Short Takes II: Three Reviews

Theodora Goes Wild  – (1948) Small town girl living with her two Aunts leads a double life as a Sunday school teacher and organist while secretly writing bestselling “sexy” novels, one of which causes an uproar when the local town newspaper serializes it, much to the dismay of the self righteous local “literary society,” a group consisting of stuffy skirted elderly ladies, who want the so called “filthy” book banned. A entertaining if non-extraordinary romantic comedy thanks mainly to a sparkling and charming performance by Irene Dunne, with some fine assistance from Melvyn Douglas as  a book illustrator, who has a big secret of his own  that comes to the surface halfway through the film. Dunne’s character break out of her plain Jane small town mode once she hits New York and meets Douglas revealing herself to be a much freer spirit than anyone back home would have ever believed. The cast also includes Thomas Mitchell. Thurston Hall and Spring Byington. Directed by Richard Boleslawski. Based on a story by Mary McCarthy. (***)

Open City (1950) – A landmark Italian film made with black market film stock, few professional actors and extremely limited finances, in other words, Guerilla filmmaking, Italian Style. The film centers on a group of resistance fighters eventually betrayed by a former mistress of one who is seduced by the German lesbian assistant of the Gestapo officer in charge, a sadistic creep named Bergmann. The film still contains brutal scenes of torture that must have been truly shocking to filmgoers when the film was first released. My only problem with the film is the extreme broad strokes of good versus evil director Roberto Rossellini, and scriptwriter Federico Fellini, paint. The resistance fighters have God, Church and family on their side versus the evil  Nazis who are vile, sadistic, heartless, homosexual, lesbian, anti-religious zealots.  Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi star.  (****1/2)

Moonrise (1948)  – Frank Borzage’s moody expressionistic and lyrical criminal tale of guilt, anger, violence and ultimately redemption contains a nice performance from Dane Clark who as the son of a convicted murderer has been tormented his entire life by schoolmates and others for his father’s sins.  When Clark,  now a young man, accidently kills one of his tormenters he must confront the choices in his own troubled life. Be like his father, a man on the run, facing a similar fate, or surrender to the law freeing himself of his guilt and his past. Gail Russell is his understanding love interest. Some early performances from Lloyd Bridges and Harry Morgan, listed here as Henry Morgan. (***1/2)

8 comments on “Short Takes II: Three Reviews

  1. R. D. Finch says:

    John, “Open City” is a film I’ve liked very much since I first saw it in a film appreciation class years ago. But the second time I saw it, I perceived exactly the same problems with it you enumerate in your succinct review. Some of these same problems are evident in the other two films of Rossellini’s War Trilogy. In “Germany Year Zero” the homophobia is especially evident. For me “Paisan” was the least compromised by Rossellini’s simplistic view of good and evil. I can’t believe that all Italians were so anti-Nazi and anti-fascist, especially early in the war when things were going better for the Axis. To a certain extent he seems to be whitewashing the existence of Nazi sympathizers/collaborators. But I can understand how in the immediate aftermath of the war he might have seen things in the rather black-and-white way these movies portray them. Still, “Open City” is a very moving film, and there’s no denying the greatness of the performances by Aldo Fabrizi and especially Anna Magnani.


    • John Greco says:


      The good versus evil struck me really quick when watching this, but that said, it is a stirring film and as you mention with great performances from Fabrizi and Mangnani. The other two films of Rossellini that you mention, I have yet to see, though I do have PAISAN on my DVR and hope to get to it soon. Out of the war came a great period in Italian cinema, much of which I still need to see. Thanks again for your wonderful comments!


  2. Sam Juliano says:

    OPEN CITY is rightly considered the lynchpin of Italian neo-realism, and remains Rossellini’s most revered and identifiable work. The story behind the making of the film is as fascinating as any cogent analytical study could ever yield. With Pontecorvo’s THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS its the quintessential resistance film, and its realistic treatment of daily Italian life in essence heralded the postwar renaissance of the Italian cinema. Rossellini was intent on showing that Italians had fought valiantly against oppression and for freedom.

    Anyway, I have read that the director sold his bed, a chest of drawers and a ‘mirrored wardrobe’ to raise funds for the film, and that the priest Don Pietro was modeled on on Father Don Morosini, who was executed by the Nazis in 1944.

    When one speaks of humanism in the cinema, this film, and two by De Sica (BICYCLE THIEVES and UMBERTO D) are invariably mentioned first, and rightly so. You’ve framed the film quite well in this capsule John, although I’ll confess I didn’t have that problem you (and R.D.) have agreed upon. I’ve seen this approach in so many films by so many directors, and while this film is a model in so many ways, I dismissed this as an inevitable reference point at one of the most heinous times in history. Criterion’s Eclipse set has given this seminal work the care and attention it has long deserved.

    Great appraisal too of THEODORA and MOONRISE!


    • John Greco says:


      Thanks for all the backstory stuff on Rossellini and the making of the film. I am a big admirer of both BICYCLE THIEVES and UMBERTO D, both of which I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen here some years ago. I still have to watch BATTLE OF ALGIERS which I have a copy of yet have not watched. Hopefully soon that will change!


  3. Theodora wasn’t the only one who broke out of a mold in “Theodora Goes Wild”. Irene Dunne broke away from the weepies and showed her comedic side.

    “Lyrical” is the perfect description of “Moonrise”. By the way, you got your Gails mixed up. It’s Russell in the movie. Patrick rarely played understanding.


    • John Greco says:

      Hi Patricia!

      Admittedly, I have only seen Dunne in three films, all comedies,”The Awful Truth,” “My Favorite Wife” and this one.I need to check out more of her work.

      As for the GAIL mixup, OUCH!!! Thanks, I am fixing that right now.


  4. The Lady Eve says:

    I’ve never been able to stick with “Theodora” from start to finish, though I have enjoyed scenes and moments. For my money, Irene Dunne’s greatest comedy turn is in “The Awful Truth” with her perfect comedic partner, Cary Grant.
    I will admit to not being a great fan of neorealism, this is not to say I don’t admire or appreciate the genre or “Open City.”
    I haven’t seen “Moonrise” but it sounds interesting – story, director & cast.


    • John Greco says:


      THEODORA certainly is not at the same level as THE AWFUL TRUTH, one of the true classics of screwball comedy. Grant and Dunne make a great pair (they worked well in MY FAVORITE WIFE also), then again Grant and just about anyone are terrific. THEODORA is shakey in parts though I do think Dunne is the film’s saving grace.


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