From United Artists
Directed by Melvin Frank
Y'know, once in awhile a comedy sneaks into my list of recommended films... not often, mind you, but it does happen. This is a delightful comedy, absolutely delightful, and if you are not aware of it, may I suggest you correct that?
One of the best things about this movie is that it contains not only a wonderful comedic performance from Gina Lollobrigida-- normally a full-on dramatic actress-- but I might offer that it's the best thing she's ever done. And while we're at it, flame-haired this time out, Lollo's never looked more fetching.
What's the big deal? Well, I'll tell you. Twenty years earlier, during the American occupation of Italy, Carla had affairs with three airmen over a 10-day period and then they moved on. She soon discovers she is pregnant. She cannot afford the scorn of her community, the blight on her reputation, so she makes up a story that the father of her child, Eddie Campbell, an army captain, was killed before they could marry. She picked the name from a can of soup, finding it better than the only other American name she knew to go by, Mrs. Coca Cola.
For these same 20 years she has been collecting monthly child support payments from each of the three men, telling each that he is the father of her lovely daughter, Gia. She has also kept the truth of the paternity from Gia. The only ones who know what's going on are Carla's boyfriend, Vittorio, who also works for her, and Rosa, her loyal housekeeper. Obviously with the arrival of these three men and their wives, the excrement is about to hit the appliance. No man is aware of the others and none of them has told his wife that he has a daughter and has been making payments for years.
Some amusing slapstick comedy scenes are played out with each man and ultimately each wife trying to get to the bottom of things and Carla trying to juggle the awkward situations. Of course the truth is found out and everyone winds up happy campers, just as it usually does in a comedy.
One of the nice things about the film, and especially unusual for a comedy, is that characterizations are rather spot-on. We actually learn something about each couple. Silvers and Winters have the best marriage, although she is a bit of a shrew and their three obnoxious children are in tow. Savalas and Grant are childless and often at one another's throats because of their general unhappiness. Oddly, when she learns that he may be the father, and she is convinced that he is the one, she feels more loving toward him. The worst marriage is Lawford and Moses... he disregards her and is probably a world-class philanderer and she is distant and resentful.
|Lollo and Philippe Leroy|
At the same time, Carla and Vittorio have a loving and loyal relationship but the Italian in them keeps the air rife with electricity, both carnal and otherwise. He has a touching scene with the entire cast (except Lollo) in a hospital room where Gia is recovering from an auto accident and her fathers are trying to keep her from running off to Brazil with a married man.
The mother-daughter relationship is also a good one. Each is loving and tender with the other, although, understandably, Gia is upset to discover that she has been lied to for her entire life and that Eddie Campbell is a figment of her mother's imagination.
Janet Margolin, always demure and so lovely, died far too young at age 50. Her most famous film was her first, 1962s David and Lisa, opposite Keir Dullea. She was a perfect fit for Gia and her scenes with Lollo were genuine and heartfelt.
Not enough has ever been said about the contribution of Philippe Leroy as Vittorio. One found mirth and merriment in his scenes with Lollo although he played them in a serious manner. He was an honorable partner to Mrs. Campbell and did his best to keep her on the right path and her thinking clear.
It's funny that I enjoyed this film as much as I did because I didn't care that much about any of the actors playing the three couples. Savalas scored the best but I never went to a film because he was in it. Lawford by this point had become a rather boring actor... drugs and Kennedys zapped from him any prior energy and it shows. Silvers was just Silvers... doing the same schtick he always did. The thought of Phil Silvers and Gina Lollobrigida together in bed makes my temples pulsate.
Second-billed Shelley Winters is an actress I could take or leave. At her worst she was too blustery for my tastes. Lee Grant seemed like she was in another movie. I saw not a whisper of comedy in her acting. I read in both hers and Winters' autobiographies that they battled during the making of this film (they just finished another film together, The Balcony) and didn't speak for many years afterwards. Marian Moses, later known as Marian McCargo, a Dina Merrill clone, never had much of a career nor much to do here.
Odd that I would be left dry by six actors and yet still recommend the film. That's how strongly I reacted to the other four actors, including Naomi Stevens as the housekeeper, and the delightful comedy throughout. Director Melvin Frank (who had just worked with Lollo and Rock Hudson in the horrible Strange Bedfellows) kept the pace bright and spirited. He also managed to keep it all from getting vulgar since the potential was certainly there. It felt like a comedy from earlier times... and that is a compliment.
Bravo to the colorful cinematography of Gabor Pogany and the happy sounds of Italian composer Riz Ortolani, last mentioned in my piece on The 7th Dawn.
It was filmed in Lazio, Italy, with interiors filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Rome.
If you haven't seen the film but the basic plot sounds familiar to you, it's because it was later used as the plot of the wildly successful stage play (and later movie), Mamma Mia.
Back to that perky title song. Here it is over the opening (and also closing) credits.
Natalie Wood in the 60s