September 01, 2012

The Sophia Loren collection

Her glory days

Lionsgate has released a 4-film collection of Sophia Loren titles that is as ecclectic as it is entertaining. This collection demonstrates why Loren remains one of the true living legends of the film industry, as the full range of her exceptional talents is on display. The four films are:

Attila- this 1954 sword-and-sandal epic pairs Loren with Anthony Quinn, who portrays the legendary hun. The movie boasts an exceptionally intelligent script, with young Loren cast as a conniving Roman beauty who seeks to betray her crumbling empire by seducing Attila. Presented in Italian language with sub-titles, the movie has outstanding production values and performances, and feature truly epic battles though the last scene is marred by a religious message that goes a bit over-the-top. Nonetheless, the movie is a reminder of why Italy led the world in the post-war European cinema.

CAROSELLO NAPOLETANO presents Loren in one of her first films, a 1953 musical homage to the folk and musical traditions of Naples. The Italian language film is an acquired taste that won't appeal to everyone, but I found it fascinating. To see a big budget musical made in the aftermath of the devastation Italy suffered in WWII, is quite remarkable. (The exterior sequences make no attempt to mask the bombed-out buildings that still abounded everywhere.) Most of the film consists of unrelated short musical numbers built on Neopolitan myths and legends and features exceptionally impressive sets and costumes. Loren, who was only starting her career, is featured in a musical number that is probably the most impressive sequence in the movie.

Young Sophia on her way to international superstardom. 
MADAME SANS-GENE- I can recall seeing this movie on its American release in 1962 (under the title Madame) when I was all of six years old. I hadn't seen it since, but I always recalled the memorable sequence of Loren and Robert Hossein making a humorous escape from a windmill in which they have been imprisoned. The Napoleonic era comedy features Loren as a peasant laundress who is elevated to royalty through her tempestuous marriage to a bumbling solider who wins the favor of Napoleon. The French language production is presented with sub-titles and features a remarkably funny performance by Loren, who eschews the snobbery of the royal court to wreak havoc by exposing the society types as the hypocrites and phonies they are. Loren and Hossein have wonderful chemistry and the movie also benefits from extravagant production values and a very witty script. There are also plenty of scenes with Loren's sweat-drenched cleavage on display to insure commercial viability. (Viva le difference!)

I GIRASOLI- This 1970 film, released in English-language territories as Sunflower, reunited Loren with director Vittorio De Sica, whose Two Women had earned Loren her Best Actress Oscar in 1962. The movie is an under-rated gem on every level and pairs Loren with her favorite co-star Marcello Mastroianni with whom she would make ten films. The two give remarkable performances in a lovely film that never stops surprising the viewer. It begins in Italy during WWII with Mastroianni becoming the reluctant bridegroom of Loren simply to buy a few day's leave in able to forestall being sent to combat. He ends up falling madly in love with her, but is ultimately sent to the Russian Front. Up to this point, the movie is a charming and funny romance. However, it soon turns into a riveting drama when Mastroianni is declared missing in action. Loren is haunted by his absence and years after the war, makes a fateful trip to Russia to search for him - only to learn a shocking secret that affects her life forever. Why this film isn't regarded as among De Sica's best works is truly puzzling. The script is consistently engrossing with the two leads giving superb perrformances. De Sica also managed to get extraordinary footage inside the Soviet Union, which was quite an achievement at the height of the Cold War. The love story is set to a lush and romantic score by Henry Mancini that ranks among his best work. The film is presented in Italian language with sub-titles.

The only extra is a well-made featurette that centers on Loren's work, primarily in the four films presented in the collection. The great lady herself is not present, but her two sons are and give some interesting insights into how their mother managed to give them a normal upbringing despite her being an icon of the international cinema. Put this set on your must-have list. - Lee Pfeiffer


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