Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
(Divorce, Italian Style)
directs and stars in this excellent emotional drama about one year in the life of an Italian
working family. For many audiences it will have a far greater impact than more 'artistic'
European imports from the likes of Antonioni and Visconti. Dramatic honesty and piercing
performances highlight a tale of discord and bad luck among a group of people we grow to
Railroad engineer Andrea Marcocci (Pietro Germi) loses his job after a pair of
incidents give the authorities the idea that he may be drinking too much. The
humiliation does prompt him to make some rash and destructive
family decisions. His wife Sara (Luisa Della Noce) looks on helplessly as Andrea lashes out at
his layabout son Marcello (Renato Speziali) and becomes furious with his daughter Giulia (Sylva
Koscina), who through a pregnancy was forced to marry a man she didn't love. The only constant is
his little son Sandrino (Edoardo Nevola), a charming tyke who takes all the family's ups and
Pietro Germi joins the short list of directors able to act in their own films and not lose
overall control. The Railroad Man has the format of a soap opera but is never less
than compelling. If distributed in any organized way it surely could have been popular in
the U.S. - it's sort of a neorealist ode to family values.
Paterfamilias Andrea goes on a spiral of bad luck after unavoidably running down a suicide on the
tracks. That incident shakes him up enough to miss a danger signal in Bologna, stripping him of
his prestigious, better-paid job as a top engineer. This humiliation combined with a growing heart
ailment lead him to go ballistic over bad news from his family. His unhappy daughter is caught in
an affair, while his unmotivated older son gets into gambling problems just as the family can ill
afford to bail him out. Bitterness at his own union motivates Andrea to work as a scab during a
strike, and he skulks away from home to avoid the scorn of his peers. As will be suspected, Mother
suffers through all of this, hoping for a happier resolution. The Railroad Man allows time
and reason to cure most of the family's problems.
Much of the story is told through the viewpoint of Andrea's ten year-old son Sandrino, played by
Edoardo Nevola, a terrific little actor we can't help but fall in love with. He's as key to this
film as was the paperhanger's son in De Sica's The Bicycle Thief. Sandrino worries about
his sister and tries his best to keep her secrets; his emotional response to
tough situations and family separations are heartbreaking but never cloying. At the wrap-up we
have a fine sense of things getting better, but nothing as 'miraculous' as the end of It's a
Wonderful Life. Along with the stark photography and the naturalistic performances, this is
still a neorealist picture. The social and political context are always present, and primary
screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni comes down heavily in favor of the common man pitted against
economic realities, even if the apparent enemy is an unhelpful worker's union.
This is also an early showcase for Sylva Koscina, a Yugoslav import with a career that continued
through two Hercules films, a career re-start in America through exposure in Playboy,
and later roles such as her effectively sensual performance in Mario Bava's
Lisa and the Devil. She has
the plum romantic role even though her brother Marcello is eventually seen associating with the
boss's cute daughter. The Railroad Man makes for excellent domestic drama.
NoShame's 2-disc DVD of The Railroad Man is presented in a fine B&W transfer with a restored
soundtrack that showcases Carlo Rusticelli's lyrically romantic score.
A lengthy interview docu brings in testimony from directors Mario Monicelli, Giuseppe Tornatore and
Damiano Damiani, screenwriters Luciano Vincenzoni and Tulio Pinelli, editor Sergio Montanari,
composer Rustichelli, cinematographer Aiace Parlin and two actresses ...they all must have been
fairly young when the picture was made 50 years ago. The docu clocks in at 84 minutes and suffers from
diffuseness; it's as if everything every interviewee said was included, along with clips from the
film that go on much too long. Still, we get a good picture of a shy but aggressive director with
a big heart and a bad temper.
Also included are screen tests showing mostly Germi acting opposite a candidate for the little boy
role. Perhaps Germi was trying to make sure he was right for the part. A theatrical trailer
highlights a prestige sell, and a
poster and still montage and a fat insert booklet fill out the extras.
The package text doesn't give away too much story but overstates Andrea's drinking problem - unless
one believes that his near-accident is a direct result of his drinking. NoShame's package
design is cluttered but serviceable; their package text is getting better but still reads awkwardly,
as if it were a good effort by a non-native speaker.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Railroad Man rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Interview doc Pietro Germi, A Classic on Its Own, screen tests,
Packaging: two discs in Keep case
Reviewed: July 3, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson