The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too Bad She's Bad

So I like movies with shootouts, car chases, and some sort of raunchy humor.  Okay, it's not that simple, but those three things always help.  Guys like certain movies and hate others the same way women like some types of movies and despise others.  One genre of films that stereotypically lean more toward a female audience is the romantic comedy.  It's fair to say that many of the movies I like can be pretty cookie-cutter, but I use that as a criticism here of romantic comedies which seem to churn out the same old story in new packaging every couple of weeks.  That's not to say they're all bad, but I'll admit to not seeking them out too often.

One that I came across thanks to TCM's weekly foreign imports feature (TCM Imports) was 1954's Too Bad She's Bad, an Italian romantic comedy with a bit of slapstick and screwball laughs thrown in too.  Maybe because it's a foreign comedy -- and to call it a straight comedy isn't fair -- I look at it differently, but thanks to some strong casting and a type of humor that doesn't overdo it, I enjoyed it.  If nothing else, it's different.  It isn't a cookie-cutter story of some ridiculously hot 30-year old woman who can't find a man, or an eccentric middle-aged man who finds his true love who can see past his oddness.  Although SPOILER ALERT the girl gets the guy, or is it the guy gets the girl? Eh, not important. It's a good movie.

Spending years saving up enough so he can invest in his own taxi cab, cabbie Paolo (Marcello Mastroianni) takes a far for two young men and a pretty girl, Lina (Sophia Loren), who want to drive from Rome to Anzio to spend a day at the beach. Paolo isn't aware the trio plans to steal his cab and leave him stranded but quickly finds out, foiling their plan. The two men get away and Lina slips away in the traffic when he tries to take her to the police station. Paolo can't afford the damages and starts to look for any of the three with Lina popping up repeatedly on his path. Just looking for some cash though, he gets deeper and deeper into a web of thieves with Lina's family all taking a shine to him. Worse than that? Through all the craziness, Paolo realizes he likes Lina too.

Now for starters, any movie that was filmed in Rome in the early 1950s is going to get at least a passing grade from me.  It's post-war Rome following WWII and is as beautiful and romantic a European city as I can think (okay, maybe Paris).  Director Alessandro Blasetti films much of his movie on the streets of Rome and with the exception of the Coliseum doesn't use any easily recognizable locations.  He shoots on the streets with the people, giving us a view of early 1950s Rome that only exists in pictures.  Alessandro Cicognini's musical score not surprisingly relies on Italian music to set the stage but never goes overboard.  My only complaint is that the English subtitles are in white letters, making it difficult to read at times against Blasetti's black and white camerawork. I never missed anything major but did find myself focusing more than usual on the subtitles just trying to keep up.

So you're casting a female part that requires the character to be so downright beautiful and charming that no matter how many unpleasant situations she gets you in the guy still wants to be around her.  If there was ever a part built for Sophia Loren this is it.  Just 20 years old at the time, Loren had already been in over 15 movies with parts ranging from small supporting parts to bigger roles like this.  Looks aside, she shows off some great comedic chops and impeccable timing as we get to know her Lina character.  Her thieving ways continue to get her into trouble, but there's not a situation created yet Lina can't talk her way out of.  My only complaint comes from a certain trend/style of the time...hairy armpits on a woman.  Loren is drop dead gorgeous, but there's not a woman alive that look works for.

Two male parts balance out Loren, one holding a slight edge over the other.  Mastroianni's incredibly gullible, even naive Paolo is too clueless for words at times.  Duped on repeated occasions by the lovely Lina, he continues to believe everything she tells him.  He has a knack for physical humor with some cliched mannerisms and reactions of a fiery Italian man, but he produces laughs, not groans with his actions.  The part I liked more was Lina's father, Vittorio, played by Italian director and star Vittorio De Sica. He raised a family of thieves that supports itself by selling anything valuable they steal with Lina his protege with the most talent.  Vittorio is smooth as silk, convincing you that what he's stealing means nothing, almost like he's helping you out.  It's clear from watching him where Lina got her talent for some truly underhanded things, but they're so charming and likable you don't even notice.

Where does that leave us? Ah, the ending, quite a mix of so many things with not all of them working.  A scene in a police station is played for some genuine laughs that goes on too long, leading to a bit of domestic violence leading to marriage.  It makes sense, don't you think?  An odd ending for sure to an otherwise enjoyable (whudda thunk it?) 1950s Italian romantic comedy.

Too Bad She's Bad <---low quality Youtube clip (1954): ***/****

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