In six episodes, Vittorio De Sica’s L’oro di Napoli finds “gold” in its Neapolitan characters of diverse age and status. The splendid script by Giuseppe Marotta, Cesare Zavattini, and De Sica launches an uncommonly rich work, one that brilliantly entertains and offers a host of terrific performances that encompass hilarious comedy, profound sadness, even ironical, embittered tragedy. De Sica’s filmmaking, coupled with Carlo Montuori’s gray black-and-white cinematography, achieves a subtle though pervasive sense of lingering clouds from the Second World War. The city has been so deeply lived in it has been worn down to the souls of inhabitants past and present. De Sica, who grew up in Naples, plays gambler Count Prospero B. in “I giocatori,” who gets frustrated that a young boy, the posh apartment building doorkeeper’s son (Pierino Bilancioni, giving the funniest child performance I’ve seen), keeps beating him—leaving him behind, as it were. This Prospero will not willingly surrender his “wand”; but he must make way for the future. Director De Sica has rewarded actor De Sica here with one of his greatest roles.
The other segments are just as sharp: “Il guappo,” in which Totò’s Saverio Petrillo does an hysterically funny jig when, emboldened by the support of his wife and kids, he tosses out the gangster, “the man who came to dinner,” that has bullyingly settled into their apartment; “Pizze a credito,” where Sophia Loren, in the first of many collaborations with De Sica, plays (with the confidence that Queen Latifah would later exhibit) a pizza baker’s wife who leaves the emerald ring that her husband sacrificed to give her at her lover’s place, and whose fibbing cover-up sends the couple on a frantic search for it in every pizza they sold that day in the neighborhood; “Funeralino,” showing the funeral procession for a child, attended mostly by children (schoolmates? fellow orphans?), and attracting more and more children from the tossing of sugared almonds into the street; Silvana Mangano (best actress, Italy’s film journalists), giving the performance of a lifetime in “Teresa,” about a former prostitute who must choose between her pimp and her rich spouse after discovering on her separate bedrooms-wedding night that her marriage is a grotesque sham; and “Il professore,” whose “seller of wisdom” demonstrates the interconnectedness of the people of Naples, and by so doing diverts the course of a young tough who was intent on slashing his girlfriend’s face.
Throughout, Alessandro Cicognini contributes a memorable score.
Like Umberto D. (1951), this stupendous film was exceptionally close to De Sica’s heart.
It is nearly as close to mine.
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