SANTA VITTORIA is a village in Italy. After Mussolini is killed. the village repudiates its local Fascists and takes Bombolini as mayor. Bombolini was the clown of the village, but given the responsibility of mayor, he tries to cope with the crises that arise.
The secret of Santa Vittoria is hidden wine. The German army moves into Italy and a small contingent is sent to take away the wine. For the villagers, their wine is like the sacred blood of ancestors. Every day they work in the fields tending grapes. In a collective brainstorm the village manages to hide the wine before the Germans arrive. The rest of Stanley's Kramer film shows the conflict between the Germans' systematic force and the Italians' slippery deception. The Italians win. The Germans leave empty-handed.
Anthony Quinn plays the part of Bombolini. His performance is masterful, but Bombolini lacks the depth of Zorba. As a result, one sees only the exuberant, happy-go-lucky, lighter side of Oumn's talents. Still, he does marvelous things with his face. Since the Germans expect him to lie, Bombolini must seem to lie about some things, without giving away the secret of the wine. In these scenes between the German commander and Bombolini, Quinn grins and grimaces, feigns shock and disbelief, moans, sighs and laughs. Anything to save the wine.
Bombolini has a nagging wife played by Anna Magnani. She shouts at him. clobbers him with pans and insults him when he needs comfort. Under all the revilement lies a reviving love for her husband, but she struggles with it. She has suffered too much pain and misery while Bombolini was the town clown to forgive him easily.
The Quinn-Magnani interaction is powerful. This relationship is the most real thing in a movie which approaches fairytale. A smile from her means kilowatts more than all the other love scenes in the movie. Apart from these two oppositions-Quinn and the German, Quinn and Magnani-the movie is unexciting. The photography is not interesting. The love scenes are embarrassingly cliched.
The most disappointing aspect of the movie is that it avoids dealing with the tragedy and passes over distasteful episodes. In the book by Robert Crichton an American lands in the village after jumping from Odessa Darling, a B-24. He jumps out of disgust at the bombing of a village of civilians by the pilot of Odessa Darling, who attacks in order to get rid of his bombs before returning to base. Perhaps Kramer thought this episode would ruin our fun by reminding us of Vietnam. I think it is vital to giving the book its depth. Kramer leaves out another of the book's bombing scenes, in which a dozen people in Santa Vittoria are injured.
Also passed over is the background of a fascist living in the village after deserting from the Italian army. In the book he deserts because he cannot see forcing his men to kill and be killed for a cause not worth fighting for. In the movie, he just appears, no explanation given.
These scenes portray the military of the outside world as cruel and mindless, while the village survives as sensible and socially responsible. In the movie, Crichton's sentiment is very much weakened.
KRAMER deprives us of another part of the village by making the Italians seem like children. In Crichton's book, outside authority-the Fascists and the Germans-is defeated by the people. There are endless problems to be overcome in successfully hiding the wine, and each is solved by a different person. The village works together with a respect for the individual talents its people. In Kramer's film, this disappears. The few difficulties portrayed are solved either by Bombolini or the returned Fascist, two men in positions of authority. By ignoring the contributions that the villagers make, Kramer destroys the idea that the people are the creative element.
Kramer answered questions after the preview of Santa Vittoria, rolling his answers off smoothly. If he were black today, he said, he would be out burning buildings. But he is not black, he pointed out, and so he made a movie as something "positive." After On the Beach and Judgment at Nurenberg, he wanted something with a sense of human triumph.
I asked if he was going to turn to the United States with his search for something positive. He said that he is working on a movie about campus politics. Anthony Quinn plays a professor who joins the student picket line and is elected president of the university. It's a comedy whose humorous catch is the decision to bust or not to bust.
Kramer describes himself as a "discarded liberal." He used to say that people dissatisfied with the system should "Cool it, it's all going to come together." "Well, it didn't." Kramer admits now. It is tempting to dismiss Stanley Kramer as a big-time film producer with six million dollars to make a movie. But standing in front of us, he looked vulnerable. His answers were nervous and he swept back his close-cut hair as if disorder might betray his appearance. His favorite film this year was "If," he said, because it destroyed his false sense of values. He was brought up believing that "men were made on the playing fields of Eton."
Later I asked him whether big-time movies about young people were produced to make money from people's curiosity about drugs and sex. Sure they're commercial, said Kramer. But he could not make a movie from my viewpoint, he said. He could not in honesty pretend to put forward my view of the world.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was Kramer's way of tackling intermarriage. Make sure Sidney Poitier is a nice, well-mannered young man. If anyone is to object to the marriage, the only reason must be irrational prejudice. This sort of treatment of an atypical situation does not reach the reality of the black man's experience today. But its attempt to persuade white people, if only a little bit, may be all Kramer can honestly do.
On his way out of the room, Kramer declared that campuses are too serious and should have a better sense of humor, Perhaps. It is good for him to make movies which entertain us, even if supercially. The little sense of community which came through in The Secret of Santa Vittoria was encouraging. But I suspect we are doing all we can to preserve a sense of humor. The problem is that some things-like Chicago, Washington, Watts, Detroit, Birmingham, and Dallas-just aren't funny.