The Condemned Of Altona (1962)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

Original title:  I Sequestrati di Altona

Italy/France, 1962Société Générale de Cinématographie, Titanus.  Screenplay by , , based on the play Les Sequestres d’Altona by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  

Vittorio De Sica made movies that were often less important than his best, but it is rare to see one that is actually boring.  He gets no life out of Jean-Paul Sartre’s miserable play about a German industrial family who enjoy their post-war wealth while ignoring the dark secrets of their profits during World War II.  Fredric March is the patriarch who learns that he will be dead within six months of laryngeal cancer, challenging him to either leave his empire to his mad son (Maximilian Schell) who is hiding from war crimes prosecution in the attic, or his younger son () who has little interest in the business.  Wagner is a lawyer who also produces Brecht productions in the city’s theatre, which often star his wife (Sophia Loren) who is the only one to bring a conscience to this disaffected family.  When Loren discovers Schell and learns that he is not dead as has long been thought, it begins a series of meetings between them that see them both tearing down illusions they have had about the past and facing realities for the future.  It’s intelligent, thought-provoking and acted beautifully, and not even the awkward dubbing of Italian dialogue (including Loren, who was speaking English with her American co-stars) can get in the way of such polished performances, but the whole thing has no life to it.  The next time de Sica would take on a major theatrical piece and adapt it to film, in Marriage Italian Style, he would go the opposite route and expand the cinematic possibilities instead of reducing them.

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