Springtime in Italy – It Started in Naples

It Started in Naples (1960)

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Of all the movies I plan to write about during this month’s Springtime in Italy series, It Started in Naples is the only one that’s new to me.  I watched it for the first time this week, and while I really wanted to love it, I didn’t.

I liked it well enough, but it’s a pretty routine story and for me the chemistry between the movie’s stars, Clark Gable and Sophia Loren, just wasn’t there.  Mostly I was thrown off by the huge age difference between Gable, who was in his early 60s when the movie was made, and Loren, who was in her mid 20s.

Still, the movie has its good points, the main one being the breathtakingly beautiful island of Capri, near Naples, where most of the story takes place.  There’s not a lot to say about this movie, but there’s a lot to look at, so get ready for an overload of screencaps!

Mike Hamilton, a straightlaced, all-business lawyer from Philadelphia, arrives in Naples.  His ne’er-do-well brother ran off to Italy years before and was recently killed in a boating accident.  Mike is there to sort out his affairs.  He’s informed that his brother had a wife (well,  “wife,” since they weren’t legally married) who was also killed in the accident, and they left behind a young son named Nando.

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Mike’s Italian lawyer drives him through the bustling streets of Naples, so he can meet his sister-in-not-law, Lucia Curcio, who is now raising Nando.  Lucia is queen of a festa taking place in Naples.  There are festas taking place much of the time there and on Capri.  Mike is skeptical of Italians and their ways.  He won’t drink the water and keeps a cynical eye out for pickpockets and others who prey on American tourists.

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Mike ventures to Capri, where Lucia and Nando live, so he can sort things out and get back to America as quickly as possible.  By chance he meets his nephew on the docks, where he is selling flowers to tourists.  He looks like a dirty little urchin, and he’s very precocious and street smart.  Nando is played by a boy billed only as Marietto.  He’s really adorable in this movie – naughty, sweet and mischievous, with the cutest accent.

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When Mike sees where and how Lucia lives, he is not impressed. The fact that she’s sleeping in the middle of the day doesn’t help his impression of her, either.  He’s an American after all, and siesta is for sissies!

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In spite of his concerns, Mike is a busy man with a snooty fiancee waiting for him back in Philadelphia and he wants to get home.  He learns that his brother wasted his fortune swanning around Italy, so he gives Lucia some money, says goodbye to Nando, and leaves.

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Unfortunately schedules in Italy aren’t what they are in the States, so he misses his boat and has to stay an extra night.  There’s an amusing bit in his hotel room when, realizing he doesn’t have any bottled water, Mike brushes his teeth with whiskey.

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That evening Mike sees Nando wandering around alone in the square, handing out flyers and sneaking cigarettes and cups of coffee off people’s tables.  He’s appalled, especially when he finds out his nephew can stay up so late because he doesn’t attend school.  The flyers he’s handing out are ads for a nightclub where Lucia is the scantily clad main attraction.

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Mike goes to the nightclub and gets an eyeful.  He jumps to all kind of conclusions about Lucia, including the incorrect assumption that she’s a prostitute.  One of the movie’s most memorable scenes is the one in which Sophia Loren sings a sexy, cheeky version of “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.”  Mama Mia!  Lucia has her own prejudices against stuffy Americans, just as Mike has his against “dolce far niente” Italians.

Mike is so upset by the life Nando is living with Lucia that he decides to stay and fight for custody of the boy.  Gable and Marietto are great in their scenes together, showing the growing affection between uncle and nephew.

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Mike’s lawyer separately advises both his client and Lucia that the way to solve their dispute over Nando is not by going to court, but by using their respective sex appeals to get the other person on their side.  So they do just that, starting with another scene in Lucia’s nightclub.  This time she’s doing a sexy schoolgirl act, singing “Carina.”

In spite of their initial ulterior motives, the two are soon falling for each other.  We see them together in scenes highlighting the beauty of Capri, including a ride on the funicular railway, a swim in the Blue Grotto, and a visit to a vineyard.

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For all the fun and romance they’re having, however, Mike doesn’t see himself marrying Lucia.  When she hears this from him she’s hurt and tempers flare.

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Soon the pair are in court.  Lucia wins custody, for obvious reasons.  Even Mike’s lawyer can’t keep his eyes off her and seems to be on her side, not his client’s.

