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"Bitter Rice" is a motley of tortured life, violent death, and primitive passion in Italian rice paddies. It is obviously an attempt to be starkly "real." The excesses make it intellectually unconvincing, and at the same time emotionally powerful.
Silvana Mangano plays an earthy young lady who sings up to cultivate rice for a 40-day period. She falls in with a particularly unscrupulous jewel thief and his current moll. In the course of the film she steals a hot diamond necklace from the moll, muscles out the mill, and finally commits suicide in a highly spectacular manner.
Signorina Mangano is, by either Italian or American standards, well stacked. Director Do Santis wisely shows her from a variety of angles. For example, we see Mangano in a makeshift bathing suit, Maugano in a makeshift weed-picking outfit, and Mangano in a makeshift nightie. She is very sexy.
Perhaps more important, she is a fine actress. Her acting, combined with her splendid physical assets, always succeed in making Do Santis' hyperthyroid scenario seem plausible. She throws herself into the part completely, and the effect is often overpowering.
"Bitter Rice" is a strange combination of modern realism and old-fashioned melodrama. When the jewel thief is shot by his former mill, he doesn't just die--he dies with his wrist caught on a meat hook. Some parts of the film have been out for the benefit of Boston audience's delicate tummies. The most notable and unforgivable of the outs is an episode showing the collapse of a pregnant woman during a rainstorm in the paddies.
Vittorio Gassmann, as the thief, is as sneaky as they come. An American actress, Doris Dowling, play the cast-off girl friend with sensitivity, although she seems a trifle anaemic compared to Mangano. Raf Vallone capably completes the cast. Without the fine acting of those people and Silvana Mangame. Raf Vallone capably completes the cast. Without the fine acting of those people and Silvana Mangono, "Bitter Rice" would have been a weak attempt. Thanks to them, however, it is a hard-hitting film--even if it does aim a little below the belt.
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