Film Review: Gold of Naples

A half-dozen stories set in Naples, two receiving their US premiere, in a restored omnibus film directed by Vittorio De Sica.
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Filmed in 1954, Gold of Naples (L'oro di Napoli) opened in the United States in 1957 missing two segments and nearly a half-hour of footage. Restored by the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, this Rialto Pictures release shows why Vittorio De Sica was one of the most beloved and influential of Italian filmmakers.

A native of Naples, De Sica built a worldwide reputation on the strength of neo-realist movies like Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, both awarded Oscars. Gold of Naples points to De Sica's later career, when he specialized in romantic comedies and dramas like the Oscar-winning Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

A notable actor himself, De Sica nurtured the career of Sophia Loren (who won a Best Actress Oscar in his Two Women). She stars as the sultry young wife of a pizza maker in the second chapter of Gold of Naples, a sly dig at marital fidelity that's a bit racier and more cynical than Hollywood could get at the time.

Totò, an expert comedian, shines in the first segment, playing a musician who has been trapped into hosting a local gangster in his crowded apartment—for ten years. Watching the sad-faced clown leading a marching band through a plaza is one of the highlights of the movie.

As is De Sica's turn in a beautifully timed segment about an aristocrat and inveterate gambler who has been reduced to playing cards with his porter's son.

The most challenging segment stars the remarkable Silvana Mangano as Teresa, who is offered an escape from her life as a prostitute by the mysterious and wealthy Don Nicola (Erno Crisa). It's a story Buñuel might have told, with a plot whose apparent dead ends suddenly twist into darker passages.

One of the segments deleted from the US release follows a funeral procession from a tenement slum to a sunlit cemetery, Carlo Montuori's camera catching the reactions of observers sitting in the apartments or walking down sidewalks.

The last chapter features the famous Neapolitan playwright and actor Eduardo De Filippo as Ersilio, a "professor" who sells advice to neighbors in need. Ersilio's solutions to problems like how to slash an enemy's face without getting caught build to a satisfying O. Henry ending.

Despite some choppy transitions, the restoration brings out the extraordinary Neapolitan locations De Sica and Montuori employed. If some segments strain too hard for earthy charm (bystanders often bursting into song), the outstanding cast is a treat. What's always apparent is De Sica's remarkable insight into his characters. As understanding and sympathetic as he is, the director still relishes their foibles.

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