Thwarted Europeans in two films directed by Luchino Visconti and one by Sidney Lumet

With its melodrama amped up by the use of Bruckner’s very heavy Seventh Symphony, Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” (1954) is quite slow, running more than two hours. Alida Valli played a countess who is easily ensnared by a handsome but caddis Austrian lieutenant, Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). She is slow to realize that he is using her (to get money) while she throws away everything for her Great Love. When finally he decisively humiliates her, she uses her position. She does not seem to care what will happen to her after she has avenged herself (and the movie ends).

Granger and Valli spoke to each other in English during shooting. They were dubbed into Italian, as was standard practice for Italian movie-making. Criterion found a version in English (and German), that was shortened by half an hour. Granger’s performance is more compelling in his own English. Valli had made movies in English (most notably “The Third Man”) and was also more affecting in English, though watching “The Wanton Countess” showed me that she does not speak very much. Also, she sounds like Ingrid Bergman, to whom the part had been offered (when she was being monopolized by Roberto Rossellini; the first choice for her lover was Marlon Brando; the Italian producers thought that Granger was going to be a bigger star than Brando…).

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The Criterion edition includes a making-of feature that does not even mention the dialogue credited to Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles. It does get into the outrage of the Italian government about the portrayal of the “Italian army” before there was an Italy, and what a martinet Visconti was on-set. The opening scene in La Fenice was supposed to feature Maria Callas in an excerpt (obviously a different one) from “Il Trovatore,” but she was in America when it was shot and it was Pasolini rather than Visconti who made a film starring her (Medea). Having just watched the Visconti documentary on the “Ludwig” disc, I didn’t watch the British one (“Man of Three Worlds,” which I think I’ve seen before) on the “Senso” one, nor find out what Peter Cowie (whom I find insufferable) had to say about “Senso” and Visconti.

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I also watched again the ponderous (238-minute) 1973 “Ludwig” in which most scenes run on too long. Helmust Berger plays the Bavarian king who is an enigma to himself (why his subjects like him is another mystery; he cared not at all about them). Though he eventually marries (Sophie), his loves are Richard Wagner (played by Trevor Howard), and “Sisi” (the Empress Elisabeth), the wife of the Hapsburg emperor. Romy Schneider could be imperious, but was compassionate for her cousin Ludwig.

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The post-dubbing bothered me in “Ludwig,” too. I can understand an Italian release dubbed in Italian, but I think a version in German should have been the international version. Berger and Schneider, as well as supporting players Gert Fröbe, Heinz Moog, and Helmut Griem) were native speakers of German. (BTW, Visconti wanted Laurence Olivier to play Wagner, though I don’t think he would have done better; Richard Burton, maybe, though I have not seen his Wagner (a ten-part, 300-minute miniseries).)

Bavarian reactionaries protested the revelation of homoerotic inclinations of Ludwig, and an hour of the film was cut (then another hour). I doubt that either made the cuts in scene length I think should have been made.

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I went on to watch an also slow-moving lethal romance, “The Appointment” (1969), set mostly in Rome. It looks and feels European and stars Omar Shrif (Egyptian) and Anouk Aimée (born in Paris). It was written by James Salter and directed by Sidney Lumet, both Americans and not generally interested in romances. In general, Sharif was likeable and bland, Aimée sphinxlike (elusive). Here Sharif, tormented by jealousy and possessiveness, is not likeable, if not a villain, Aimée inarticulate but relatively sympathetic. Even Lotte Lenya as an antique dealer who is also a supplier of high-end prostitutes, is sympathetic (not like the Stasi agent Lenya played in “From Russian with Love”).

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Aimée’s character was a model for a fashion house. The haute couture shows that the fashion disaster that was the 1970s began earlier! I did not like Aimée’s reddish hair or Sharif’s severely cropped mustache either. He did, however, look totally groomed and tailored.

“The Appointment” was Salter’s first screenplay, followed by “Downhill Racer” (also released in 1969, from the novel by Oakley Hall).

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

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