Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Federico Fellini's first two movies were charming, but his third I Vitelloni was the
big success that assured him of a continuing career. It's an excellent drama that neatly
bridges the gap between neorealism and the developing Italian film - poverty and social
determinism isn't the prime force here. Instead we have a knowing look at the lives of a group
of layabout adult males sponging off their relatives, too immature to do anything
constructive with themselves. It may have been an Italian issue but its a universal story
wherever unmotivated or disoriented young men stay close to home and use convenient comfort
as an excuse to be irresponsible. It's beautifully acted by a close group of Fellini associates.
In a provincial seacoast town, several young men while away their time together
while their parents and girlfriends wonder what's wrong with them. Alberto (Alberto
Sordi) is just an immature clown who only becomes serious when telling his sister Olga (Claude
Farell) to stop her affair with a married man. Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) is a chronic womanizer; he's
looking for another conquest even as he's forced to marry one pregnant girlfriend, Sandra (Leonora
Ruffo). And he continues chasing women after the birth of their baby. Leopoldo (Leopoldo
The White Sheik) has dreams of
becoming a great playwright. Only Sandra's brother Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) seems to see a
major problem with the way his friends live, especially when he waits forlornly for his
brother-in-law to finish with an actress pick-up.
I Vitelloni is an excellent show by any standard, a drama about a basic situation that will
make many a young man squirm. The screenplay is understanding but firm with the basic infantile
reaction to life shown here. Nobody wants to commit to the drudgery of common labor but these four take
advantage of their relatives out of a selfishness and indolence that can only be partially excused
by their immaturity.
Alberto lectures his sister on her affair, but can't pretend he's the family patriarch when she's
bankrolling his trips to the horse races. Arrogance finally catches up with Alberto when his car
breaks down immediately after taunting some sweating road workers with a "colorful" hand gesture. Actually,
it's his innocent companion Leopoldo who gets his rear kicked around the road.
Somebody else always pays, and Fausto is the worst offender. As handsome and as vain as a matinée
idol, his skirt-chasing is barely slowed by his marriage to the sweetly innocent "Miss Mermaid"
winner Sandra (Eleanora Ruffo of Mario Bava's
Hercules in the Haunted World). He finds
nothing wrong with pressing his attentions on a married woman in a movie house (Arlette Sauvage)
while sitting next to his own bride. And he completely subverts his own well-being by pressing his
unwanted attentions on his boss's 40-something wife (Lída Baarová).
Worse, Fausto's lies and schemes to divert attention from the truth lead him to criminalize his
faithful friend Moraldo with the theft of a statue of an angel. Sandra is sweet but no fool; and
his willingness to imperil her is a damning as any act in a Fellini movie.
Leopoldo finally gets his chance to present his play to a famous actor, only to find that his
naive enthusiasm makes him easy prey for the savvy trouper. Inoffensive but clumsy, Leopoldo tries
to impress an unknown girl at a carnival party, while ignoring the girl next door (Achille Majeroni)
who adores him.
Finally there's Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi of Shoeshine and Ulysses), who witnesses
the various failings of his buddies while trying to be a good friend. He drags the drunken
Alberto home to witness the exit of Olga, and even more faithfully, tries to understand Fausto's
blatant abuse of Sandra. It's an old solution, but Moraldo's answer to his
situation - Get the Hell out of town - gives I Vitelloni a satisfying ending. It's tied to
his casual friend on midnight walks, a 14 year-old kid already become a dependable railroad
employee. Moraldo knows he's just as indolent as his buddies and eventually does something about it.
I Vitelloni is no forced tragedy or an allegory for anything the way some of
Fellini's early classics are. Fausto gets a big scare and a deserved whipping that surely was
an audience-pleaser in Italy. The proof that he's redeemable is when he's too
concerned over Sandra to pay attention to another easy conquest. There's hope for Fausto yet.
Fellini's later personal epics seem to grasp at pieces of I Vitelloni for dream images. The
purloined statue becomes a giant Christ flying over Rome in La Dolce Vita and that movie's
meaningless trip to the beach is just another stare-out-to-sea exercise like the boys do here. The
carnival is a mini-circus of costumed creatures as seen in
Otto e mezzo, and the beauty contest
has the germ of phony public pageants to come in things like Roma and
Toby Dammit. Fellini's camerawork
is just as assured as in his later big-budget films, and more conventionally polished than
Criterion's DVD of I Vitelloni is a handsome presentation of the film beautifully restored
and transferred - I have to admit that the 16mm prints shown back in college were so poor, I walked
new and improved English subs still take liberties for the sake of clarity, like interpreting the word
"billiaco" as both "drunkard" and "coward." Tom Piazza contributes good liner notes and there
is a nice selection of stills and a vintage trailer that oversells the film as great art. Nino Rota's
emotional score finally is audible and the clear soundtrack does it justice.
The main extra
is a lengthy interview piece with the late Leopoldo Trieste and Franco Interlenghi, accompanied by
Moraldo Rossi, Tullio Kezich, Vincenzo Mollica and Vittorio Boarini. They describe themselves in
1953 as being different from the men in I Vitelloni. But telling details emerge, like their
caution to stop talking about their various affairs whenever Federico's jealous wife Giulietta
Masina approached. They also point to the Moraldo character as an autobiographical Fellini figure,
tipping us off to the fact that Fellini himself dubbed Moraldo's final dialogue.
Criterion's handsomely-appointed DVD was produced by Issa Clubb.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
I Vitelloni rates:
Supplements: Stills, trailer, interview docu Vitellonismo
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 28, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson