The Neopolitan Trinity

Vittorio De Sica (left), Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD SHE'S BAD (1955)

Vittorio De Sica (left), Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD SHE’S BAD (1955)

Often overlooked or dismissed as a minor comic trifle, Peccato che sia una canaglia (English title: Too Bad She’s Bad) has, in recent years, acquired a much more favorable reassessment from film scholars and film buffs due to occasional revivals on Turner Classic Movies and a 2004 DVD release from Ivy Video. It not only has a delightful, rakish charm and evocative on-location filming in Rome but showcases three of the most iconic names in Italian cinema directed by the legendary Alessandro Blasetti, whose career began in the silent era and spanned six decades. Also noteworthy is the fact that the film is based on the short story Il fanatico by Alberto Moravia, the celebrated Italian novelist who saw many of his novels turned into major films – la ciociara became Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women, Il disprezzo became Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Il conformista became Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist.toobadshesbadItalianposterReleased at the end of 1954 in Italy, Too Bad She’s Bad marked the end of Sophia Loren’s days as a starlet and the beginning of her career as an international leading lady. The film, a fast-paced, chaotic comedy about a family of thieves and the innocent taxi cab driver who is continually implicated in their schemes, may not have been the most challenging of roles for Loren, but it accented her earthy beauty and flair for comedy. It is also historically significant as the film that first paired her with rising young actor Marcello Mastroianni. They would go on to become one of the most famous screen teams in cinema, co-starring in twelve more films together, a record that surpassed that of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (10 films) and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (9 films).

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD SHE'S BAD (1955)

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD SHE’S BAD (1955)

In Sophia: Living and Loving – Her Own Story by A. E. Hotchner, the actress said that Too Bad She’s Bad “was directed by the very talented Alessandro Blasetti, and…brought me together for the first time with the two men who would figure so importantly in my life – [Vittorio] De Sica, this time as an actor, and Mastroianni, who at that time was not a very well known screen actor. He had a good reputation as a stage actor but his films until then were not very distinguished and he had not had any significant success. And he had never performed in a film comedy before Too Bad She’s Bad. The rapport among De Sica, Marcello, and me was immediate. We all three came from the Naples area – Mastroianni was born in a little town a few miles from De Sica’s birthplace – and we shared a conspiratorial bond reserved for Neapolitans. We shared a sense of humor, a rhythm, a philosophy of living, a cynicism that lurked behind our lines of dialogue and interplay. Our heritage was our repertorial experience. We played scenes with a kind of flair and fire that I had never experienced before. Freer. Nearer to life – in fact, magnifying life to the point of making a comment about it.”

Peccato che sia una canaglia lobbyThe director, Alessandro Blasetti, had previously directed Loren in a segment of Tempi nostri (1954), a collection of sexy vignettes released in the U.S. as The Anatomy of Love, and was convinced she was ready to play the female lead in Too Bad She’s Bad. For her role, Loren tinted her hair blonde and liked her new look so much that she was tempted briefly to keep her hair that way.

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, filmed on location in Rome

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in TOO BAD SHE’S BAD, filmed on location in Rome

Loren recalled that for Too Bad She’s Bad, “De Sica and I played father-daughter petty thieves, with Marcello as the decent taxi-driver outsider who catches us filching from him and others. De Sica created a style which Marcello and I picked up, and we three performed together with a subtlety and verve that set the tone for the many films we were to make together. As soon as a second script could be prepared, the three of us were reunited in The Miller’s Wife [1955], followed immediately by Scandal in Sorrento [1955] with De Sica, and then Lucky to be a Woman [1956] with Marcello. Unfortunately, Lucky to Be a Woman substituted Charles Boyer for De Sica and our Neapolitan soufflé fell.”

too-bad-shes-bad-marcello-mastroianni-sophia-loren-1954 beachWhen Too Bad She’s Bad was released in Italy, it was a big box office success though it fared less successfully in the U.S. where its Neapolitan humor was lost on most American moviegoers. Sophia’s beauty and sex appeal, however, were hard to ignore and most critics focused on that aspect of the film. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times noted that “One striking point in its favor is the luxurious Sophia Loren, who is something to look at from any angle or any side…With her, ambulating is an art. Leaning over is an esthetic maneuver. The signorina racks up quite a score…Our advice to all non-Italian speakers who go to see this picture is: forget the subtitles. Forget the story. They’re unimportant. Just watch the dame.”

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni (far right) in TOO BAD, SHE'S BAD (1955)

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni (far right) in TOO BAD, SHE’S BAD (1955)

It would take Loren several years to overcome her sex symbol image and be taken seriously as an actress. None of her Hollywood pictures, despite top talent on both sides of the camera as in Desire Under the Elms [1958], That Kind of Woman [1959] and Heller in Pink Tights [1960] were completely successful with the exception of Houseboat [1958], a light romantic comedy with Cary Grant. It was not until Loren returned to Italy in 1960 to star in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women that her talent as a dramatic actress was realized. From past experiences, De Sica knew exactly how to draw the best performance from her and the result was a Best Actress Oscar® for Loren in that role.

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD, SHE'S BAD (1955)

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in TOO BAD, SHE’S BAD (1955)

It would also take Marcello Mastroianni several more years to achieve international success after the making of Too Bad She’s Bad. He began to attract favorable critical acclaim for his work in Luchino Visconti’s White Nights [1957] and Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street [1958] but his first major breakthrough role occurred in 1960 when he starred in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. At the time of Too Bad She’s Bad, however, Mastroianni was still uncertain about his future as an actor. Based on the following anecdote in Matilde Hochkofler’s biography of Mastroianni, his mother obviously didn’t attach any importance to his movie career at all. “I won ‘Nastro d’argento’ and ‘Grolla d’oro’ awards for this film [Too Bad She’s Bad], which my mother immediately pawned at Monte di Pieta, the government pawnshop,” Mastroianni recalled. “I went there too, and the broker said quite kindly: ‘Look, Mr. Mastroianni (having made a number of films, I was already quite well known), there’s no need to feel embarrassed – I won’t name names, but you wouldn’t believe who’s been here.’ They gave me 120,000 lire.”

img_175461_lrg DVD* This is a revised and expanded version of an article that originally appeared on tcm.com

Other links of interest:

http://www.lorenarchives.com/film_1954_peccato_canaglia.html

http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2010/11/02/the-films-of-alessandro-blasetti

Sources:

Sophia: Living and Loving – Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner (William Morrow & Co.)

Sophia Loren: A Biography by Warren G. Harris (Simon & Schuster)

Sophia Style by Deirdre Donahue (Barnes & Noble)

Marcello Mastroianni: The Fun of Cinema by Matilde Hochkofler (Gremese)

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in TOO BAD, SHE'S BAD (1955)

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in TOO BAD, SHE’S BAD (1955)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s