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The Railroad Man

The Railroad Man
1956 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 118 105 min. / Il ferroviere / Street Date June 28, 2005 / 29.95
Starring Pietro Germi, Luisa Della Noce, Sylva Koscina, Saro Urzì, Carlo Giuffrè, Renato Speziali, Edoardo Nevola
Cinematography Leonida Barboni
Art Direction Carlo Egidi
Film Editor Dolores Tamburini
Original Music Carlo Rustichelli
Written by Alfredo Giannetti, Pietro Germi, Ennio De Concini, Luciano Vincenzoni
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Directed by Pietro Germi

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Pietro Germi (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 care about.


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 downs personally.

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Interview doc Pietro Germi, A Classic on Its Own, screen tests, trailer, galleries
Packaging: two discs in Keep case
Reviewed: July 3, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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