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La signorina Elisa insegna scrittura commerciale in una scuola femminile, dove tutte le lettere, per convenzione, vengono inviate ad un inesistente signor Hartman di Vienna ad un indirizzo altrettanto inesistente. Elisa è romantica e affida i suoi sogni a lettere che scrive al fantomatico Hartman. Ma una di queste lettere viene trovata da Maddalena Lenci e imbucata. Carlo Hartman però esiste, proprio a quell'indirizzo e ricevuta la lettera corre a Roma per incontrare la ragazza. Ma a Roma c'è anche suo cugino che si innamora di Maddalena scambiandola per Elisa... Written by
Baldinotto da Pistoia
The revolution in Italian cinema started with white telephones
De Sica, famous for his neorealist masterpieces "Bicycle Thieves", "Umberto D.", "Miracle in Milan" (etc.), was pursuing a wartime career almost indistinguishable from the one he enjoyed in the '30s when he shot "Maddalena...", his second film. Handsome and elegant, De Sica was then the Italian equivalent of Cary Grant. Having seen his most famous films, I was expecting a rare find with "Maddalena...". Well, it was a disappointment, at least from that point of view. It is however interesting to compare De Sica's foremost works with "Maddalena...", a much earlier film which has absolutely nothing to do with neorealism.
"Maddalena..." is typical of the "white telephones" films, that is to say upper-class melodramas and comedies that were popular in Italy before and during WWII, when Mussolini wanted cinema to distract and uphold the consensus. The "telefoni bianchi" or "white telephones" pictures gently mocked upper-class convention while celebrating the triumph of the commonplace and were so named because the characters used elegant and pricey white phones rather than the standard black ones. A stage play filmed on sets in a studio, "Maddalena..." is a sentimental romance with a very predictable plot. De Sica plays a young Austrian businessman (remember that the play was originally written in Hungarian) accidentally entangled in a romantic affair with a dreamy Italian school girl (Carla del Poggio) guess what happens next. The only original turn of the plot is that the complications caused by an anonymous love letter eventually bring two (!) couples together. Like all "white telephones" films, "Maddalena..." says nothing about actual everyday life in the Italy of 1940. While the movie has a good pacing and was obviously directed with energy, there is no more than the artificial fluff you will find in most of the nice little comedies of that era. One can see De Sica's subsequent neorealist films precisely as a strong reaction to that type of cinema. After years of such conventional filmmaking, he was probably yearning to give a new direction to his films, either as an actor or as a director. It was nevertheless Mussolini's downfall which led to the birth of neorealism, when shortage of money and cinema equipments made shootings in real locations with non-professional actors an imperative choice. To be fair, the fake characters and phony plots of the "white telephones" films could only lead to a brutal change, which resulted in the production of left-wing films much more in line with what was actually happening in Italian society. "Maddalena..." can therefore be regarded as part of a preparatory phase prior to a more creative and interesting period in De Sica's directorial career.
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