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RCE Info


Seduced & Abandoned - Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // August 29, 2006
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Gerry Putzer | posted September 3, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Among the major directors of the postwar golden age of Italian cinema, Pietro Germi is barely mentioned today except by film scholars. But several of his movies have recently arrived on DVD, including his two most highly regarded, and they make the case for him to be at top of mind of all serious film fans, alongside De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni.

In 2005, the new Italian-cinema specialists NoShame Films brought out Germi's "The Railroad Man" (1956), while his most famous film, "Divorce Italian Style" (1961), received deluxe Criterion treatment. Now Criterion has issued "Seduced and Abandoned" (1964), a black comedy that along with its predecessor amounts to a condemnation -- albeit a hilarious one -- of what the filmmaker saw as a corrupt, immoral society.

Both films are set in Sicily, and the cultural assumptions of southern Italy get a scolding from outraged northerner Germi. "Divorce Italian Style" is premised on the law of the land at the time that said a husband or wife could end their marriage only through murder; if a man caught his wife with another man, he could kill her and/or her lover and be guaranteed of only having to spend a couple of years in prison. In the movie, Marcello Mastroianni, playing a penniless baron, is in lust with his gorgeous 16-year-old cousin (played by Stefania Sandrelli, just 15 during filming) and concocts a scheme to have another man woo his wife (Daniela Rocca) so that he can catch them together and do the deed.

In "Seduced and Abandoned," Germi and his great co-screenwriters Luciano Vincenzoni, Furio Scarpelli and Agenore Incrocci (known to the world simply as Age) broaden their themes a bit. Here, rape (or the euphemism "seduction") is presented as a greater offense to the victim's family than it is to the girl; if the seducer can be made to marry the girl, thus saving the family's high moral standing in the community, all will be forgiven.

Vincenzo Ascalone (Saro Urzi) is a blustery, commanding, mine-owning patriarch who rules over everyone in his large household, including four daughters and a son. He's the type of control freak who reads his daughter's letters from a boyfriend out loud at the dinner table, searching for any clues that she may be sexually active. Trouble begins when another daughter's fiance, Peppino (Aldo Puglisi), corners his future sister-in-law Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli again) and pulls her out to a secluded balcony. Agnese resists a little but ultimately gives in. Pregnancy results ... and when Papa found out, he began to shout and started the investigation.

Vincenzo corners Peppino and his parents and convinces them that a marriage must take place immediately. But Peppino comes to have second thoughts, leading Vincenzo to concoct a wild plan to have his sweet, dim-witted son Antonio (Lando Buzzanca) shoot Peppino. He promises the horrified young man that he'll only do five years, tops. A small price to pay to secure the family's good name.

Despite the screaming, over-the-top comedy, there's masterful subtlety as Germi lays out the story's complex machinations. Vincenzo, who never lets on to anyone his whole game plan, must constantly revise his tactics when incidents and behaviors require it. One satisfying through line has Vincenzo and his wife always keeping their homely daughter Rosaura, whom Peppino has cheated on with Agnese, out of the loop.

Throughout the movie, as in "Divorce Italian Style," Germi emphasizes the smothering nature of the "close-knit" communities of Sicily. Except for Agnese, who gets locked in her room for days by her father, no one is ever alone or allowed to silently contemplate their situation. Everyone in town knows Vincenzo and has their suspicions about what he's up to. Men who are allegedly his friends have no compunction about insinuating things about Agnese right to his face, or asking direct questions about personal matters.

"None of your business" is not a possible answer; instead, Vincenzo must constantly come up with some creative lie, always smiling as he keeps a lid on scandal. As he says while pleading his case to a judge: "We're not millionaires or barons. Our only treasure is our good name."



While this DVD would be wonderful just for bringing "Seduced and Abandoned" to wide attention, it goes the extra Criterion mile. The picture, presented in the original 1.85 aspect ratio, could serve as a film-school presentation on black and white cinematography. (The director of photography was Aiace Parolin, who would also shoot Germi's next film, "The Birds, the Bees and the Italians.") The immaculate high-definition digital transfer reveals the rich palette of gradations between those two extremes of light and dark. The sweat on Vincenzo's fat belly as he takes a post-lunch nap, the sun-bleached walls of the village buildings, the passion, love and fear in the dark eyes of Sandrelli, Puglisi and Buzzanca -- all could hardly be more palpable or arresting. The white subtitles are clear and easily readable throughout the movie.


The main mono track is in Dolby Digital 1.0 and tends toward the center speaker, while a two-channel option offers a more encompassing sound for larger screens and viewing rooms. As is always, and often lamentably, the case in the Italian movie industry, all dialogue is overdubbed by the actors, which occasionally means a hollow, disconnected, ambience-damaging feeling.


While Criterion splurged on a two-disc "Divorce Italian Style" package, "Seduced and Abandoned" is kept to a single DVD. There is no running commentary, but there are other attractions. A recently shot 25-minute documentary, "Commedia all'Italiana: Germi Style," is essentially interviews with screenwriters Furio Scarpelli and Luciano Vincenzoni (Age died in November 2005) and film historian Mario Sesti. Sesti points out Germi's directorial innovations: the "skip frame" used in a scene where Agnese is running from a crowd, and a zoom dolly, later a signature move of Robert Altman movies. We also learn that Germi was pressured to cast an American star -- Spencer Tracy or Ernest Borgnine -- in the role of Vincenzo (Anthony Quinn would seem closer to the look and demeanor of Saro Urzi), but stood his ground for an Italian.

There are six-minute subtitled interviews conducted in 2002 with Stefania Sandrelli and Lando Buzzanca, both of whom look great. Sandrelli says that despite all the torment her character Agnese endures, "there wasn't a single scene when I didn't laugh. If I watch 'Seduced and Abandoned' today, I can still see I was trying to keep a straight face."

A well-preserved screen test of Sandrelli rounds out the disc. A modest eight-page insert contains a fine essay on Germi's career by Italian critic, author and film historian Irene Bignardi.


The 42-year-old "Seduced and Abandoned" returns as a wonderful piece of formalist filmmaking enlivened by strikingly modern touches and a bitterly funny sensibility. (With its dim view of humanity, it would make a great double bill with Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," also released in 1964.) There is nothing in the movie that doesn't please, from the cinematography, to the witty screenplay and the "invisible" performances from old pros, newcomers and bit players alike. Criterion has lifted a relatively forgotten film to classic status, and its high repeat-viewing factor makes this a highly recommended disc. No Italian cinema collection will be complete without it.

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