SHIRLEY MACLAINE and ALAN ARKIN

SHIRLEY MACLAINE and ALAN ARKIN

In a perfect world, a movie cast including Shirley MacLaine, Vittorio Gassman, Peter Sellers, Anita Ekberg, Alan Arkin, and Lex Barker, couldn’t miss. But, as the author of the Book of Genesis informed us, this is not a perfect world, and Woman Times Seven, a movie with that very cast, does not fulfill its promise. This 1967 film, directed by Vittorio De Sica, consists of seven short episodes, all involving adultery, in which MacLaine is always the principal player. Natalie Wood was considered first for the film but, in one of her wiser decisions, she turned it down. Those who are familiar with European sexual comedies of the 1950s and 1960s may find that this movie has a familiar feel. Most of the episodes are unsatisfying, possibly because they are too short to be developed properly, and a couple of them are just plain silly, which is not the same thing as broadly humorous.

LEX BARKER and SHIRLEY MACLAINE

LEX BARKER and SHIRLEY MACLAINE

The funniest segment benefits from the deadpan presence of Alan Arkin. He and MacLaine play two adulterers who have checked into a sleazy hotel room after agreeing to a joint suicide, though the rationale for this drastic decision is not convincing. The situation with its alternating depression and panic is a perfect vehicle for Arkin. A heavy-handed denoument spoils an episode in which MacLaine and Ekberg play two stylish women who, while shopping and lunching, realize that they are being followed by a clumsy man — Michael Caine, who does not have a spoken line in the film. Rather than being frightened by this man, the women separate in order to see which of them he will follow. Of course, he follows the headliner and lurks outside her apartment building while she watches him with delight from a window, out of her husband’s sight. No matter what she thinks, it’s not what she thinks. The man has a phone conversion and disappears for good.

ROBERT MORLEY

ROBERT MORLEY

I was happy to see the British character actor Robert Morley with a role in this film, but not happy to find that it was in one of the weakest episodes. MacLaine plays the wife of a novelist (Lex Barker) who is obsessed with “Simone,” a fictional character he created. His wife, unable to get his attention off this non-existent figure, decides to become a fictional character herself, leading her spouse, when he finally notices her bizarre behavior, to summon a psychiatrist, played by Morley. One thing I learned in the process of finding this movie is that many of MacLaine’s films are available. That’s a good reason to leave this one to its fate.

 

 

Having dabbled with Marcello Mastroianni in Macaroni and Marriage Italian Style, we went to the well once more in the form Sunflower, a film we had never heard of. The results were mixed.

This film, made in 1970, was the last directed by Vittorio De Sica, and —significantly — it was the first western film shot, in part, in the Soviet Union. Mastroianni, who was 46 when this movie was made, plays Antonio, a happy-go-lucky Neapolitan who is drafted into the Italian army during World War II. He is not a willing conscript, and his valor isn’t helped by the fact that he is in the middle of passionate fling with Giovanna, played by 36-year-old Sophia Loren.  His attempt, with Giovanna’s connivance, to avoid military service results in a court-martial and his deployment to the Russian front — which was a brutal fate thanks to both the Red Army and the merciless winters.

When the war ends, Antonio doesn’t return, but Giovanna is convinced that he is still alive. After failing to get any satisfaction from public authorities, she travels to Russia to look for him. It’s not a spoiler to say she finds him, inasmuch as Mastroianni is the co-star. Some may find the circumstances and outcome predictable; some may not.

Watching this film, which has Italian dialogue and English subtitles, is an uneven experience. Mastroianni and Loren are an irresistible combination, and they play their  parts well, but the story itself is at times melodramatic and implausible. In what seems to have been an overreaching attempt to project the character’s moods, Loren is made to look at times as if she’s 30 and at other times as if she’s 50.

The photography in both Italy and Russia is eye-catching, and there is a very effective scene in which Giovanna visits a Russian hillside that is dotted with hundreds of wooden crosses marking the graves of Italian soldiers. The film also has a wonderful score by Henry Mancini that was nominated for an Oscar.

When we recommended to a neighbor that she watch the Marcello Mastroianni-Jack Lemmon film “Macaroni,” she countered by referring us to the 1964 movie “Marriage Italian Style,” in which Mastroianni stars with Sophia Loren. I had seen it about 40 years ago, but didn’t remember anything about it.

Filmed in Italian in Naples, this is the story of an amoral businessman who meets a teen-aged prostitute in a brothel during an Allied bombing raid, and then makes her his mistress when they meet again several years later. Domenico Soriano (Mastroianni) is in the baking business, and he puts Filumina Maturano (Loren) in charge of one of his stores while he keeps her — outside his home — in a very comfortable style. Filumena is not satisfied with this arrangement and she pressures “Dummi,” as she calls him, both to publicly acknowledge her and to make her a part of his household. Step-by-step she gains concessions  that include a room in his house and recognition as the “lady” of the premises, but she does not get the final prize, marriage, until she employs a  subterfuge that blows up in her face.

Domenico’s passion for Filumena degrades into disgust, and he takes up a relationship with a young cashier at one of his shops.

Meanwhile, Filumena has a secret of her own — actually, three — namely a trio of sons she has borne as a result of her career, one of them by the unwitting Domenico.

This film, directed by Vittorio De Sica and filmed in the earthy Neapolitan environment, is a combination of farce, tawdry melodrama, and implausible plot, that can’t be taken seriously. Considering the lengths De Sica went to in order to exploit Loren’s legendary physique – as opposed to the weight of her acting – the Oscar she won as “best actress in a foreign film”  seems farcical in itself.

Having said that, I can report that the movie, taken for what it is, is funny and entertaining. The surroundings, whether indoor or out, are engaging, and Mastroianni himself is hard to completely dislike in any role. In this case, except for the ludicrous conclusion, he is worth watching as the rake trying to avoid the consequences of a misspent adulthood.