uncredited by the wonderful Julie London and Loren sings it in the story – as well as dancing and enchanting both Ladd and Webb, not the easiest of tasks, when you think about it.

Marriage Italian Style (1964)

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Aka Matrimonio all’italiana. Eduardo de Filipo’s play Filumena Marturano was about his sister but Sophia Loren felt an intense connection to the subject matter, mainly because of her own illegitimate origins as the older daughter in the second family of a nobleman who wouldn’t divorce his first wife. She’s a very young prostitute who meets businessman Marcello Mastroianni during WW2 in a Naples brothel and after the war they meet again and have a twenty-year affair during which she has three children, one of whom is his. She finds out that he intends to marry another woman altogether – and will stop at nothing to prevent it and protect her children:  they all live together with his senile mother and she is there under the pretence of being her carer. She feigns her own imminent death but drops the act and won’t tell him which son is his. Working once again with Vittorio De Sica, her veritable father, the screenplay had a lot of contributors: Renato Castellani, Tonino Guerra, Leo Benvenuti and Piero De Bernardini and their work manages to convey the up and down swing of this spicy relationship with humour, pathos and drama. (It had already been adapted in Argentina in 1950).  This was the year Loren reached the apogee of her career and her fame, with The Fall of the Roman Empire getting her a million dollar payday. Loren and Mastroianni are brilliant sparring partners and Loren got her second Oscar nomination for her bawdy, funny, engaging performance. They had already appeared opposite each other in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and made a total of seventeen films together.

Two Women (1960)

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Sophia Loren was sent a copy of Alberto Moravia’s novel La ciociara about a mother and daughter forced to hit the road for the mountains of central Italy during World War 2 when Rome is attacked by the Allies and the people they encounter and the choices they are forced to make – and what a group of Moroccan men do to them. Loren read it with a view to playing the teenaged daughter with Anna Magnani as her mother but negotiations with the older woman broke down and Loren, at twenty-five, was to play the mother of a fourteen year old girl. (In the film, she is twelve). Such a young woman relied entirely on the direction of her father figure, director Vittorio De Sica, of whom there are those who say she was his masterpiece. Cesare Zavattini adapted the novel with uncredited contributions from De Sica, who listened to Loren about her own family’s wartime experiences:  while fictional it was indeed based on the mass rape of Italian women by Moroccans from the French Expeditionary Corps, an event known as ‘la Marochinnate’ which took place after the Battle of Monte Cassino.  Jean-Paul Belmondo is the charming activist Michele for whom both mother and daughter fall and who is frogmarched to guide escaping Nazi soldiers through the mountains. It was an intense shoot and Loren recalled what her mother went through during WW2 for many scenes. The gang rape in a church of mother and daughter is vivid and moving and De Sica manages it discreetly but effectively. The tragedy of the effect of the rape on their relationship is clarified in the following sequences. Loren was nominated for an Academy Award but didn’t go to Los Angeles for the ceremony, positive she wouldn’t win. Former co-star Cary Grant called to say she had won and she was deluged with congratulations. It was an extraordinary achievement for a young Italian woman and truly marked her coming of age as an international actress. Eleanora Brown, who plays Loren’s daughter Rosetta, was exactly twelve when the film was shot and she made a handful of films before retiring in 1968. She is a startling performer and it’s a shame her career was so short-lived.

The Millionairess (1960)

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‘Socialists make the best employees!’ purrs La Loren. She is trying to woo Indian doctor Peter Sellers but both of them need to meet the terms of their fathers’ respective wishes in this talky Bernard Shaw comedy drama directed by Anthony Asquith. A big hit in its day it seems irretrievably glib if not hectoring despite the actors’ comic chops – and how lovely to see Alfie Bass and Alastair Sim with Miriam Karlin in the wings. Goodness Gracious Me!