You don't want to know where Judge Clark Douglas hides his wine bottles.
In the beginning there was Bombolini the fool, Bombolini the drunk, Bombolini the joke. In the end there was Bombolini the mayor, Bombolini the hero, Bombolini the beautiful. In between is the secret of Santa Vittoria.
"Brave men and good wine—they don't last long."
Facts of the Case
The year is 1943, it's a time of celebration in Santa Vittoria, a small wine-producing town in Italy. The reign of Benito Mussolini has finally come to an end, and life can return to normal. The fall of Mussolini means the fall of the town's pro-fascist leadership, so beloved local drunkard Italo Bombolini (Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek) is instated as the new mayor. For a while, things seem to go well enough: Bombolini grows accustomed to his new position and a feeling of peace settles over the town. Alas, there's trouble on the horizon: the Nazis are heading to Santa Vittoria, and once they arrive they will surely confiscate all of the town's wine. Desperate to salvage the town's primary resource, Bombolini spearheads an effort to hide the majority of the wine in a secret location. Will the dangerous plan succeed?
Stanley Kramer's The Secret of Santa Vittoria is one of the last gasps of its era; an expensive historical blockbuster released at a time when such films were giving way to the smaller, bolder efforts of New Hollywood. It flopped in theaters and certainly isn't particularly challenging or groundbreaking, but it deserves a second look all these years later. Thankfully, this new Blu-ray release from the good folks at Twilight Time gives viewers a chance to catch up with one of Kramer's most neglected films.
Though nobody does any prison time in the film, The Secret of Santa Vittoria offers a tone reminiscent of The Great Escape: the occasionally funny, occasionally dramatic tale of a colorful group of people banding together in order to deceive the Nazis. Kramer revels in the details of the community effort; delivering many loving montages (perhaps too many) of the townsfolk forming assembly lines and passing wine bottles down. The sun-kissed Italian setting is a lovely backdrop for the drama that unfolds, and Kramer does an exceptional job of giving us a feel for the geography of the place.
Though a host of characters get involved in the proceedings in a variety of ways, this isn't really an ensemble piece. The whole thing is centered on Anthony Quinn's big, expressive performance. Quinn goes way over the top every now and then—especially in scenes in which he's attempting to feign ignorance in front of a German official (an appropriately uptight Hardy Kruger)—but there's a certain bumbling charm to his work which makes his performance incredibly hard to dislike (even if it's occasionally a bit too cartoonish for its own good). Besides, anything involving Quinn is vastly more interesting than the subdued-but-dull romantic subplot between Sergio Franchi and Virna Lisi, which seems to exist to fill time (bloated runtimes surely played a role in the death of these sprawling historical flicks).
Sure, the film sags here and there, but never long enough to cause serious damage. Much of what's here works: the playful courtship between the young Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini, Hannibal) and Bombolini's daughter Angela (Patrizia Valturri), Bombolini's tempestuous relationship with his wife Rosa (Anna Magnani, who allegedly hated working with Quinn), the town's large-scale scheme, the tense negotiations with the Germans, etc. The flick never approaches the greatness of Kramer's best work (the back-to-back-to-back release of On the Beach, Inherit the Wind and Judgment and Nuremburg is an amazing feat), but it's warm, appealing and even a little inspirational.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria (Blu-ray) has received a respectable 2.35:1/1080p transfer, which does a fine job of highlighting the film's impressive production design. Detail is strong throughout, and colors are bright and vibrant. Depth is strong, a moderate amount of natural grain is present and flesh tones look warm and natural. Another '60s flick which looks considerably better than many '70s or '80s hi-def releases. The DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio track is crisp and clean, highlighting Ernest Gold's flavorful, Rota-esque score (robust, but used somewhat sparingly). Dialogue is clean and clear, and the few louder scenes find a nice balance between a handful of elements. Supplements are thin: an isolated score track and a pair of trailers.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a pleasant surprise—a warm, big-hearted drama with a lovably over-the-top performance at its center. It misfires now and then, but its mistakes are largely forgivable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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