Thursday, June 20, 2024

Whatever Wednesday: ‘Scandal in Sorrento’

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Scandal in Sorrento is a 1955 Italian movie with only the barest hint of a scandal and a whole lot of Sorrento. It is pure romantic escapism built on the age-old theory of putting two charismatic, charming, and beautiful people together and giving them a not too large of an obstacle to overcome. The film is sublime in its simplicity.

This is the third film in a trilogy of films directed by Dino Risi. But don’t let that fool you, the other two films are not required viewing. Scandal in Sorrento was made back in a time that didn’t require audience members to go to an ocean of varying media just to watch one movie. But more than that, this is one of fourteen in which Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica starred together.

The movie itself takes place in, where else, but Sorrento, Italy. A small fishing village along the Italian coastline whose grand cliffs and gorgeous countryside Risi takes great care in showing. The story by Risi, Vincenzo Talarico, Ettore Margadonna, and Marcello Girosi is this just side of what I believe the youth of today call, “horny on main.”

Marshal Maresciallo Carotenuto (De Sica) is returning to his home town after a scandal has forced him to leave the last one. His maid, Caramella (Tina Pica) always by his side, groans and frets about her master’s womanizing ways. “He went to say goodbye to the midwife. He didn’t have enough with the first midwife who had a child.”

Now on returning home to become the head of the local police, Maresciallo is looking forward to a calm and peaceful life. He’s an older gentleman and is looking forward to a quiet life, or as quiet as someone like Maresciallo could lead. But there is just one problem, his family home is being rented to the newly widowed comely fishmonger Donna Sofia (Loren).

Despite the full pitcher’s lineup of screenwriters, Scandal in Sorrento is primarily a series of misunderstandings, seductions, schemes, and happy endings. Maresciallo’s younger brother, the local priest, Don Matteo (Mario Carotenuto) has taken it upon himself to try and make sure his brother doesn’t involve himself in another scandal, not to mention find a way to evict Sofia so his brother may return to his family house.

But Sofia is no damsel. Known throughout Sorrento for flaunting her beauty as she competes with the fishmongers next door, she understands completely the type of vain man Maresciallo is and goes about seducing him in the most blatant and ostentatious way imaginable. Maresciallo, for his part, is more than okay with this and gives chase as the two play cat and mouse, all the while Sofia begs Maresciallo to let her continue living at his house.

For those of you wondering what the scandal besides the age gap and possible class difference, Sofia is still in mourning and cannot be seen associating with any man romantically until her mourning period is over. But luckily for her, Maresciallo has his own problems, as his new landlord is the prudish and deeply pious Donna Violante Ruotolo (Lea Padovani).

To say nothing of the watchful eye of his brother and his maid. The two are determined to see that Maresciallo, for once, stays out of trouble. But for men like him, trouble is always knocking at the door and he is always eager to see who it is.

Movies like Scandal in Sorrento tend to put luscious breathtaking backdrops behind their luscious breathtaking stars to always have something for the eye to turn to should the story begin to wane. Indeed, the way Giuseppe Rotunno’s camera captures the Sorrento countryside along with the actors makes Scandal in Sorrento a scrumptious feast for the eyes. The way the colors of the buildings and the deep blue of the ocean seem to pop off the screen soothes over any rough edges the story may have.

Though unlike most Hollywood movies though, we spend much of the movie watching Loren and De Sica banter in will they or won’t they fashion, this is a couple that is destined to not be together. Imagine seeing an old Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie and then getting to the end and having the two stars end up with different people? But somehow it works, possibly because although Loren’s Sofia is never shy, we know that she is not in love with Maresciallo.

Even more, we know that as much fun as the two are together, it is obvious the two would not be good for each other. Besides, Sofia’s heart belongs to Nicolino (Antonio Cifariello), a younger man who truly loves Sofia and has trouble hiding his jealousy as she flagrantly throws herself at the new Police Captain.

Plus, if you pay careful attention you’ll notice how Violante looked at Maresciallo when he first arrived, and indeed, the way she finds herself both repulsed and intrigued by his libidinous ways. Luckily for both Mareiscello and Violante that Carmella is there or else the movie would have a much drearier ending.

Watching Scandal in Sorrento, it’s remarkable to see how confidently Risi’s direction is. This is a brash romantic farce of sorts with larger than life characters. In a lesser director’s hand, it would come off cartoonish, as it is he is coming pretty close.

But Risi has Loren and De Sica, two legends, two screen legends, to help him along. De Sica was a famous and beloved matinee idol but also an infamous and legendary pillar of the Italian Neo-Realism movement who directed such films as The Bicycle Thief. Seeing him twirl his mustache, it’s easy to understand how a country fell in love with him as he jauntily makes his way down the cobblestone path towards his next dalliance.

Yet, without Loren’s Sofia, Scandal in Sorrento becomes a different picture. Loren is an international star known more for her beauty than her work. This is a shame because her work is every bit as eye-catching as she is. Like Marilyn Monroe, Loren has a way about her that the camera can’t seem to get enough of. But unlike others, Loren’s characters were never shy, coquettish, or indecisive. Her characters were loud and demanding and were hardly ever afraid to make her feelings known.

Put these two together and you have what is commonly known as movie magic. There’s no real critical analysis I can offer you other than it’s just fun to see these two act together. They have a chemistry that is just enjoyable to behold.

Scandal in Sorrento is a lush, ribald comedy that is more beautiful to look at than most modern films. Risi’s frames are filled with lush colors as if someone painted directly onto the screen. That it is filled with adults acting foolishly and immaturely is merely a time-honored tradition of cinema.  

Image courtesy of Distributors Corporation of America

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