Judge Dylan Charles could have even had fun during the French Revolution.
"Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go so much further than people with vastly superior talent."—Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren has been making movies since the '50s and she's still at work. This collection takes a few films from near the beginning and middle of her career, each one from a very different genre: a musical, a historical epic, slapstick comedy, and depressing postwar drama.
Facts of the Case
Carosello Napoletano is more of a variety show than a straight-up musical. It's a compilation of the different songs and dances from throughout Naples' history. The story of a homeless singer and his family trying to make a living in postwar Naples is the thread that ties it all together. Sophia Loren pops up about two-thirds of the way through and has a fairly large part, before vanishing back into the ether.
Attila is a sword-and-sandal epic with Anthony Quinn (Lawrence of Arabia) as Attila the Hun and Sophia Loren as Honoria, the sister of an Emperor. Attila wants the Roman Empire all to himself, and Honoria, happy to oblige, strikes a deal with the Hun.
In Madame Sans-Gene, spunky laundress Catherine Hubscher (Sophia Loren) has wacky adventures with her husband during the French Revolution. Yes, it is possible to have wacky adventures during the Reign of Terror and Sophia Loren proves it.
In I Giarasoli, Giovanna (Sophia Loren) and Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni, La Dolce Vita) are married during World War II and have but a brief time together before he is sent to the Russian lines. Though Antonio is missing in action and declared dead, Giovanna refuses to believe it. She travels to Russia after the war to try and discover what happened to her husband.
Lionsgate has gathered up a few of Sophia Loren's lesser-known films and thrown them into one box, with no real theme except that most people probably haven't heard of them.
Carosello Napoletano is a decidedly weird choice for this set. It's a bit too long and a bit too insane in places, but it's colorful, with elaborate sets, an amazing variety of songs and stories to tell, and a plethora of actors. My favorite scene involves a puppet who comes to life, then gets knocked unconscious and has a dream, but then wakes up as an actor who promptly dies. Still, in a set designed to tout the work of Miss Loren, you'd think they might have chosen something that she appears in for more than 20 minutes out of two hours.
Attila is far more suited for this set. Miss Loren steals whatever scenes she's in as the haughty and arrogant Honoria. Her co-stars (with the exception of Anthony Quinn, who looks like he's having a hell of a time as Attila) are fairly bland and colorless next to her. It's a shame she's not on the screen more often.
The movie itself is nothing special, certainly not the "surging spectacle and savagery" that it bills itself as. It's campy and fun to watch, but there's not a terrible lot of substance here. It also takes a few liberties with history, a statement that I'm sure you're surprised to hear. The ending in particular is an anti-climactic letdown, appearing more like a commercial for the Church than a fitting ending for a movie. While Attila did meet with Pope Leon, few history books say that Attila was turned back by the sheer, awesome holiness of Leon.
Madame Sans-Gene takes a shift away from the previous two movies and takes a turn toward comedy. Madame Sans-Gene feels like an I Love Lucy episode set during Revolutionary France. Sophia Loren is a plucky laundress who does damn well what she pleases which gets her into many wacky scrapes. She's coarse, sharp-tongued, witty, and attractive as all git out. Her poor, beleaguered husband (Robert Hossein) is continually out of his depth and often has a look of weary resignation. He can't stop himself from getting involved in her hijinks and he needs her to get back out of them. The only person capable of dealing with Catherine on her own level is, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte (Julien Bertheau).
I Girasoli makes an abrupt U-turn away from comedy and far away from the campy good times of Attila and takes a look at postwar Italy. Miss Loren and Marcello Mastroianni match well and fit comfortably together in their roles. My main problem has to do with a key plot point, in which Mastroianni's character leaves Sophia Loren. Who in the nine hells leaves Sophia Loren? Impossible and unbelievable.
Nonetheless, I Girasoli takes a long, hard look at the effects of war on people's lives. Not on the larger scale, on the scale of nations or large groups of people, just on how it impacts the small, intimate moments between people. Giovanna and Antonio are changed, in small ways and large ways, by their experiences. When Giovanna encounters an Italian expatriate in Russia, she asks him why he doesn't go back to his country. His weary reply of "What country?" is a lonely moment and says a hell of a lot about what this man has been through.
The director, Vittorio de Sica (Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D.), also uses archival footage, images taken during World War II that help to drive home what has damaged these people. The title, (sunflower in Italian) references truly vast fields of sunflowers that have grown up over the mass graves of dead soldiers and prisoners. Beautiful normalcy covering past death and tragedy is what I Girasoli is all about.
There is a single featurette, a decent enough rundown of Sophia Loren's career. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it matches the scope of the collection pretty well. Plus the case for the DVDs is truly nifty; a puffy red slipcover protecting the goods inside.
Lionsgate has done a fairly good job here. While these four movies do not represent the very best that Sophia Loren has to offer, they nonetheless showcase a few of the lesser-known films in her career—and they're not half bad to boot. Well, except for Attila, but even that's campy, good fun. With the wide range of genres, there should be something for everyone in this set. For once, I can recommend a box set with minimal reservations.
The Sophia Loren 4-Film Collection is innocent of all charges, but Attila needs to shape up.
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Scales of Justice, Attila
Perp Profile, Attila
Distinguishing Marks, Attila
Scales of Justice, Carosello Napoletano
Perp Profile, Carosello Napoletano
Distinguishing Marks, Carosello Napoletano
Scales of Justice, Madame Sans-Gene
Perp Profile, Madame Sans-Gene
Distinguishing Marks, Madame Sans-Gene
Scales of Justice, I Girasoli
Perp Profile, I Girasoli
Distinguishing Marks, I Girasoli
• Sophia Loren: La Diva Poplana
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