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Lucia, having learned about responsibility from straightlaced Mike, starts to have doubts about keeping Nando.  She thinks he might be better off with Mike in America, where he can get an education and make something of himself.  Heartbroken for herself but thinking she’s doing the right thing for him, she tricks the boy into running away to Mike.

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Mike finds out what Lucia did and realizes how much she loves Nando.  He tells Nando he belongs with his aunt and sends him back to Capri.  But before Mike’s train departs, he meets a group of obnoxious, Italy-mocking American businessmen in his compartment and realizes he doesn’t want to be like them anymore.

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He rushes off the train, finds Nando, and heads back to Capri for the expected happy ending with Lucia.  He even drinks some Italian water.

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It Started in Naples is a fairly cute movie, but it’s nothing special.  The story is completely predictable, but that wouldn’t be a problem if it were funnier or if the stars were more appealing together.  Instead the humor is hit-or-miss and Clark Gable and Sophia Loren seem mismatched.

It’s a beautiful looking movie, though, with colorful views of what must be one of the most magical, appealing spots in Italy – or maybe in the world.  I can only imagine how many people took trips to Capri in the 1960s after seeing this movie.  It certainly makes me want to go!

I watch them so you don’t have to!

As much as I’d love to do long, loving write-ups of everything I watch, there’s not enough time or energy for that. Anyway, lots of movies don’t deserve loving write-ups! I encounter plenty of stinkers in my quest for good new-to-me films.

Here are quick reviews of two such recently endured flops. I went into both of them with high hopes, but those hopes were quickly dashed.

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

 This romantic comedy was produced by Pandro S. Berman, written by Norman Krasna, and starred Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea. In spite of all those people’s involvement, it was still disappointingly half-baked.

richest girl in the worldMiriam Hopkins plays Dorothy Hunter, a fabulously wealthy heiress and the titular richest girl in the world. Since returning from Europe to live in the US she’s been keeping a low profile, having her pretty secretary (Fay Wray) pretend to be her in public so she’s not hassled.  She meets Tony Travers (McCrea) at a party where the secretary is pretending to be her and she is pretending to be the secretary.

She swiftly falls for Tony, who seems to like her pretty well, too. However, she’s concerned that no man will ever see past her riches and love her just for herself, so she carries on with the ruse of being a secretary. She decides to test Tony by throwing the real secretary, the faux heiress, in his path. That way she can see if he chooses the supposedly rich girl for her wealth, or goes instead for the “secretary” he truly fancies.

Tony is a confusing character whose motives are hard to pin down. Not because he’s so complex and richly drawn, mind you, just because the script can’t decide who he is. He seems to want Miriam Hopkins’ character, but when she encourages him to pursue the secretary/faux heiress he goes along with that just fine, too. He didn’t seem to care too much which woman he got, actually. In the end, after some misunderstandings and further ill-conceived “love tests” concocted by Dorothy, Tony proves his love for her. Or something.  They end up married, him still thinking she is a secretary.

Having recently watched 1933’s Design for Living (a fabulous movie that deserves and will get a post of its own sometime soon), I was anxious to see more of Miriam Hopkins. And of course I’m a lovestruck fool for Mr. McCrea these days. There just wasn’t enough good stuff for either of them to work with in this movie, though. Their characters and the whole story were underdeveloped and didn’t make a huge amount of sense.

I didn’t hate the movie.  In fact parts were amusing and I kept thinking about how it could’ve been really good with some changes and more fleshing out of the characters.  As it is, it’s simply very forgettable.  On the plus side, Joel McCrea looks really young and handsome!

 A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)

 Here’s where I drive away half of this blog’s already small readership by admitting that I find John Wayne completely off-putting. Every now and then I watch one of his movies, either because I’ve heard so many good things about it (like The Quiet Man) or because it also stars someone I love (like lady-takes-a-chance-john-wayne-jean-arthur-1943Montgomery Clift in Red River), but no matter how good the movie may otherwise be, I just can’t get past my antipathy for Wayne. His swaggering, macho persona is not my cup of tea.

This time I put aside my feelings and gave A Lady Takes a Chance a try because it co-stars Jean Arthur, an actress I pretty much think hung the moon. She has her cute moments in the movie, but not so many that I wasn’t checking my watch every ten minutes, wondering when this uncomfortable experience would end.

