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Friday, September 20, 2013

Riso Amaro (aka Bitter Rice) (1949)

A petty thief (Vittorio Gassman) and his accomplice (Doris Dowling) escape the police by hiding among the seasonal workers headed to Northern Italy to work in the rice fields. While she comes to respect the hard working women and begins to question her previous way of life, he attracts the attention of a pretty peasant (Silvana Mangano) who is drawn to what she perceives as the "glamour" of his way of life. Directed by Giuseppe De Santis whose most notable film this is (he only made 13 movies), this neo-realist effort was a huge hit in the U.S. at the art houses, even nabbing an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. It was also the film that made Silvana Mangano a star though the earthy and sexy minx here bears little resemblance to the elegant patrician of her later Visconti and Pasolini films. It's also the best film role the American actress Doris Dowling had (THE LOST WEEKEND, BLUE DAHLIA), suggesting that Hollywood wasted her talents. But its melodramatic story aside, it's the almost documentary look at the women workers who leave their jobs and families each year to work in the rice fields doing back breaking work for little pay that holds the most interest. With Raf Vallone as the soldier infatuated with Mangano while it's Dowling who falls for him.

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