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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!

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