Archive for the ‘Sophia Loren: SCREEN GODDESS’ Category


22 Oct

Nine – Directed by Rob Marshall. Soundstage Musical. 2009 COlor 118 minutes.


The Story: A film director puts off everyone as his film goes into production, but he can’t admit he has no script.


Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this musical in which one cannot say he dances any more than a monkey might, for his strong body is put to musical acrobatic uses, and perhaps he has two left feet. The dancing and the singing are left up to the cherishable skills of Marion Cotillard, Penèlope Cruz, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren. Who could ask for anything more?

Not I. The dances are super-duper and the songs are fun. Judi Dench is a musical comedy singer from way back, and does a wicked Follies Bergère number with a mile long boa. Fergie in a wilderness of hair that somewhat unnecessarily masks her interesting face reviews her philosophy of Italian love in a wild song and dance. Kate Hudson plays an American reporter who does a big witty number about Italian Cinema.

For the musical is about the block Day-Lewis has in writing his next musical. All the women pose delays, distractions, denials. And in the end Nicole Kidman writes his new film off because he cannot show anyone a script. He is impotent. She sings goodbye to him.

What starts with Penèlope Cruz performing a hot comic turn as his mistress winds up with Sophia Loren singing him a lullaby to reform – no two actresses have resembled one another in film history more than these.

One would not question the execution of this material. One might question the strength of the source of this material. For it devolves from Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is about a similar predicament for a director. It starred Marcello Mastroianni. Mastroianni is an interior sort of actor, the kind that doesn’t move much, and the story of impotence is too navel-gazing to move me much either. Both seem weak. And Day-Lewis is cast in and plays the part along the lines of Mastroianni also. His opening scene where he lies to the press is his funniest, and it also displays his Italian accent and manner ruthlessly.

No, it is neither he nor the story that carry the film, but the women, their exuberance, their talent, and the dances in which the choreographer has put them to use.

I liked it. I didn’t think I would. But I like it. Because I liked these women, their sauciness, their independence, their smart take, their beauty, their agility, their out-front-ness, and the talent in each of them whose bigness warrants their being up there before me. They gave me their all and I took it for the plenty it was worth.


The Priest’s Wife

21 Oct

The Priest’s Wife — directed by Dino Risi. Dramedy. 103 Minutes Color 1971.

The Story: A frustrated female falls for a priest.


There is nothing really between them, except what we are told there is. That is the problem with the execution of the material, which has its own problems, as well.

What we have in casting Sophia Loren opposite Marcello Mastroianni here is that we cannot believe in his attraction to her resulting in love of her, because what she throws at him are her sumptuous charms rather than love itself. Magnificent Virgo that she is, Loren holds onto her reserves, but her charms she deploys with the utmost deliberation, as before her did Garbo and Bergman, those other two famous Virgo vamps. There is her wonderful walk, there is her confidence of herself as a woman, there is her sense of fun, her fine speaking voice, her goddess figure, her astounding face, vibrant hair, her immediacy, her talent. But she is essentially a cold actress. That is the challenge of her.

Mastroianni’s job is to register her volatility with his steadiness; his withdrawal in a dance with her control, but the love between them cannot register, and so the comedy and the drama never have any importance. He is also a cold actor.

Perhaps they were intimidated by the rashness of the script which takes on the Vatican itself and the regulation against priests’ marrying. It’s all right if they have mistresses, beget children, molest choirboys, but they must not tie the knot lest it distract them from their marriage to Jesus, who was certainly one for unconventional liaisons, nonetheless. These matters are met head on by the script as it proceeds. And a good thing too.

But really, Loren’s part is written as a crazy dame in miniskirts, aggressive in love from the start when she chases and runs down her faithless lover in her car. She soon chases and runs down Mastroianni, a confirmed prude and church careerist. Her behavior is actually nuts. She is run by desperate, ravenous frustration not by a need for love at all. And since Loren plays her all-out, there is nothing to correct this take on her character.

Loren is 37 and in full possession of her abilities and potential. Mastroianni is 47, but doesn’t look it one bit. The logical motion for this story would be that Loren becomes sane and Mastroianni become insane, and that they both feel love. But that’s not what happens. The director has not provided an inch of calm for either one of them. Mastroianni remains eager for nothing. Loren remains eager for everything in sight. And that’s that.



