Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif in C'era una volta (1967)


MORE THAN A MIRACLE (C’Era una Volta)(Cinderella, Italian Style)

(director/writer: Francesco Rosi; screenwriters: Giuseppe Patrino Griffi/Tonino Guerra/Raffaele la Capria/story by Tonino Guerra; cinematographer: Pasquale de Santis; editor: Jolanda Benvenuti; music: Piero Piccioni,; cast: Sophia Loren (Isabella), Omar Sharif (Prince Rodrigo), Dolores del Rio (Prince’s Mother), Leslie French (Brother Joseph); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carlo Ponti; MGM; 1967-Italy/France-in Italian with English subtitles)

“A quirky but uninteresting comedy presented as a whimsical old-fashioned rustic Neapolitan fairytale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A quirky but uninteresting comedy presented as a whimsical old-fashioned rustic Neapolitan fairytale. The beautifully filmed fantasy-romance was more appropriately titled in Europe “Cinderella, Italian Style.” Francesco Rosi (“Three Brothers”/”Christ Stopped at Eboli “/”Hands Over the City”) directs from a story by Tonino Guerra that’s written by Rosi, Guerra, Giuseppe Patrino Griffi and Raffaele la Capria. It was excruciatingly painful watching such an odd mixture of far-fetched fancy that has flying monks, dullish jousting tournaments, silly cackling witches, a nunnery with a urine cure and, of all things, a dishwashing contest. Less an adult pic than a kiddie one, but subtitles alone would eliminate it as a kiddie film; on top of that, there’s Sophia prancing around barefooted showing off her natural assets and the subject of some lame ribald humor.

It’s set in 17th century Italy (shot in the countryside surrounding Naples). The arrogant, handsome, carefree Spanish Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) refuses to choose a bride from the seven marriageable princesses whom his nagging marriage-minded mother (Dolores del Rio) has selected. Fleeing from mom’s nagging, the Prince’s white horse throws him in a meadow by a monastery. There he meets the magical Brother Joseph (Leslie French), who is flying like Superman to the amusement of the local kiddies. When he sets down on land, Brother Joseph says the Prince should get married and presents him with a donkey and a bag of flour and tells him to search for a woman who will make him seven dumplings. The Brother also claims the Prince won’t be able to eat all seven. Thereby the Prince comes to a field and meets the feisty sexpot peasant Isabella (Sophia Loren), who has taken his horse and won’t return it without putting up a fuss. Lusting after her beauty, the Prince has the peasant girl make him seven dumplings. But there’s one shy as the hungry Isabella wolfed one of them down before serving him, and the uptight Prince feigns death until he gets all seven dumplings. When he doesn’t he disappears, leaving Isabella grief-stricken thinking she caused his demise. So she consults three witches, but she goofs up the magical incantation and as a result the prince is paralyzed. Poor Isabella is punished by the Prince by being nailed inside a barrel and is rolled toward the sea. At this point I lost interest, and realized this might have worked as a kidpic but for adults it had only two things going for it: the natural resources of the splendid countryside scenery and Sophia’s pulchritude. When the filmmaker opted to put one of the assets in a barrel, I had a hard time staying with this one to the finish–especially when it was obvious where all this nonsense was heading.

The film never found an audience outside its own country, which it thought it can get through its international cast. The only thing of interest that caught my attention was Sophia clad in a great array of peasant blouses, each with a button ready to pop.