(Some spoilers) The almost completely forgotten or unknown TOMBOLO, PARADISO NERO (TOMBOLO, BLACK PARADISE) is an interesting neorealist era melodrama. It stars Aldo Fabrizi as a widowed father, Andrea, whose wife had perished in a wartime bombing. Andrea works as a guard in a depot for American merchandise in the port of Livorno, in occupied Italy. One day he spots his long-lost daughter, Anna (Adriana Benetti), unseen for five years and is able to seek her out and speak to her again.
Unfortunately, he comes to realize that she is connected, though her boyfriend Renzo, to a criminal organization specializing in the theft of merchandise for the black-market, prostitution, as well as other shady activities. Renzo and his fellow gang members had also set up Andrea in such a way that they arranged a theft from the depot he was supposed to be guarding and that resulted in the death of two men.
The band of criminals which Renzo is associated with operates out of a notorious locale called Tombolo, a den of iniquity located in a pinewoods area not far from the city. One of the ranking operatives in this place is the black G.I., Sergeant Jack, played by the ubiquitous black American in films of that time, John Kitzmiller. It should be noted that there is an uncomfortable tinge of racist stereotyping in the portrayal of this soldier, something pointed out by the reviewer for the New York Times when it opened in that city.
At a certain point Renzo becomes repentant, is serious about marrying Anna, tells all to Andrea. Andrea enlists the help of the authorities who stage a successful raid on the gang, but not without Andrea becoming a victim of the gunfire interchange and dying as his daughter and her friend sail off to a presumably better and more virtuous life.
The film has a gritty noir realism, and the backgrounds of rubble in war-damaged Livorno are very effective here as the were in Lattuada's WITHOUT PITY and Joseph Losey's much later STRANGER ON THE PROWL, both of which were shot there.
The direction by Giorgio Ferroni is effective, if not overwhelming, but the movie never becomes something more than the sum of its parts. It opened in New York at the end of 1949 at the downtown City Theatre, but never seems to have gotten much distribution or any audiences to compare with other Italian imports of that time.
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