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Posted in DRAMEDY, Filmed in Italy, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren: SCREEN GODDESS


The Countess From Hong Kong

29 Dec

The Countess From Hong Kong. Written and Directed by Charles Chaplin. High Comedy. A Prostitute stows away in the stateroom of high-ranking diplomatist who tries valiantly to avoid detection. 120 minutes Color 1967.

* * *

We all know about how Chaplin caused this film to fail through acting all the parts for the actors, through the unimaginative casting of the supporting players, through surrounding Brando with too many male business associates, and through the mistaken introduction of the fact the Brando character was married, a development which should neither have come late nor at all. The first part is a farce built upon five doors to an ocean liner stateroom, and works pretty well, and the whole thing would work well, were its moves executed in other modes of the silent screen, but it isn’t.  So let us set the film aside as the failure it famously is and cast our eyes on the pleasant prospect of Sophia Loren in the title role as we contemplate such splendours of person as she possesses: a small head set upon a sumptuous body upon the lavish invitation of whose bosom one longs to either lay one’s head or an array of emeralds, awesome auburn hair, a deft cleft chin, that peaked upper lip, that droll rolled lower lip, her clownish smile, her perfect peasant nose, her wide and tilted eyes, the scimitar of her jaw. She’s not the usual beauty, but a new type, a type which made Paz Vega and Penelope Cruze eventually possible. Leaving out her slender legs and sashay hips, and setting aside her slim feet for other volumes, it is obvious that she might easily have been discarded as just another tomato on the vine, except for two things she possesses which placed her right where she belonged: prominently. First, she is a really good actress. For watch her play her scenes here, see how responsive she is, first of all, and how in tune with the sort of comedy this is, which is not really Chaplin comedy but Lubitsch comedy, that is to say, high sex comedy, a fact she understands even better than Brando, who usually had a good instinct for such things. The part provides her with a lot more opportunities than the director does, and she feasts on them. She is playful, witty, quick, and game. Like the good Virgo that she is, she has the hauteur of an Empress and the capacity to be perfectly ridiculous.  All of this is executed with one of her principal assets, that she has a most melodious speaking voice. It’s in inherent in her, so it is never forced or put on. It’s not a Hollywood voice, like Joan Crawford’s. It’s so right you scarcely notice it. A good speaking voice is one of the great tools an actor can have, and she had it. But the second thing she has, and it is one of the qualities even of stars who are, like Humphrey Bogart not particularly good actors, and that is an inner presence which is always unaffraidly available to us. Watch her as you watch this film. You will never see it in Olivier. But you will see it in Rosalind Russell and in Walter Huston and in Audrey Hepburn, in Ann Sheridan and James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson and Clark Gable.  It is probably the quality that makes us really identify with a star, deficiencies of craft be damned. Because it is there that we feel we know them and like them. The gift of presence is probably God-given. Sophia Loren had it and still has it. Two things: she’s a darn good actress and she is a person we can actually see. And, oh that look of fun in her eyes. Oh, that Neapolitan cheek. She was and she remains an acknowledged International Treasure.



It Started In Naples

05 Oct

It Started In Naples – Directed by Melville Shavelson. Comedy Romance. A grumpy American lawyer comes to Italy to settle his deceased brother’s affairs and discovers he has a nephew with a nightclub-singer nanny. 103 minutes Color 1960.

* * * *

I had never been to Naples, but this film is not set in Naples, so the first whacky thing about it is its title. Instead it’s all set in Capri, which was just grand to see. (I have no idea how they managed to film all those crowd scenes; but, then, I never do.) At the center of the story is an American puritan played perfectly by an over-stuffed Clark Gable who is a very good actor and who comes on and delivers his lines like the lawyer he plays. Around him swirls a world of impetuous nonsense that really delighted me and that kept me in suspense awaiting the next surprise. Sophia Loren, as the boy’s aunt, tosses it around with a brio that is beyond confidence. Her smile is a panorama of Virgo glee. Of course, I knew how it would all turn out, and so will you, but what matter? Gable is still a mountain of masculinity and sexual assurance, and still willing to look the fool for love. Vittorio De Sica has a super bit as an Italian attorney/mountebank holding forth in court. The little boy is hot stuff as the urchin. From Hollywood comedies of this period one expects white bread slathered with margarine – but here not so. White bread, yes, but slathered with olive oil and diced mushrooms and tomatoes and olives and oregano and basil. Tangy! [ad#300×250]


