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Just one of the anthology films that were popular in Italian arthouse circles in the late sixties, 1967's The Witches is made up of four separate short films that all revolve around beautiful actress/model/dancer (and one time wife of Dino De Laurentiis, who just so happened to produce this particular film) Silvana Mangano.
The first chapter, The Witch Burned Alive, was directed by Luchino Visconti and written by Cesare Zavattini. It tells the story of an actress named Gloria (Mangano) who has left Rome to spend time at the Austrian vacation home of her friend Valeria's (Annie Girardot) and her husband Paolo (Francisco Rabal). Things get odd when guests show up for a party. The men are clearly all intrigued by Gloria's presence, the women less so. When Gloria passes out, they take the opportunity to take off her jewelry, makeup and wig to see who she really is. Shortly after, Gloria finds out that she's pregnant. Things get reasonably twisted from there as our lead's life changes fairly drastically. This is beautifully shot, it's really a gorgeous looking piece of work, and fairly entertaining. Look for Helmet Burger in a small supporting role. Mangano is the main attraction here, however, she's quite stunning. If the ending of the story doesn't pay off the way you might want or expect it to, getting there is enjoyable enough.
Mauro Bolognini's Civic Pride sees Mangano play a well to do woman who comes across a butcher (Alberto Sordi) that was injured in a car accident. She offers drives him to the hospital… only to drive right past every hospital in the area. This one is considerably more comedic and much shorter than the other stories in the feature. It's amusing enough but there's not much to it, it's basically a throwaway piece.
The third chapter, The Earth Seen From The Moon, teams up director Pier Paolo Pasolini with Italian comedic actor Totò who plays a widower named Mr. Miao. No longer a young man, Miao's son, Baciu (Ninetto Davoli), decides his father should remarry but both men agree that they have to find the right candidate. Enter Absurdity (Mangano), a deaf/mute woman with green hair, who both men are instantly taken with and who soon proves the perfect choice… until she doesn't. As odd a you'd expect from Pasolini, this one is also very stylish. The story is quirky, funny in spots, and decidedly bizarre. Lots of style employed in the camera work, which makes it fun to look at. Totò's acting style is more than a little goofy and Ninetto Davoli's character is irritating but Mangano is very good in her part.
The fourth installment is Franco Rosso's The Sicilian Wife is also quite short. In it, Mangano plays a woman who has recently suffered a break up. Understandably upset, violent action is taken but it isn't quite how you'd expect. This is interesting but ultimately not all that substantial or as memorable as the longer installments in the feature.
Last but not least is Vittorio De Sica's An Evening Like The Others in which a young Clint Eastwood plays Charlie, the hard working husband of the lovely Giovanna (Mangano). As he spends so much time dealing with his job, she quickly becomes disenfranchised with the relationship, trying in vain to catch his interest. When it doesn't quite work, we travel into her fantasy where a stronger, sexier and more dominant version of herself does things her way, to interesting results. The novelty of seeing a young Eastwood in an odd short like this makes it worth watching alone. Again, Mangano is quite striking here and she does well in the part. Eastwood is also quite good. The direction is solid and the visuals frequently very impressive.
The Witches is a little uneven but even the lesser stories are interesting for their own reasons (and thankfully the weaker stories are the shorter ones). The picture is unique in how it lets Mangano plays very different roles for very different directors. Each of the directors brings his own unique style to his short. Things tend to impress more on a visual level than in terms of the actual storytelling on display here, but all in all this remains an interesting genre-mixing art film and an excellent showcase for Mangano's abilities.
The Witches arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in a transfer taken from a "brand new 2K restoration from original film elements produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release." Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the picture quality here is very strong. While there are differences in shooting styles, lighting and tone between each story that are noticeable during playback, by and large the image shows excellent detail, depth and texture. There are no noticeable issues with compression, noise reduction or edge enhancement and while the image shows the expected amount of natural looking film grain, there's very little print damage here at all outside of the occasional small white speck.
The only audio option on the disc is an Italian language LPCM Mono option with removable subtitles provided in English only. No issues here, the clarity of the track is just fine. It's properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. The subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read.
Extras start off with a new audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas. This well researched track serves as a bit of a primer on the anthology films that were popular in Italy around this time but also covers the contributions of the various cast members, Silvana Mangano in particular. Of course, he goes into specifics about each one of the chapters in the film, offering up a nice mix of observations and criticisms as well as interesting bits of facts and trivia.
Also included on the disc is the complete English-language version of the movie that features Eastwood doing his own voice work on Vittorio De Sica s episode, An Evening Like the Others. This story in particular plays better in English for that reason, but the rest of the film does appear to have most of the actors speaking Italian and so they tend to be more effective in the Italian version. Still, it's interesting to see this included here and it's an important addition to this release. The English version as presented here runs approximately seven minutes shorter than the Italian cut. Presentation quality seems to mirror the Italian version. English SDH subtitles are provided here as well.
Finished retail product should also comes packaged with some reversible sleeve art featuring the original poster image on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys on the opposite and, with the first pressing at least, a full color illustrated collector s booklet featuring essays on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger.
If the The Witches isn't always entirely successful, it is always very interesting. A heady mix of arthouse style, horror movie tropes and quirky comedy, it's a great showcase for Silvana Mangano. Arrow's Blu-ray release looks and sounds great, contains two alternate cuts of the film and features a great commentary from Tim Lucas. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.