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Secret of Santa Vittoria, The
Based upon the novel by author Robert Crichton, The Secret of Santa Vittoria was produced in 1969 by MGM and was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Kramer (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) from a script that was written by William Rose and Ben Madow. It was not a huge success and it underperformed at the box-office, but Kramer's zany - and also decidedly unique historical war-time comedy - is one that stands out as a distinctive effort in telling WWII stories and it does so while being an energetic tribute to classic Italian cinema.
Filmed in Italy, the film focuses on the story of a town of people and their quest to protect the one thing that keeps their city prosperous and which helps keep their people busy, happy, and working: the wine. In Santa Vittoria, the entire popular relies on their production of wine and in hearing that the German occupations during WWII are going to try and take control over much of Italy following the downfall of Benito Mussolini, this makes the town try and save their much labored efforts in winemaking so that they can continue to flourish and survive.
In an important moment in The Secret of Santa Vittoria the line "All we have is our wine" reiterates the sheer significance the town feels for what it is trying to protect and why the perilous journey was so important to them. The people work together to find a hiding spot away from the German occupation and in one impressively mounted sequence, one see's the entire townspeople passing bottles of wine from one to another assembly-style - moving them in a collective dedication which is astonishing in number.
Starring Anthony Quinn, Virna Lisi, Hardy Kruger, Segio Franchi, and Anna Magnani, the central story follows Quinn as the newly elected mayor Bombolini, a enthused and spirited individual who comes up with much of the plans and action for the town to save their wine. Throughout the course of the story, Bombolini figures out the way they can try and save the wine, and everyone helps with the effort. Meanwhile, Bombolini tries to keep things going in what is a strange relationship to his longtime partner Rosa (Anna Magnani), while juggling a fatherly role to his 16 year old daughter (who has fallen in love with a local boy), and who is keeping Bombolini busy as he deals with family life and his commitment to his town at any given moment.
Things become more complicated when the German Nazi's arrive and their leading officer (of the intervening group), Captain von Prum (Hardy Krüger) starts to find countless ways to interfere with the people of Santa Vittoria. Prum tries to find the wine in staying in their town while also vying for the affections of a local woman, whose heart has genuine love for another man - who Prum takes an offense to and tries to have put to death because of his inability to compete with him. As the film progresses the question asked is a question of whether or not the town-people will be able to save their wine and survive the German occupation: Can their newly elected mayor Bombolini save them and the precious wine?
Director Stanley Kramer seems to make the entire production under two core directing ideals: focusing at once upon the serious dramatic undertones of the storytelling and approaching the material with a more lighthearted comedic tone which is far more jubilant in approach. With a determination to make the film both significant for its historical attributes, and a classic comedy that can be enjoyed on a more streamlined level the film balances between these two elements at play from Kramer's craft. The filmmaking feels delicate at times but then overabundant and more goofy than anything else but somehow these moments manage to blend together well.
The performances are generally strong throughout the entire film from the leading actors, though none of the cast members manage to stand out more than the roles performed by Anthony Quinn, Anna Magnani, and Hardy Krüger. Quinn is especially triumphant here in one of his best parts in any film. The spirit and energy of the entire production relies heavily upon Quinn to carry it to a interesting and successful place, and as an actor Quinn meets those expectations by crafting this dedicated character: dedicated to his town and to his wife. The performance shines with a lot of love from the actor for his character, who is simultaneously a buffoon and the most important member of the team working to protect the town's source of income and prosperity.
The lead German role performed by Hardy Krüger counteracts to Quinn, with Krüger delivering what amounts to a rather convincingly sinister and uncaring character who wants to succeed in his role without any question and without showing genuine empathy at all to the townspeople. Krüger makes his performance (and the character) memorable. As to Magnani, her part is so convincing and one can truly feel her character Rosa is a backbone helping to keep the aloof Bombolini focused and determined. One could say that Rosa is the character who most keeps things afloat, and Magnani performs the part with a wonderful energy that is going to leave a good impression on viewers. Her performance is truly one of the most distinctive in the entire film.
In many respects, The Secret of Santa Vittoria has a great production undercurrent. The various production qualities are impressively mounted and one can't help but be impressed by the bold cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) , the lush original score by Ernest Gold (which earned the composer an Academy Award nomination), and the impeccable editing by William A. Lyon and Earle Herdan, which helps Kramer's film have adequate flow as a story. The Secret of Santa Vittoria may not be a full-fledged classic (for starters, it's comedic sensibilities are sometimes hit and miss and slapstick scenes with an abundance of physical comedy can seem out of place in a film that also has aspirations as a serious WWII time drama) but the film's inner spirit is triumphant. In exploring the way the people of Santa Vittoria stood up for their survival of town with a important resource in their lives needing to be preserved, the film finds moments (or pockets) of magic that are highlighted with grand performances and excellent production values. The Secret of Santa Vittoria is without a doubt worthy of checking out for fans of the leading actors (especially Quinn) and the ending is one that viewers will find both satisfying and triumphant.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria arrives on Blu-ray from label Twilight Time with a mostly strong presentation which preserves the original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and which utilizes an MPEG-4 AVC encode for the film. The transfer is free from any serious deficiencies and is largely beautiful to behold with a natural filmic appearance that has good contrast and solid clarity alongside a wondrous layer of fine film grain. There have been no major digital video alterations and no DNR has been applied. While many sequences appear rather stunning in it, The Secret of Santa Vittoria also has some scenes which appear somewhat flat with a muted color palette in comparison to some of the more stunning portions. This might be from a old master, but there is little doubt that this film has never before looked as impressive as it does with this high definition Blu-ray release.
The original English language DTS-HD Master Audio presentation sounds mostly solid here, though the film's soundstage is rather limited and I was not as impressed with the dynamics presented. The film's dialogue heavy but does a good job of replicating the original score composed. While there are no technical issues to report with the presentation the audio's fundamentally less crisp or wide in scope because of the age of the elements.
English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are also provided.
The lone on-disc extras on this release include the original theatrical trailer (presented in high definition) and a music and effects only presentation included in lossless stereo 2.0 audio. Twilight Time has also provided a booklet with an essay written by Julie Kirgo.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria works as a film mostly because of the solid cast and the energetic efforts made in bringing this story to life by director Stanley Kramer. The film ends up feeling like it is neither a masterpiece nor a disappointing effort. As a result, it's a decent enough excursion that has some good moments. Twilight Time has done a solid job bringing it onto the Blu-ray format with a quality release as far as PQ/AQ is concerned and fans will want this release in their collections. For newcomers and the less acquainted? Consider it worthy of a rental, and then decide if it's worth picking up this quality release.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.