Two Women

01 Aug

Two Women – Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Low Tragedy. As World War II ends, a mother and her daughter seek shelter from destruction. 100 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

One of the great humorists of film and a master of many styles, De Sica was the most gifted, varied, and accessible of all the neo-realist film-makers of the New Wave. He made more films than any of the others, many of them before the War, and they ranged from White Telephone movies through neo-realistic movies like Bicycle Thief, to The Garden of The Finzi-Continis. Why the neo in neo-realism? I dunno. It was the first and only realism since silent pictures. Anyhow, this is a remarkable picture. Sophia Loren was slated to play the daughter, but when Anna Magnani was asked to play the mother she said, “Let Loren play her own mother!” and slammed the door on the role that won Loren The Cannes, The BAFTA, The Donatello, The Italian National, The San Jordi, The New York Film Critics, and The Oscar for the Best Performance By An Actress for 1960. She well deserved it. She plays a cunning, susceptible shopkeeper intent on preserving her 12 year old daughter from destruction from the bombing of Rome. They strike out for her native village in the mountains. There they live and survive. There she meets a student revolutionist, an intellectual wearing glasses, cast, in a stroke of genius, with the most sensual actor in films, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Loren is 25 when she does this, and is completely convincing as the widowed mother protecting her daughter like a tigress. Both Neapolitan, she and De Sica make wonderful film together. She has the energy and internal power of the lower classes from which she came, their knowledge, passion, strength, humor, and forgiveness. Moravia wrote the novel, Zavattini the screenplay. In all of this De Sica is never without humor, most of which is gestural and therefore all the more telling. See it.





Between Strangers

18 Mar

Between Strangers — Directed by Eduordo Ponti — Melodrama. Three female artists cold-cocked by three hateful men. 95 minutes Color 2002


Pete Postlethwaite in a perverse but effective choice plays Sophia Loren’s mean husband in a wheelchair, not as a weak character but as a strong one. This does not help the drama, however, for nothing can help the drama. There is Loren in a grey wig and a housedress and no makeup, a turn she has done as a young woman and certainly does well by now. But the script is flaccid.  Sunk under oceanic pauses, it crawls on. The camera stares dully at everyone and the actors valiantly attempt to supply the deficiency which means all they can think of to do is to hold back manufactured tears. What could be worse? The Loren Postlethwaite marriage is inexplicable, and its eventual explanation does not explain it. All the men are swine and all the women long-suffering weaklings, and there is no hope in them, miserable offenders. Mira Sorvino, another Oscar winner, is drained of interest by the one-and-the-same-person-director-and-writer, a master of inert direction, and also by the want of a tempered script and also, presumably, by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who is her father and who bullies her. All the fathers here bully the daughters, either into artist- careers or out of them. Brandauer is a wonderful actor and makes no bones about it. But Malcolm MacDowell, who looks the wreck he is playing, has nothing to work with except a series of wordless meanderings through the back alleys of Toronto. The actress opposite him, though she wears a witchy coat and hair-do, never convinces you that she hates him, though she certainly convinces you that she plays the cello, but that may involved a head substitution, as it did with Natalie Portman’s head on the body of Sara Lane, the ballerina who actually performed the dances in Black Swan. If you thought Black Swan was bad, see this, and if you thought Black Swan was good, also see this. It’s the same story of bullying male mentors and their wishy-washy daughters. While, as actors, the male mentors as actors come off far better than the women as actors, I personally would like to pull the trigger on every single one of them. John Neville and Gerard Depardieu also find themselves in this monotonous gallimaufry. The terrible mistake actors and writers and directors make is to believe that actors are actually something. They are usually not. They are usually not Edward G. Robinson. So you mustn’t ask them to appear and just be themselves. Either they can produce a star energy (such as Loren can generate, although, of course, not here because it would be out of place here), or they need a strongly written character to play — but to play themselves? — no. In acting the truth is never enough. If it were, we would not need to go to the drama for what only the art of the actor can provide.[ad#300×250]

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