If I had to pick one decade as my favorite for movies, I think I would have to go with the 1960s. Picking my six favorite movies from that decade? That’s a little more difficult. (It’s hard enough to limit myself to six favorites from a single year of the decade.) After much debate, I’ve decided on the following films (listed chronologically), though there are probably about two dozen other titles that could just as easily have made the cut.
Naples, World War II: With an air raid siren howling its warning in their ears, everybody in the vicinity of the port, a potential target, is running for shelter — well, not quite everybody. Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) doesn’t appear to be in any great hurry to leave the bordello he’s visiting, though the prostitutes and the other clients have fled in terror. He takes time to look out the window, to turn off a record player, even to make a quip about the Italian army’s uniforms (“How are we supposed to win a war with people dressed like that?”) before strolling toward the exit. Only then does he realize that someone else is still in the building: a frightened girl (Sophia Loren) peeking out of one of the rooms. “Miss, aren’t you coming down?” he asks, to which she cries, “No, no!” and slams her door shut. Satisfied with this response, Domenico turns and starts walking away, until something makes him turn back. Is it kindness, a purehearted, altruistic concern for another human being’s welfare, or is his interest in her a bit less noble than that? Tellingly, he takes a second to fix his hair before approaching her room; then again, maybe that’s just a natural, thoughtless gesture in vain, womanizing, thoughtless man.
A city can be a wellspring of wondrous dreams or a desert of unbearable loneliness; for Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), the protagonist of Luchino Visconti’s 1957 film Le Notti Bianche, the city to which he’s just been transferred for his job is both — sometimes simultaneously.
“We’re like everyone else now — we’re not registered. They’ve burned the records. We’re just ordinary women now.”
In 1958, Italy passed the Merlin Law, which shut down the country’s brothels. Two years later, Antonio Pietrangeli’s film Adua and Her Friends was released, offering a look at the effects of this legislation on four prostitutes. Although the characters and their story are fictional, the challenges they face as they try to start a new life are, no doubt, not unlike those experienced by many of their real world counterparts.
Professor Giuseppe Sinigaglia (Marcello Mastroianni), the title character in Mario Monicelli’s 1963 film The Organizer (originally I compagni, or The Comrades), is hardly a prepossessing figure. Shabbily attired, with disheveled hair and a scruffy beard, he appears no better, socioeconomically speaking, than any of the textile factory workers who have gathered in the Turin schoolhouse where he’s taken refuge. Even so, when he suddenly pops out from behind a wall to interrupt their meeting and offer his thoughts on their situation, he must look like a potential savior, a kind of deus ex machina, at least to many of them.
Continue reading “Toil and Trouble: The Organizer (1963)”
“Stealing is a serious profession. You need serious people.”
Cosimo Proietti (Memmo Carotenuto) has just received a tip about a job that could make him a fortune and set him up for life. Oh, sure, it’s not exactly a legitimate enterprise — it entails breaking into a pawnshop on Rome’s (fictitious) Via delle Madonne through the empty apartment next door and opening a locked safe — but Cosimo isn’t the sort of man to quibble about legality. In fact, that’s the sole problem with this scheme: He’s already in jail for attempting to steal a car, and he isn’t scheduled to be released for over a year. His only hope is to convince someone else to claim responsibility for his crime, thereby setting him free. Although he offers to pay the scapegoat 100,000 lire, none of his acquaintances are willing to take the rap: Capannelle (Carlo Pisacane) would be facing a life sentence due to his past convictions, Mario (Renato Salvatori) fears upsetting his mother, Michele (Tiberio Murgia) doesn’t want to abandon his closely guarded sister Carmela (Claudia Cardinale) or jeopardize her upcoming marriage, and Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni) not only has a prior offense but also has to take care of his baby son while his wife (Gina Rovere) serves time for smuggling cigarettes. “Guys, you’ll never get an ex-con for 100,000 lire,” Tiberio tells the others. “You need someone with a clean record.”
Federico Fellini, speaking to Irving R. Levine in a 1965 interview for NBC News, admitted that he rarely went to the movies. “I do my work with such passion that I don’t know how to be just a spectator,” he explained. Asked about contemporary directors whom he admired, he could only come up with three names. One was Akira Kurosawa; another was Alfred Hitchcock; the first was Ingmar Bergman. “I’ve only seen two of his films, Wild Strawberries and The Magician, but they were enough to make me love him like a brother.” The following year, in an interview with the French magazine Positif, he reiterated his high regard for Bergman, whom he described as “a really gifted man, a true author, a real showman.” He also noted that 1958’s The Magician “upset me, in a way, because it is exactly the same as a story I wrote four or five years ago and meant to film — in a different atmosphere, of course. It’s Nordic and I’m Mediterranean, Latin, but the subject is exactly the same.” Although his variation on The Magician never made it to the screen, one of Fellini’s most famous films does share a number of similarities with the other Bergman movie he had seen.
Between the 1950s and the 1990s, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni appeared in over a dozen films together. Three of these — Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964) and Sunflower (1970) — were directed by Vittorio De Sica, also the director behind Two Women (1960), for which Loren won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won an Oscar of its own, this one for Best Foreign Language Film. Though decidedly less intense than Two Women, it gave both Loren and Mastroianni the chance to play a variety of roles over the course of its three separate stories, each one named after Loren’s character in that particular segment.
Baron Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni), the protagonist of Pietro Germi’s 1961 film Divorce Italian Style, is a man in love. Alas, there’s a problem. Is it the fact that Angela (Stefania Sandrelli), the object of his affections, is his first cousin? Is it that she’s sixteen and he’s thirty-seven? No, no; these are mere trifles as far as he’s concerned. The real problem is that he’s already married to the suffocating Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), and because divorce is illegal in early 1960s Sicily, he’s stuck with her… unless she should happen to die. Ah, but how to accomplish that? Fantasize though he will — he imagines her stabbed and pushed into a vat of soap, drowned in quicksand, shot by the Mafia, launched into space — no viable solution presents itself until a local murder trial makes the news.
Federico Fellini’s 8½ is the story of a director who doesn’t know what to do for his next movie, made by a director who didn’t know what to do for his next movie. Confused? That’s only the beginning.