Vittorio De Sica

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Gordon Gow

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Although De Sica's Altona is a muddled piece of film-making, lunging erratically from melodrama to neo-realism, it retains the dramatic onslaught of Sartre's play. Essentially, of course, it is a thing of theatre, too organised and extravagant at any rate to belong in De Sica's kind of cinema. But the problems that form its core are vital and thought-worthy, and the acting … is outstanding. (p. 21)

[The] direction is all over the place. De Sica is strong whenever he has an opportunity to expand into real exteriors: at the industrialist's shipyard there is some fine visual stuff high up amid the scaffolding, and there is a good bit when the recluse finally ventures out into the world and beholds the shocking sight of a Hamburg shop-window full of good food. But inside the house, where much of the time is spent, things are awkward. The discovery of the secret in the attic calls for a suspense prelude which De Sica soft-pedals lamentably, and there are far too many routine visuals everywhere but in the attic. There the walls provide their own nervy atmosphere, because they are covered with haunting sketches of nazi victims, and De Sica sets his actors off-centre against these walls with a melodramatic flourish that suits the occasion. A similar flourish was needed throughout the entire film, but it is attained only fitfully….

It is an instinct for restraint that sets the film so often against the grain of theatre inherent in the writing. A smoother, franker approach would have been better, an acknowledgement that events have been deliberately contrived to force an argument which digs deep into the intricacies of life. (p. 22)

Gordon Gow, "Reviews of New Films: 'The Condemned of Altona'" (© copyright Gordon Gow 1963; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 9, No. 12, September, 1963, pp. 21-2.

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