Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Pietro Germi's Sedotta e abbandonata is a fall-down funny farce about the essential inconsistency in a social order that encourages young men to chase young girls, but also expects young girls to remain virgins until marriage. The stylish production exaggerates nothing to achieve its satirical aims, as the desperate schemes of its various agitated Sicilians come straight from outmoded but irrepressible notions of honor and dignity. The harried police chief expresses his opinion of Sicily by wishing for an atom bomb to wipe it off the map!
Nervous paterfamilias Don Vincenzo Ascalone (Saro Urzì) worries about marrying off his string of not-so-bright daughters while retaining the family honor: In this Sicilian town everyone knows everybody else's personal business. Oversexed dullard Peppino Califano (Aldo Puglisi) is engaged to Don Vincenzo's daughter Matilde (Paola Biggio) but when the opportunity arises, he cannot resist seducing her younger sister, the beautiful Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). Don Vincenzo throws the house into a panic when he discovers that Agnese is pregnant; he goes to elaborate lengths to keep the news from getting out. He finds a substitute husband for Matilde in the destitute Baron Rizieri (Leopoldo Trieste of The White Sheik), clearing the way for 'shotgun' nuptials between Peppino and the 16 year-old Agnese. The only problem is that the slippery Peppino also demands his 'rights of honor': He doesn't want a non-virgin bride. As far as he's concerned, the fact that he's the one responsible for her pregnancy is irrelevant!
Seduced and Abandoned is Pietro Germi's comedic follow-up to the wildly popular Divorce Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni. The lack of big star distractions allows a better appreciation of this story of keeping up appearances in a closed society that never forgives a disgrace. Poor Don Vincenzo is willing to go to outrageous lengths to maintain his social standing in a setup where everything is a double standard. If a family embarrassment can be fixed in a socially acceptable way -- arranging a quick marriage; playing musical chairs with daughters and suitors -- Don Vincenzo can walk with his head held high. But should the discord becomes a public affair, he'll forever be a town laughing stock and will never get his daughters married off.
The amusing characters are too distinctive to be simple caricatures, and the lively script orchestrates them marvelously. Saro Urzì's frantic father doesn't even bother to consult his passive wife and clueless daughters, and when the midwife declares that Agnese is no longer a virgin, spins out of control: "Then check them all!" We're surprised that he doesn't insist that the family dog be checked as well. The daughters are indeed a handful. The elder Matilde is a dunderhead who never once catches onto what's going on, while the sensual Agnese goes into fits of delirium over the thoughtlessly vain Peppino. It's assumed that the younger generation has no say in anything, and Don Vincenzo dreams up several schemes to safeguard his household's good name.
Seduced and Abandoned distinguishes itself from bumpkin comedy by its skillful referencing of real issues. Although this kind of paternal tyranny has subsided in Sicily as it has everywhere else, it is still part of the culture. Germi and his writers Agenore Incrocci, Age Scarpelli and Luciano Vincenzoni milk it for every humorous possibility. The key scene is probably when Peppino takes his 'principled' stand and refuses to marry Agnese on the grounds that she's no longer a virgin. His father agrees, admitting that under similar conditions he'd not have married Peppino's mother: It's the maiden's duty to refuse sex but the man's prerogative to get away with all he can.
The script offers more examples of this attitude. The town's respected fathers have no qualms about publicly lusting after a trio of prostitutes, but Don Vincenzo can't abide his prospective son-in-law Peppino showing an interest in the same women. The daughters are kept cloistered at home and are supervised at all times in public; it's no wonder that Agnese is unprepared and defenseless when Peppino suddenly makes his move.
All of this builds to logical extremes. Don Vincenzo dispatches his mild-mannered son Antonio (Lando Buzzanca) to murder Peppino, forcing the local Police Chief Polenza (Oreste Palella) to intercept him. Polenza's seen it all before: The locals willingly perjure themselves to keep personal 'matters of honor' from becoming fodder for the local gossip mill. Nobody realizes that the same transparent games have been going on for centuries and anybody with a brain can see through Don Vincenzo's posturing.
The acting is superb, with Urzì's Don Vincenzo making a potential clown into a believable and loveable fellow. Stefania Sandrelli repeats from a star-making role in Divorce Italian Style and made the strongest impression when the film was new. As the penniless and practically toothless Baron Rizieri, Leopoldo Trieste is charmingly open. We understand immediately how he'd be fleeced out of what remains of his family's fortune, but we're also proud of Rizieri when he rebels at Don Vincenzo's bribery. The Baron throws the elaborate bridgework that has restored his smile back in Don Vincenzo's face. Pietro Germi's Sicilians are funny, but they don't like being made into clowns, and Seduced and Abandoned respects them.
Criterion's beautiful presentation of Seduced and Abandoned gives us a handsome enhanced transfer with crystal-clear sound; it's obvious that decades of crummy import prints and cheap videos have misrepresented Italian production values. A literally authoritative docu-featurette pairs screenwriters Scarpelli and Vincenzoni with a film critic to sketch the film's special significance. They praise Germi as a top-level Italian director who fell out of favor in the 1960s because he didn't play politics and pretend to be a Leftist, as did many others.
New interviews show us actors Stefania Sandrelli and Lando Buzzanca today, and we also get to see Ms. Sandrelli's original screen test. The original trailer is included. Disc producer Debra McClutchy chooses a menu style that matches the cartoon motif of the cover art, and includes a good liner note essay by Italian critic and educator Irene Bignardi.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Seduced and Abandoned rates:
Supplements: Docu Featurette with Age Scarpelli and Luciano Vincenzoni, Stefania Sandrelli screen test and new interviews with her and Lando Buzzanca.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 29, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson