Watching Two Women is like being at the burial of two friends. From neo-realism to neo-decadence, the Zavattini-De Sica life cycle has been spent. That is, providing De Sica wants us to take this work seriously and not, as has often had to be the case in the past, as one of his money-making chores with which to finance such works of distinguished genius as Umberto-D. The re-union with Za, the overall obsession with attacks of fascism and the church, the distinguished original of [an Alberto] Moravia novel … I can only believe it is intended as more than a routine chore.
What, then, has gone wrong?
The story line is simple and direct…. Superficially it is dreadful novelette; but Zavattini has pressed it to serve him almost as De Sade with Justine, as a skeleton on which to hang the philosophy of fatalism, that there is no escaping evil so the sensible person accepts it and compromises with it. If this is not what Za is trying to say, then I am wrong; the film is not to be taken seriously!…
De Sica directs with a glossy professionalism that has the hard-stare of Hollywood instead of the warm-heart of Rome. His locations are authentic enough, but failing to come to grips with his story and characters he goes all out to get the gaudy facade right, and leaves the heart empty….
De Sica having failed to do a De Sade would nearly have done a De Mille (it has all the "humanised" sadism necessary!) had it not been for some of the individual scenes which lift the picture from the morass. The peasants' feast destroyed not by bombs but by doubts; the German officer arrogantly baiting the pathetically rich land-owner; or the momentary beauty of aircraft flares lighting the valley like a misdirected constellation. But I am saddened to see De Sica of all people falling for the trap, honestly believing he could compromise with popular "box-office"….
Two Women for me will mark the day when one of my idols finally … sold out.
Peter Baker, "'Two Women'" (© copyright Peter Baker 1961; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 7, No. 12, September, 1961, p. 27.