VARIETY LIGHTS (Alberto Lattuada, Federico Fellini, 1950)

Since he is credited first and his wife, Carla Del Poggio, co-stars, we may assume that Alberto Lattuada is the co-director of Luci del varietà who counts more heavily; but, since the hectic atmosphere surrounding the vaudeville troupe resembles that of a circus (Fellini came up with the story from which he, Lattuada, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano wrote the script), and Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife, is a prominent cast member, some may think of this beautiful, visually intricate film primarily as Federico Fellini’s.
     Eerily anticipating Chaplin’s Calvero in Limelight (1952), Checco Dal Monte is the troupe’s principal comic. Masina (superb—best supporting actress, Italian critics) plays Melina Amour, another careworn troupe member and Checco’s caring partner. (At one point she asks Checco, “We will get married one day, won’t we?” but so casually, fleetingly, it is more an expression of doubt than a question.) Del Poggio’s Liliana insinuates herself into the troupe, by degrees taking over Checco, who takes over the troupe to advance her career. Lily, though, trades him in for someone who can be many more times helpful in making her a star. (Del Poggio is more realistic and complex than Anne Baxter in a similar though more flamboyant role in All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950.) Checco, beaten, goes back to Melina; at a station, while Lily’s train is headed for Milan, Checco and the troupe’s train is headed in the opposite direction, toward another series of inconspicuous small towns. The film ends with Checco eyeing another girl on the train; perhaps she, too, will become a star.
     Lattuada and Fellini create memorable shots: an angled one of a nighttime street suggesting phantasmagoria; a metaphor for the troupe and its tenuous existence: a goose in a straw basket.

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