>> Saturday, April 30, 2011
USA/C-140m./Dir: Stanley Kramer/Wr: William Rose & Ben Maddow (based on a Robert Crichton novel)/Cast: Anthony Quinn (Italo Bombolini), Anna Magnani (Rosa), Virna Lisi (Caterina Malatesta), Hardy Krüger (Capt. Von Prum), Sergio Franchi (Tufa), Renato Rascel (Babbaluche), Giancarlo Giannini (Fabio)
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Stanley Kramer was Hollywood’s message man, having directed such sober, thought-provoking fare as The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). However, L.A.’s most moralistic auteur was also capable of working in a lighter tone, as evidenced by his 1963 mega-comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. After that foray into slapstick, Kramer combined his didactic moralizing with light comedy for the fondly remembered (but merely passable) interracial love story Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and then again (more successfully this time) for the forgotten vino-centric gem The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969).
The latter film is set during World War II in the small wine-producing village of Santa Vittoria. When news reaches the town that Prime Minister Benito Mussolini has died, the municipality’s biggest lush, Italo Bombolini (Anthony Quinn), climbs the water tower to paint over the name of the fascist leader. This act of drunken courage prompts the townspeople to imprison their fascist counselmen and elect Bombolini their new mayor. While Bombolini initially enjoys the respect that comes with his new position, he finds headaches aplenty when the German army threatens to occupy and loot the town. The thought of losing the stores of 1,317,000 bottles of wine fills the town’s wino-in-chief with dread, so he concocts a plan to hide a million bottles from the invading Nazis.
Running 140 minutes, The Secret of Santa Vittoria comes across as a bit bloated. The main problem is the film tries to cover too many storylines--the plot to fool the Nazis, Bombolini’s estrangement from his wife (Anna Magnani), an affair between the local Contessa (Virna Lisi) and an army deserter (Sergio Franchi), what to do with the imprisoned Fascists, etc. The picture’s pace is also a bit too languid at times, especially during the romantic subplots. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives in this enjoyable, lighthearted serio-comedy.
Chief amongst the movie’s merits is Anthony Quinn’s bombastic, big-hearted performance as Bombolini, which consistently pushes the picture back into gear every time it begins to drag. While Quinn is a formidable spotlight-stealer, much of the cast matches his energy, especially Anna Magnani as his ball-busting wife, Renato Rascel as Bombolini’s right-hand man on the town counsel, and a youthful Giancarlo Giannini as a rabble-rousing college student. Hardy Krüger also makes a fine antagonist as the semi-civilized Nazi commander, Captain Sepp Von Prum.
The technical aspects of the movie are also quite accomplished, including beautiful cinematography from frequent Fellini collaborator Giuseppe Rotunno and music from It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World composer Ernest Gold. The lushness in the look and feel of the film makes even the slowest sections of the story enjoyable to watch.
Soused cinema enthusiasts are strongly encouraged to seek out this lesser-known gem. It goes down nicely with several goblets of a full-bodied red.
Drinks Consumed--Wine and more wine
Intoxicating Effects--Sneakin sips, depression, public disturbance, and hangover
Potent Quotables--VON PRUM: Where’s the wine?
BOMBOLINI: Sir, I have told you. I promise you. There is no wine.
Video Availability--The Secret of Santa Vittoria - Widescreen DVD (United Artists)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--The residents of Todday, a small island off the coast of Scotland, race to save 50,000 cases of whiskey from a sinking ship in Whisky Galore (a.k.a. Tight Little Island, 1949).