Arthur plays Molly Truesdale, a career girl who has multiple men fighting over her in New York, but who isn’t keen on any of them. Having seen these fellows, I don’t really blame her for that.  She escapes the clamoring throng of goofy boyfriends at home and takes a vacation bus trip out West.

At one of the stops on her tour she attends a rodeo. Cowboy Duke Hudkins (Wayne) is thrown from his horse and into the stands, landing right on top of Molly. He tries to get up, but she pulls him back down on top of her, so thunderstruck is she by his cowboy manliness.

After the rodeo she chases him down for an autograph and they end up spending the evening together. During most of the evening they don’t have much to say to each other, since they clearly have very little in common. They hit a couple of bars and, of course, get into a brawl in which Duke punches people out. (I know I haven’t seen many Wayne movies, but if there’s one in which he doesn’t punch someone that’s news to me.)

Molly is interested in marriage and true love, but all Duke wants is a roll in the (literal) hay. The blatant way in which he shows and tells her that that’s all he’s interested in was surprising to me for a 1943 movie. Molly is offended by this prairie wolf and ditches him.

Having missed the tour bus during her night with Duke, Molly hitchhikes her way to meet up with the rest of the group. One of the drivers she reluctantly gets a ride with is Duke and his “better half,” an old cowboy codger portrayed by Charles Winninger. They all end up camping out together.

That night Molly makes Duke’s horse sick by stealing the poor animal’s blanket so she’d have a second one for herself, a move which made me dislike her almost as much as I disliked the charmless Duke. The poor horse got pneumonia and nearly died!  Somehow Duke is able to forgive all and take back up with Molly in spite of this, once it’s clear that the horse will be okay.

Then some more stuff happens, mostly consisting of Molly trying to use her feminine wiles to trap Duke into a life of domesticity and home cooking, Duke running away horrified, and Molly going back to New York alone. It’s no surprise when Duke follows after her, not because the two are so made for each other, but because it’s just an inevitability for this hokey film.  He meets her when she arrives at the bus station, snatching her up in his arms (after punching one of her boyfriends, if I recall correctly) and taking her back on the bus headed West.  So long to his old cowboy pal — she’s going to be his new “better half.”

I just couldn’t get into this movie at all. Duke Hudkins was kind of a jerk and Molly was much too desperate to catch him. Plus, she almost killed his horse! It was just bad.

For a city girl/cowboy romance with likeable characters and much more charm, I’d recommend Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady, which I reviewed here last week.

For a movie featuring a much more interesting bus trip, you can’t beat the incomparable It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  That was my palate-cleanser of choice after A Lady Takes a Chance. It cheered me up immensely, as it always does.

What a wonderful scene!  One of many perfect moments in the movie. If only all romantic comedies could be as delightful and intelligent as that one.  Here’s the hitchhiking scene.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

My search for hidden gems as great as the well-known classics like It Happened One Night is fun, and sometimes turns up something obscure but enjoyable.  On the other hand, sometimes movies are obscure for good reason.

So many movies, so little time

Busy, busy week so far, which is frustrating because I have lots to write about.  Two more new-t0-me Cary Grant movies, Mr. Lucky and The Talk of the Town, plus Monkey Business, which I watched recently for the first time in years.  (Bringing Up Baby it is not, though it wants to be.  It’s better than I remembered it being, however.)

I also have two great Barbara Stanwyck movies to discuss: The Lady Eve and Remember the Night.  Gah, Preston Sturges.  The best.

Additionally, I’m reading Richard Schickel’s book about Cary Grant and skimming through Peter Bogdanovich’s Who the Hell’s In It, both of which are very interesting and quotable.

It’s so frustrating when work and real life get in the way of movies and reading.  Heh.  Hopefully I’ll be back soon with more than just a placeholder post, but in the meantime here’s one of my favorite pictures — Kings of Hollywood, taken by society photographer Slim Aarons in 1957.  Such glamour! 

Film stars (left to right) Clark Gable (1901 – 1960), Van Heflin (1910 – 1971), Gary Cooper (1901 – 1961) and James Stewart (1908 – 1997) enjoy a joke at a New Year’s party held at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills.