Vittorio De Sica

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John Francis Lane

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[Carlo Ponti, the producer of The Condemned of Altona, should have realised that Vittorio De Sica was the wrong person to tackle Les Sequestres D'Altona, Jean-Paul Sartre's] penetrating play about the German problem….

Altona is a typical example of how Rome is trying to copy the Hollywood formula, and is not getting away with it. De Sica and Zavattini are too sensitive and intelligent to be able to make films in [this] manner…. (p. 131)

De Sica, who nowadays seems to accept directorial assignments as casually as he once accepted acting roles in every other film, deserves most of the creative blame. After all, he is still one of the world's top ten living film-makers. In order to get Altona into movement, he and his director of photography, Roberto Gerardi, have captured some magnificent outdoor shots of Hamburg. By far the best thing in the film is the opening….

And at the end of the film, in substitution for the brilliant confrontation between father and son which was the most important scene in the play, the two men drive down to the docks. They stop at a level-crossing and Franz smiles ironically as he sees a goods train with tanks and armoured cars pass by. From the top of a tower overlooking the whole Gerlach empire, Franz shouts the line about taking the responsibility of the century upon his shoulders. Then he and his father come crashing down to their death. In a brilliant last shot, we see the workmen running from all directions to inspect the two corpses which lie in the middle of the vast dock: for a few seconds there is a terrifying glimpse of the futility of man to do anything against the power and corruption of Capital. The 'message' which Zavattini probably wanted to convey is in these scenes; but the film has long since been submerged within the four walls of Franz's room, surrounded by the over-symbolic murals of Italy's leading social realist Renato Guttuso. This intellectual bogging down of what in the producers' minds was a commercial proposition wrecks the film: the product is in the end neither highbrow nor commercial. (p. 132)

John Francis Lane, "A Case of Artistic Inflation," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1963 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 32, No. 3, Summer, 1963, pp. 130-35.

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