Friday, March 9, 2012

A Big, Fat Failure?

I recently saw a 1954 movie by Vittorio Da Sica, famous for The Bicycle Thief, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis and other classics, and called by its Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick "Indiscretion of an American Wife."

It was originally called, after the novel by Cesare Zavattini, Terminal Station. To me it is a minor masterpiece. And I was shocked to see that one of its co-stars, Montgomery Clift, called it "a big, fat failure." He was reacting to the troubled production history that ended up in fights with Selznick, who cut the original film down to 89 minutes.

What struck me about this neorealist film is that, although shot entirely at one location, the Rome train terminal, it is filled with motion and with unforgettable faces of ordinary folk. There is nothing static about this movie in which Jennifer Jones, radiant and sad, must leave her lover (Clift, whose face always registers anguish eloquently--even if he is not the ideal choice for the Italian boyfriend) and return home to her American husband. The action takes place in real time and, although the story is simple, it is full of what Da Sica wanted to convey: the painful and ludicrous nature of love relationships, the tragic irony of confused desire.

The two main characters enact their very private goodbyes in a most public space--and even get arrested for doing so--and this ironic setting, complete with marching soldiers, a flock of nuns, a group of priests, and assorted others, is almost as important as the faces of Maria and Giovanni, the two lovers. It is the type of film that could only have been made in Italy, by a master.

Indiscretion of an American Wife, despite its awkward title and the bad reviews it received, somehow has triumphed over its big, fat failure at the box office and should be seen as one of those great little examples of Italian neo-realism that Martin Scorsese documents so well in his "My Voyage to Italy."

As a one-time movie critic who continues to have a love affair with good films, I am grateful to Netflix, Turner Classic Movies, and my public library for reminding me that even flawed films can contain wonderful things.

1 comment:

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