Italian director Vittorio De Sica made his reputation as a neorealist with the 1940s classics Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief (nowadays called Bicycle Thieves). But in the early 1960s he courted the international market with more frivolous films about sex.
Two of them, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964), arrived on DVD this week from Kino Lorber ( www.kino.com). Both look good in widescreen and colour, as do their stars, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Both films are also available in a box set, The Sophia Loren Award Collection, along with the dreary 1970 movie Sunflower (an off-and-on amnesia plot similar to 1942's Random Harvest) and Vittorio D. (2009), an excellent 95-minute documentary about De Sica that barely mentions the movies in the box.
Loren had proven she was more than a sex symbol by scooping up the best-actress Oscar for De Sica's 1960 drama Two Women. Mastroianni had impressed international audiences with 1960's La Dolce Vita and the sublime 1961 black comedy Divorce Italian Style.
In Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, winner of the Oscar for best foreign-language film, they got to play together in three separate tales. The first, longest and best, Adelina, unfolds like a musical comedy without the songs. Adelina (Loren) is about to be jailed in Naples because she and her husband (Mastroianni) haven't paid a fine for selling black-market cigarettes. A lawyer tells them Italian law bars a woman from being jailed during pregnancy or for six months after the birth. Aha, they say. Let's have one baby after another.
In this effervescent outing, the neighbourhood is full of friendly types who hide the couple's furniture from the authorities and cluck in unison whenever something happens. A cry that Adelina is expecting is picked up by dozens of urchins, who march to the waterfront chanting, in perfect rhythm, "She's expecting! She's expecting!" The police arrive to jail her and, on being told she's pregnant again, nod happily.
The second segment, Anna, is ho-hum, like a short story Dorothy Parker might have written on a slow day. A rich wife (Loren) tells her lover (Mastroianni) that she isn't beholden to objects, but her behaviour during a car ride indicates otherwise.
The third story, Mara, sees a call girl (Loren) trying to persuade a smitten seminarian not to abandon the priesthood for her sake. Her favourite client (Mastroianni) isn't happy that she vows to remain celibate for a week if the young lad sticks with God. The episode is famous for Loren's striptease (down to her underwear). Loren magnificently replicated it in Robert Altman's 1994 film Ready to Wear, with a disappointingly ungallant response by Mastroianni's character.
De Sica hated the title of Marriage Italian Style, created by the producer to trade on the success of Divorce Italian Style. Based on Eduardo De Filippo's play Filumena Marturano, Marriage is billed as a comedy, but despite comic and even slapstick moments, it's more of a melodrama, at times sentimental and at times cruel.
Filumena (Loren), a former prostitute, loves the debonair Domenico (Mastroianni), who has treated her like dirt in the two decades they have been together. For reasons that become apparent late in the story, she wants him to marry her. When he is about to wed a 20-year-old cashier instead, she tricks him into marrying her by pretending to be dying. The story proceeds apace, with much yelling and gesticulating.
There are many scenes to be enjoyed in the film - not least another one with an underclad Loren, this time wearing black spider pasties - and the Oscar folks thought enough of her performance to nominate her for best actress. (She lost to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins. No spider pasties there.) Although De Sica opens up the action, the wheels from the source play grind slowly. Dial your expectations to soap opera, with compensations.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
The Way Back (2010) Director Peter Weir and a solid cast (Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan) took literal pains to tell this tale of Soviet prisoners escaping a gulag in 1941 and setting out for India. The long march drags at times, but the opening recreation of a slave-labour camp packs a punch, the actors and the epic scale impress, and the general avoidance of artificial Script 101 plot enhancers is refreshing. In a 30-minute making-of bonus, Weir says he cast locations as he would actors; Bulgaria and Morocco stand in for Siberia and Mongolia.
Daydream Nation (2011) Caroline (Kat Dennings), 17, is unsettled by the small town she has moved to, so she takes up with both her teacher (Josh Lucas) and another student (Reece Thompson). Liam Lacey's three-star review called writer Mike Goldbach's directorial debut "less a memoir than a mordant apocalyptic fantasy," enclosing "another impudently witty, bright-girl-comes-of-age fable along the lines of Clueless, Ghost World and Juno." Note to Canadian scene-spotters: The film was shot in Maple Ridge and Fort Langley, B.C.
The Mechanic (2011) The mentor (Donald Sutherland) of hit man Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is killed, and the mentor's son (a riveting Ben Foster) wants Arthur to show him the ropes. It's a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film, with grisly fight scenes and a couple of twists. Action-thriller fans willing to forgive unlikely plot points (the mentor's reticence at a crucial moment, Arthur's willingness to work with the hot-headed son) should have a good time. An eight-minute bonus not mentioned on the DVD package contains on-set footage of impressive stunts.