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Thanks to its well-appointed studios and fine selection of filmmaking talent, Italy took the forefront in the 1960s European production boom. While the good times lasted, Italian pictures earned prestigious festival awards and many were exported overseas. Waves of genre product flooded American shores, with dubbed sword 'n' sandal epics and Italian westerns being the best remembered. But domestic Italian comedy-dramas also found distribution beyond art houses, featuring stars like Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. Censorship limited the sex content in these shows, but a more relaxed attitude toward social discourse allowed the coverage of a wider range of topics and political viewpoints. Directors Mario Monicelli, Vittorio de Sica and Pietro Germi won prizes with bedroom comedies often described as "earthy" to distinguish them from more puritanical Hollywood product. Doris Day and Rock Hudson had their witty moments, but the Italian pictures tended to be more rooted in social reality. Divorce, for instance, was not legal in any form in Italy until 1970, and a ripe topic for semi-comic investigation.
Writer and director Pietro Germi began his career with serious stories about working people and their problems, often taking a proletarian point of view. His 1960s comedies lampooned attitudes toward divorce laws, male-dominated families and other social traditions. Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata, 1964) concerns a Sicilian who impregnates the sister of his intended, and then must find someone to marry her. The culturally pointed joke is that he wants a virgin bride, even though he's the father of this girl's child. In Germi's Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all'italiana, 1961) Marcello Mastroianni hates his wife. The divorce laws encourage him to fantasize murder scenarios, especially when he falls head over heels for a neighbor's daughter. Pietro Germi was Oscar-nominated for both writing and directing this uproarious comedy of manners.
When the 1970s arrived Italian culture and tastes shifted with the political tide. When almost any film content became acceptable producers could fall back on nudity and crudity to pull in audiences. Bedroom burlesque dominated while serio-comedies with clever satire and social comment became less prevalent.
Alfredo, Alfredo is Pietro Germi's last film, released in Italy just a couple of years before he died. Its producer scored a coup by signing the hot American star Dustin Hoffman in the comedy lead. But the script (by four writers, including Germi) soon loses its way.
Bank teller Alfredo Sbisà (Dustin Hoffman) is desperate for a woman in his life but suffers from terminal awkwardness. He follows the beautiful Maria Rosa Cavaroni (Stefania Sandrelli) home each evening yet is too shy to talk to her. A more confident best friend sets them up with a double date, and then monopolizes Maria Rosa, to Alfredo's distress. But Alfredo can't believe his luck when Maria Rosa contacts him and initiates a strange courtship. Maria Rosa's wild code of conduct completely baffles Alfredo. One second she's sending 'hands off' signals, and the next she's all but seducing him. After they're married, Maria Rosa 's erratic behavior only gets worse. Insanely jealous, she demands that Alfredo cater to her hot 'n' cold passions and maddening whims. Driven to distraction, Alfredo doesn't know what to do.
Alfredo, Alfredo does generate a few good laughs, especially early on. But it's not long before we realize that it lacks any point other than undiluted misogyny. Maria Rosa's psychosexual domination over the unassuming Alfredo soon ceases being amusing, stepping far beyond exaggeration into pure hatefulness. The movie continues to function like a comedy, with domestic torture taking the place of anything insightful. At one point Maria Rosa forces Alfredo to go on a daylong trek, following a series of time-sensitive clues she has planted all over the map. The final clue leads him to meet her returning on the train. Maria considers the moment magical -- he's her shining knight who fulfilled his mission. Alfredo accepts the ordeal as his wife's roundabout way of expressing her love, but we know Maria Rosa invented the clue-hunt to control him in her absence. Alfredo's torture reminds us of Dirty Harry's ordeal, forced to run up and down the hills of San Francisco by the mad killer Scorpio.
Hoffman parts his hair in the middle, plays the nebbish and models his Alfredo as a less intelligent variant on his Benjamin Braddock character from The Graduate. The concept begins to go stale after a very few minutes. Stefania Sandrelli is gorgeous, animated and exasperating, but not in a pleasant way. Also making a strong impression is Carla Gravina as the other woman in Aflredo's life, Carolina, who might become a sane and loving alternative to the erotic / psychotic Maria Rosa. The other notable personality in the film is Saro Urzí as Maria's father. Nervous and demanding, Alfredo's father-in-law puts him through the wringer as well. Urzí is a fixture in many of Pietro Germi's films, and even played in the Sicilian sequence of Francis Coppola's The Godfather.
Unlike the layered, insightful Italian comedies of the previous decade, little is communicated in Alfredo, Alfredo beyond the notion, 'avoid marriage and rotten women like the plague.' Alfredo, Alfredo simply shows things getting worse for the unhappy husband, as in a silent comedy about a henpecked husband. Alfredo's house is an attractive and cozy villa just off the main square of a photogenic old city. I should think that many young women looking for a potential mate would be zeroing in on him. The story begins in a lawyer's office, where an Italian divorce can now be obtained if the circumstances are correct. But no comment is made about this social change. Alfredo is just as clueless at the finish as he was when he began.
Producer Guglielmo Colonna gives Alfredo, Alfredo attractive production values, with beautiful night scenes on the town and some open-air vistas when Alfredo goes hiking. But his film does not carry a positive reputation.
Mya Communications' DVD of Alfredo, Alfredo is a below-average, mis-formatted encoding. The flat 1:33 image appears to be a scan of the middle of a slightly wider original Aspect Ratio, displaying dull colors and tape anomalies from an older video master. It's just good enough to convince us that the picture was quite attractive, once upon a time. The original Italian running time is said to have been longer, but what's here already plays too slowly, especially the final act.
The film carries audio tracks in Italian and English, but no subtitles. This may be for the best, as Dustin Hoffman performs in English and dubs his own voice; the Italian substitute sounds rather forced. Mya offers a brief image gallery as an extra.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Alfredo, Alfredo rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.