NoShame Films // 1970 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // October 31st, 2006
What's your idea of justice...have you ever thought about it?
Here's one case where the title is remarkably accurate. After her debut in The Most Beautiful Wife, Ornella Muti went on to be crowned "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" by readers of Class magazine. I haven't read Class magazine, but their taste is without fault; every picture I've ever seen of Ornella Muti has been exquisite. We could be shallow and talk about how attractive she is, with her flawless porcelain skin, silky hair, perfect curves, and eyes that redefine the word "piercing." Or we could try to discuss the artistic merit of The Most Beautiful Wife beyond watching the genesis of one of the world's most beautiful actresses.
Young Vito Juvara (Alessio Orano, The Killer Must Kill Again) is given the keys to the kingdom when his Mafia Don and all of his ranking supporters are brought in on charges. Vito is asked to keep the throne warm, stay low, and marry a poor woman with good moral values to help him start a family. Vito would rather be bashing in the skulls of those who wronged his family, but he does his best to follow his Don's wishes.
Vito sets his sights on Francesca Cimarosa (Ornella Muti, Flash Gordon, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things). A demure, hardworking girl with a flair for needlework and a weakness for gelato, Francesca fits the Don's description of a perfect wife. Francesca is also breathtakingly beautiful, budding into a womanhood that every man in town has noticed.
Vito courts her the old fashioned way by threatening her suitors with bodily harm, pushing her family around, and finally, kidnapping her. Despite his cold manipulation, Francesca still holds Vito with some regard -- if only he will admit that he has wronged her. His arrogance will not permit it, so Francesca goes to the police to bring him down. Her actions upset a town complacent from centuries of custom, and no one is sure how the conflict will resolve.
Since you're still reading, I guess you're interested in what The Most Beautiful Wife has to offer besides footage of Ornella Muti. The answer is something of a catch-22 because The Most Beautiful Wife is a perfect frame for Ornella Muti, the central figure of the film.
Before Franca Viola arrived on the scene in 1965, Sicilian custom was straightforward, if barbaric. Women, who were not expected to enjoy sex, were nonetheless expected to defend their virginity and family honor at all costs. If a bridal arrangement was agreed upon between a man and a girl's parents, but the girl had cold feet, it was an uncomfortable situation. The groom-to-be would sometimes kidnap the girl, take her to a secluded villa, and either woo her or rape her in private (thereby rendering her unsuitable for any other man on the planet). If the girl succumbed to the groom out of the public eye (where she was required to resist any sexual advance), good for her. The marriage would take place. If she resisted and was raped, screaming "No! No!" at the top of her lungs, good for her. She is virtuous. The marriage would take place.
The law technically banned the practice. Yet it continued unabated until Franca Viola went to the police, invoked the law, and pressed charges against the mafia brute who had raped her. According to director Damiano Damiani, Franca is considered an Italian folk hero of feminism. The Most Beautiful Wife is a dramatic retelling of Franca Viola's story, with Ornella Muti playing the part of the wronged girl. As such, she is front and center in every scene. Every actor supports her. The music supports her. The cinematography even supports her. The truth is, had Ornella Muti not turned out to be one of the world's great beauties, The Most Beautiful Wife would have probably remained a movie for Italians who were familiar with the Viola story.
Damiano Damiani loves to tell political stories that delve into societal nuances. He riffs on mafia ties, crooked police, and the weight of custom as much as he dislikes gratuitous violence, drama, and nudity. Thus, Damiani's stories are typically set in the realm of extreme violence, sex, and corruption, but his movies deal with subtle socio-political ramifications instead of showing those distasteful aspects. If you are a student of 1960's Italian social history, this is a nice change of pace from those base movies with all the shooting and the hooters. If you like the shooting and the hooters, best steel yourself for a dry spell. As I said in my review of How To Kill A Judge: "I have a bad feeling about this one for some reason. It seems like it will be kinda dry."
Fourteen-year-old Ornella Muti infuses this film with enough fire to sell Damiani's exploration of social mores. Whether it is because I bought into the characters more or because the story is somehow more resonant, I found The Most Beautiful Wife superior to How To Kill A Judge in every way. Ornella comes out of the gate perfectly capable of following Damiani's direction. Nonetheless, the production had "a heavy air" according to the interviewees in the featurette. Many cast and crew fell in love with Ornella...and if you've followed the story thus far, you can see how this might be a bit of a downer for everyone. Some of that negative energy creeps into the film; Alessio Orano in particular doesn't seem to be having any fun. He is a strikingly beautiful man, however, who would go on to marry (and later divorce) Ornella.
Ennio Morricone's score is sublime. It cranks up the tension with screeching violins and makes the dramatic scenes better. In some cases, Morricone is single-handedly responsible for making certain scenes work at all. The score makes your teeth set on edge, but not in a bad way. Unfortunately, the 2.0 mono track is harsh and thin. It is brassy and grueling on the ears; The more I longed to listen, the more frustrated I became. Cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo, who would go on to shoot over 80 films including Il Postino, shows rough glimpses of the solid cinematography he would deliver in later years. He perfectly captures the fire in Ornella Muti and lends a dramatic air to some of the chase sequences, while falling on convention in many of his shots. The transfer is slightly speckled and rather soft, with the telltale 1970's fade in the colors.
NoShame has provided one of the most thorough interview featurettes to date. Damiano Damiani, assistant director Mino Giarda, editor Antonio Siciliano, star Alessio Orano and director of photography Franco Di Giacomo discuss every aspect of the film in great detail. From the "17 takes" issue that resulted when Alessio Orano got a black eye in a bar fight while out with Ms. Muti to the seeds of collaboration sown in the film, the interviewees provide lucid, frank insights. Succinct, informative liner notes fill in the details.
This is a real story told with little fanfare or dramatic license. If you look to NoShame for lusty Eurocult films, this one aims a little higher. And though The Most Beautiful Wife has more impact than the forgettable How To Kill A Judge, I'm getting the impression that Damiani is not for me. But Ennio Morricone makes any film worthwhile, and it is interesting to see the young girl who would become one of world cinema's enduring sex symbols.
No guilty, but not as innocent as we were led to believe.
Review content copyright © 2006 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Introduction by director Damiano Damiani
* Liner Notes
* "Sicily, Ornella, The Mafia, and Beyond" featurette