|Index||3 reviews in total|
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.
This is definitely one of the best comedy ever made anywhere...In a Technical school girl students learn to write commercial letters to a Mr Doe in Germany...one day one of these letters is posted by mistake..the problem is that this Mr Doe really exists...The exquisite vittorio de Sica was a great performer before reaching stardom in 1946 with "the bicycle theft"...The movie is always charming ,never vulgar nor stupid and you really get off the movie theatre happy with yourself and life in general..Mussolini censors used Cinema to divert people in those black days...its is not the only movie of its kind but it is the best by miles..After 1960 Italian Directors like Fellini or Scola reacted strongly against this type of comedies..Now they dont seem to know how to make them anymore.
It is very interesting to notice that even Un Garibaldino al Convento (1942) sounds a reasonable movie after the sad experience of see this boring film, the second one (first alone) directed by De Sica. The reference to be followed here is the typical frivolity of Italian comedy of its times, above all, the one represented by Mario Camerini, and starred in some cases by the own De Sica. However, De Sica doesn't have the Camerini's touch to build an atmospheric sense as he did in his comedies.De Sica's artistic relevance grown at same proportion that himself no more work as actor in his own films. The cast is as fake as the own situation, but in the worst sense imaginable and the pretense gags, with few exceptions, are even worst, although the movie has a relatively good way to lead with "universal" clichés linked with any classroom. The fact that the most responsible girl was equally considered the most boring and distasteful by the students and the main character and focus of identification be the opposite of it, is a strong evidence of the victory of the gender conventions under the idealization of types more associated with fascist ideology.
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